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October 4, 2023 41 mins

Shonda Rhimes is the prolific and disruptive force behind Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, Private Practice, and Bridgerton - some billions of hours of television viewed. She broke records at ABC as a writer, producer and showrunner before becoming one of Netflix’s most successful creators. She talks to Martha about the secrets of making addictive television, the characters she still misses, and the tough choices that come with an ambitious life. You won’t want to miss these powerhouse women in conversation.  

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
I feel really lucky because I love what I do
and I get to do what I love, and that's
insane to me. That's the dream right there.

Speaker 2 (00:09):
Welcome to my podcast Today, I met Samsung eight three seven.
Joining me is a very exciting guest, Shonda Rhymes. Shonda
is one of the most accomplished and celebrated television writers
and producers of our time. I'm sure you've seen many
of her shows, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal,

Private Practice, Bridgerton, the spinoff Queen Charlotte, and of course
Ray's Anatomy, one of the longest running primetime TV shows ever.
Shanda has become a force in the entertainment business. Do
you know? Shonda is the first woman to create three
television dramas that have achieved the one hundred episode milestone.

Can you name them? Shonda continues to grow her business
in many directions while keeping a very, very interested audience
and a very entertained audience. It's nice to see you again, Shonda.
You look beautiful. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (01:09):
It was great to be here. You look amazing.

Speaker 2 (01:11):
Thank you. It's so fun to have you here because
so much has happened. Shonda spent one night at my house.
Was it one night or two nights? I think it
was two nights nights at my little tenant house guest house,
which was a little bit disheveled because my daughter had
just torn it apart to refurnish it. But Shonda was writing,

you were working on Bridgerton.

Speaker 1 (01:33):
I was, And.

Speaker 2 (01:33):
You were so busy. Your sister stayed with you, and
you were editing, and I guess doing retakes and stuff.
And I hardly saw you. And I really wanted to
entertain you and everything, but you were so busy and
the lights were on all night long. I did work
all night. You did. She was looking for a house
at the time. Also, in addition to finishing the first

season of Bridgerton, Shonda was looking for a house nearby.
I was so hoping. I had my fingers crossed, my
legs crossed, waiting for her to buy a house near
me in Bedford, but instead she chose my old town
of Westport, Connecticut. I did, how do you like it there?

Speaker 1 (02:11):
I love it. It's wonderful for my family. It's also
a really friendly town. It has good food, so I'm
enjoying it.

Speaker 2 (02:17):
Yeah, and you're right on the sea there, You're near
the sea. It's not really the sea, it's the sound,
Long Island Sound, but it is beautiful. Why did you
want to live on the East Coast.

Speaker 1 (02:29):
I had never been in love with living on the
West Coast. I'm a Midwesterner at heart, and I'd gone
to college in New England, and I always thought I
would end up in New England. And what was very
interesting is is my career took me to Los Angeles,
which I never would have guessed in a million years,
I really wouldn't have. And so twenty years in, twenty
five years in when the pandemic happened, I realized I

can do all the same work I'm doing from anywhere.
I don't actually have to be in LA to do
the work. So it was kind of a perfect time
with my kids. They were the right ages. My daughter
was going to college, my younger ones were sort of
going into early elementary school. And we picked up.

Speaker 2 (03:07):
And we moved and got a beautiful house. I haven't
seen pictures of that one yet, but Jonda also did
a fantastic apartment in New York City, a very very
I think while while you were working on Bridgerton, you
got very fancy, chaste.

Speaker 1 (03:23):
Well, you know what's funny is is I almost think
that the taste of that got how it was decorated,
influenced a lot of Bridgerton because we did first.

Speaker 2 (03:31):
Oh you did. Oh that's so great, and working with
a close friend of ours, and I think one of
the most celebrated interior designers, Michael Smith.

Speaker 1 (03:40):
Michael Smith so oh so did.

Speaker 2 (03:42):
He work on Bridgerton interiors too?

Speaker 1 (03:44):
He didn't. I just think that what he did in
the apartment really sort of inspired the.

Speaker 2 (03:51):
George and Georgian furniture and gilded mirrors and and those interiors.
Let's get to Bridgerton first of all, because that was
the last thing I really watched. I didn't see Queen
Charlotte yet. Oh I think I only saw I think
I saw two episodes. So in Bridgerton, it's very beautifully shot.
Where is that in a studio or is it in

real houses?

Speaker 1 (04:12):
Oh? No, it's in real houses all over England. There's
a lot of it that'shot in math. It's stunning, like
the exteriors and the interiors that we get to film
in our stunning. We have not really done a lot
of stage work on that show. It's mostly just real
amazing spaces and oh that's good.

Speaker 2 (04:27):
Yeah, and a lot of those houses for rent for six.

Speaker 1 (04:31):
Some of them are, and some of them we have
to do some convincing, but some of them are.

Speaker 2 (04:35):
Yeah. And it's so it's so beautifully shot and so
beautifully edited and so amazingly acted by a cast that
does that shake up the English a little bit. Having
an all black cast pretty much, it does shake it up.

Speaker 1 (04:52):
I mean, it's not an all black cattle, but you know,
Letty Dan, Barry, the Duke, the Queen, they're all people
of color and not got a very interes reception.

Speaker 2 (05:00):
And well, because and I've been reading a lot about
you in preparation, and so what you did with some
of your shows, incorporating a lot of very fine talent,
we wanted to see inclusion. We wanted to see a
much more diverse America, and you brought it to TV
in such a clever, beautiful way. I think you really

influenced the rest of television because every single and because
I think you've got advertiser dollars at the same time.

Speaker 1 (05:29):
I think we proved in a very interesting way, in
a way that I have never even really planned. But
we ended up proving this as an economic model. Shows
with more diverse audiences, so it shows with more diverse
cast have more diverse audiences, larger audiences, and also more
of spending power in terms of the advertisement.

Speaker 2 (05:44):
Right to see Bridgerton with the Black Queen Gold What
made you do that?

Speaker 1 (05:50):
There is a whole part of history where they there's
been real speculation about whether or not Queen Charlotte was
a woman of color or not. And I thought, you know,
I don't make shows that don't include somebody who looks
like me. That's just not interesting to me. And I thought, well,
let's go with the premise that Queen Charlotte definitely was
a woman of color, and let's build our world from there.

And that really helped us in terms.

Speaker 2 (06:12):
Of why I don't want to know if she was
or not. Really, if there's speculation, why don't we know?

Speaker 1 (06:17):
I think there's been some erasure in history, a bit
of erasure in history, because obviously that was not the
popular idea at the time. But if you look at
the portraits, if you listen to the stories you hear,
it seems like that was who she was.

Speaker 2 (06:31):
Really interesting, and just see the reaction and just see
the success. I love it. I think it's just incredibly
fabulous what you do.

Speaker 1 (06:40):
I think audiences embraced that kind of storytelling, storytelling that
just sort of leans into whatever the idea is.

Speaker 2 (06:47):
Shonda started out as a novelist. Is that what you
started out as?

Speaker 1 (06:51):
I started out wanting to be a bat Yeah?

Speaker 2 (06:54):
Okay, So where'd you go to college?

Speaker 1 (06:55):
I went to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Speaker 2 (06:57):
And how was that?

Speaker 1 (06:59):
Actually? I loved it. It was probably the most exciting
thing I did at the time in terms of learning
to spread my wings creatively. I did a lot of theater.
I directed a lot of theater there. I did a
lot of writing. Television still hadn't occurred to me back then,
but it was really a very fertile creative ground for me.

Speaker 2 (07:16):
And it's such a beautiful place.

Speaker 1 (07:17):
It's one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Speaker 2 (07:19):
I has to go up there. When I was in
high school, I had a boyfriend who was on the
basketball t h a darkness that I would take that
long trade ride. Yes, So you then decided that you
were going to and you started to write books. And
how many books have you written?

Speaker 1 (07:32):
No? I did my books, So I got out of college.
I foundered for a little while, worked in advertising, and
then I read an article that said it was harder
to get into USC Film School that it was to
get into Harvard Law School. And my parents were academics,
and that sounded like something they would accept. So I
went to film school at USC, and I didn't start
writing books until much much later.

Speaker 2 (07:51):
On my caread or okay, oh so okay, after film school, yes,
and what did film do film school do? Yeah?

Speaker 1 (07:58):
It was great. It was a real jumping off point
for me. I learned so much and I ended up
writing some movies like I call them teen girl movies.
I wrote Crossroads, starring Britney Spears, which I hear is
being rereleased now.

Speaker 2 (08:10):
Yeah, well she's becoming another news personality right.

Speaker 1 (08:14):
Now, yes, exactly. And then I did a Princess Diaries too,
and I did Introducing Dorothy Dandridge hbos So I did
a bunch of that, and then really just realized that
all of the real creative work, all the real character development,
seemed to be happening on television, and I really wanted
to do that.

Speaker 2 (08:31):
And during COVID, more and more and more, so, don't
you think, Yes, I agree. As movies sort of dwindled
because of the difficulty of producing during during COVID TVs,
I just took off.

Speaker 1 (08:43):
Audiences stopped going to the movies, and everybody started wanting
to watch things on their screens at home. And I
think it just really exploded.

Speaker 2 (08:49):
And as of I guess yesterday or this morning, the
writers have decided to go back to work on this strike.

Speaker 1 (08:56):
Well, yes, a deal was reached. That fact, yeah, I
just loved about. But a deal was struck that was
satisfactory to the negotiating committee. And so now, yeah, the
writers are back to work. As at midnight last night.

Speaker 2 (09:08):
Well, they're going to be there. They're going to be
so prepared because I hope during this time it's a
lot of them. It's five months. I know they must
have been writing like crazy.

Speaker 1 (09:18):
You would think, well, you would think that. I think
for a lot of us, it was very stressful to
be on strike. It was really difficult economically for the
entire town. And then I think for some of us
having that break actually was a great way to renew
our creative brain and our creative energy. That was really helpful.
So I don't know how much writing got done with
all the worrying and the wrong.

Speaker 2 (09:38):
I hope they did use some of the time to
do that, because they got a nice, fair settlement for
what I read, and I'm so happy for them, and
I hope they did write because I miss Late Night
so much. Right, you know, we have a poor Jimmy
fallon and for for all the all the all the
guys who are just sitting around twiddling their thumbs trying

to try to be creative in other ways. But I'm
excited about that. No, No, what about the actors.

Speaker 1 (10:05):
That's the thing. The actors are still out. The actors
are still on strike, and I think that's going to
be also a pretty big battle. I don't know that
that's gonna be.

Speaker 2 (10:14):
Do you have to hold all production?

Speaker 1 (10:16):
Yeah, we halted all production. Yeah. I don't think it's
a simple solution. So we'll see what happens.

Speaker 2 (10:21):
Yeah. Well, this is the whole AI and the whole
all of that for the for the actors is something.

Speaker 1 (10:26):
Yeah, it was big for the writers too.

Speaker 2 (10:28):
Yes, So Shondaland tell us about the formation of Shondaland,
because I love the name Shonda Land and this is
the parent company of all things Shonda Rhimes and her
and her group.

Speaker 1 (10:41):
Well, it's funny because when you first create a show
and you have to put a logo on the show
for your producing credit, you have to come up with something.
And so first episode of Gray's Anatomy, I was like,
let's call it shondaland that sounds cute and fun. And
it wasn't until the show becomes a huge hit that
I realized that that's now the name, Like, that's the
name we're going to use. It is going to be
forever named after me, which felt like an even bigger

responsibility started right in the beginning with Gray's Anatomy.

Speaker 2 (11:05):
Now, I just spent a weekend with doctor Nick dreamy
ah Patrick again, Yes wow, And I posted a picture
of me with Patrick. I saw that and and I
cannot tell you, I think I have gotten more comments
about about Patrick than any other person that's ever been
on my Instagram. People were crazy about him. Is he

retired from the show.

Speaker 1 (11:30):
He's retired from the show. He's been gone for oh
my god, almost ten seasons.

Speaker 2 (11:33):

Speaker 1 (11:34):
But I think that that he left in an imprint
that remained so strong for people. And honestly, like I
saw him on your on your Instagram and thought like, Wow,
he looks amazing.

Speaker 2 (11:44):
Oh, he looks so good, and he's a beautiful wife.
She was with him. We went to Brunello Cucinelli's birthday
party in Italy and he told me about a house
he just bought up in Maine and he wants me
to come see it because I have a house in
Maine also, and so I'm going to go go consult
with him on his house. He seems very busy with it.
But he's making movies now, so very exciting for his career.

But he became, you know, world famous with Grey's Anatomy,
as did the other actors on the show. Is just
an incredible, incredible success story. And so is it streaming
everywhere Now Gray's Anatomy.

Speaker 1 (12:18):
It's on you can see it all on Netflix, and
it's still on ABC, and recent episodes are still on Hulu,
so there's a lot of ways you can get it,
which is great.

Speaker 2 (12:26):
So when you were preparing for such a show, did
you did you learn a lot about medicine?

Speaker 1 (12:31):
I did. I spent a lot of time with a
couple of surgical residents, asking them what their lives were
like and what, you know, how it all worked. I
had a wonderful doctor who was over at UCLA Health
who let us come and look around and learn about
medicine from the viewing perspective, which was interesting and exciting.
And then I read a ton and talked to a
lot of doctors, and we had tons of medical consultants,

which made it easier. So sometimes I would just type
they say medical, medical, medical, and the medical medicate.

Speaker 2 (12:59):
It in and they would put in the Oh, that's
the way, because it's so professional.

Speaker 1 (13:03):
We work really hard on that, and we have some
actual doctors on staff on our writing staff right well.

Speaker 2 (13:08):
And order does that with the legal, You did it
amazingly with the medical, just amazingly.

Speaker 1 (13:14):
I love to make science exciting.

Speaker 2 (13:16):
That Ellen Pompeio has become a friend of mine.

Speaker 1 (13:18):
Ellen's wonderful.

Speaker 2 (13:19):
Oh she's a fantastic, fantastic actress and a fantastic person.
And she was that part. She is that part.

Speaker 1 (13:26):
She is that part, and she I think she always
will be no matter how much she participates and how
much she takes off, she always will be that part.

Speaker 2 (13:33):
And I think that's what you do to your actors
and actresses. Get to Scandal, another very long running, beautiful show.
You had seven seasons, seven seasons, and will there be
an eighth or not?

Speaker 1 (13:46):
No? No, no, We're never going to do anymore. I
think that we ended it exactly the right time for
us in terms of our storytelling.

Speaker 2 (13:52):
We asked our listeners for some questions for you. So
many of them were about Olivia Pope, so many about
each character. I did this one have to die? Why
did that one have to die? So many people died
in that show. They But what really got me in
that show was the speech, that rapid fire speech of

Olivia Pope. I started to talk like that and I
had to stop myself. Where did that come from? Is
that her? Or you?

Speaker 1 (14:19):
No? You know what's interesting is I wrote the first
script and it was I think seventy five pages long,
and the script is usually between fifty and sixty. And
I wrote on at the beginning of the script like
this is the direction. This should be spoken at rapid
fire pace. You should never be slowing down to get
out the words as fast as possible. Part of that
was I wanted it all on the show. Part of
it it felt like the pace of Washington at that point,

it felt like the pace of her work. They should
speak that way. Everything was you know, in a hurry, what.

Speaker 2 (14:46):
Era were you thinking about when you wrote that show?
Which era of Washington? Which presidency? Oh?

Speaker 1 (14:52):
In terms of who was the inspiration for that? Yeah,
Well what's interesting is I was lucky because I got
to write it was during the Omalla presidency, So I
wanted to write a president that was opposite as President
of Mom as could, because I didn't want there to
be any comparisons there. But I also was working with
Judy Smith, who worked during the Bush to presidency, and
I felt like, this is very interesting, It's an interesting
line to walk. So in a way, I got to

invent a White House that was a mixture of both
of those white Houses in terms of was how it
was run. And then the president I just created out
of thin air.

Speaker 2 (15:21):
I saw a little Clinton there.

Speaker 1 (15:23):
There was a little Clinton, little Reagan. Like I tried.
I tried to really mix it up.

Speaker 2 (15:28):
But the where did the evil come from? That kid
is infused. Evil is infused in that show. Do you
think it's really like that anywhere?

Speaker 1 (15:39):
Well, at the time when I wrote it, I always
say it was really nice to write a ghost story
when you're standing in the light in the broad daylight.
But that show was really in a time when everything
seemed so above born and so wonderful in Washington, and
I was thinking, like, what if all these amazing people
that we admire so much, what if they're all just
deep down inside like monsters? What would that feel like?

Speaker 2 (16:00):
Well? There was one too, Yes, right, there were things.
There were there were people in Washington promoting that, and
those people kind of come out in your show very
very strongly, yes, and very worrisomely.

Speaker 1 (16:14):

Speaker 2 (16:14):
You know that was and your Olivia Pope. Has she
done any other big shows since Carrie Candall Kerry Washington's
doing so much. She's got her own production company and
they are pretty She's so smart.

Speaker 1 (16:27):
She's one of the smartest people I know, not just
one of the smartest actors, one of the smartest people
I know.

Speaker 2 (16:32):
And beautiful.

Speaker 1 (16:33):
Well, yes that goes out saying, but she's really really
brilliant and has been really working to make her own shows.
And she's done a couple of things. She and Reese
Witherspoon did a show, and she's she's done a ton.

Speaker 2 (16:45):
That part, though, did it hurt her? It was allowed
inside and that was interesting. That was a hard part.

Speaker 1 (16:54):
She's the person who really digs in though she I
think she'd tell her you could tell her when she
was doing it. I think she relished all the parts
of the character that were so different from her that
allowed her to like dig into new things. And she
was always like the most committed actor.

Speaker 2 (17:07):
And you really give it to them.

Speaker 1 (17:10):
I enjoy writing things for actors that well, just I
enjoy writing stories that feel a little bit unexpected but
also sort of expand what you're so prolific.

Speaker 2 (17:20):
I mean, you go from Washington to Queen Charlotte to
the operating room. How do you do that?

Speaker 1 (17:28):
Well, where do you do that? It used to be
that I was writing three shows at once, and I
am not doing that anymore, which is lovely, but it's
also fun for me. Like there was a period of
time when I could write Scandal and write Gray's Anatomy
and turn my brain off from one to the other,
and it would feel like arrest, like a respect from
one to the other. Now not so much, I don't think,

But I love getting to dive into new world.

Speaker 2 (17:51):
And by the way, our guest is how old fifty
three fifty three years old, Look what she has accomplished
and fifty three short years. You are amazing. Oh, thank you, No,
really amazing. It's just phenomenal to think of all this success,
but not even the success, just the amount of work

and beautiful work that you have created for us.

Speaker 1 (18:16):
I feel really lucky because I love what I do
and I get to do what I love, and that's
that's insane to me. That's the dream right there.

Speaker 2 (18:31):
Well, now that the writer's strike is over, Yes, what
are you working on? Oh? About it a little?

Speaker 1 (18:38):
Well, we are making a show that's still not being
We were shooting it and we had to stop, so
we'll see when we get back when the actors are back.
We're making a show called The Residents, which is just
a very all out mystery in the White House, which
I'm excited about, which I think is really fun and.

Speaker 2 (18:52):
A little bit different for us.

Speaker 1 (18:53):
We still have more seasons of Bridgerton to come, a
lot more seasons of Bridgerton to come, and I'm searching
for exactly what I'm going to focus on next for
me and Bridgerton.

Speaker 2 (19:02):
Where does it go? Where do you go?

Speaker 1 (19:04):
Well, you know, there are eight British and siblings, and
there are eight Bridgton books about eight Bridgis and siblings,
so our goal is to tell a story about each
one of them. Queen Charlotte was set in the Georgian era,
but this is the Regency era, and we get to
really explore what that means for women at that time
and what it means for relationships.

Speaker 2 (19:20):
And I don't know, I I think it's an unresult.
Do you spend much time overseas in England?

Speaker 1 (19:25):
I've spent a little bit more, definitely a little bit
more time. And now that I'm sort of halfway between
la and London, it makes it easier, so it's exciting
to get to be there. But mostly I always say
that if I'm standing on a set, I'm the only
person not working. Everybody else is busy doing a job,
and any word I say becomes a criticism or a concern,

So I try really hard to just be supporting. Yeah,
you want everybody to feel free to do their creative work.
But you have a director, you have producers. Oh yes, yes,
we always have a writer on set and that's always
the most important thing, Like a writer who's a producer
as well.

Speaker 2 (19:58):
So you say that you suffered from poster syndrome, what
does that mean? Imposter's syndrome when you were working.

Speaker 1 (20:06):
I actually don't suffer from imposter syndrome. I don't believe
in imposter syndrome. And the reason I say that is
because it's so hard to believe in yourself anyway that
if you start giving it a name, like I refuse
to name it, same way I refuse to name writer's block.
If you start giving it a name, it sort of
takes over. So I try really hard to just keep
moving forward.

Speaker 2 (20:24):
You wrote the book The Year of Yes Yes. Tell
us about that book.

Speaker 1 (20:29):
So it's a memoir sort of about I think it's
sort of about my creative process. But really what it's
about is I would come home and tell my my
I have several sisters. I would tell my sister all
of the things that I had been invited to do.
I'd invite to go to this event, and I'd invited
to say this thing at the castle and this and that,
and she finally said, are you going to do any
of these things? And I said, well no, And she said,

you never say yes to anything. And that really stuck
with me, this idea that like I was having all
the success but not having any of the new experiences
that come with that, and so I decided to take
a year and say yes to everything that really scared me,
and so I did everything. I went and I did
a commencement speech at Dartmouth, which was me for public speaking.
It was terrifying.

Speaker 2 (21:13):
Is it is it on YouTube?

Speaker 1 (21:14):
It's on YouTube. We're gonna watch it. I did a
Jimmy you know what. It was amazing when I discovered
in this, in the writing of this book and in
this process of this is to do the thing that
terrifies you sort of undoes the fear. So I was
so I mean, I was shaking when I got up
to that podium, but somehow there was just this moment
when you can see me exhale and all of my
fear just washes away, and it's It was profound for me,

It really was. There were a lot of those moments
that year.

Speaker 2 (21:40):
And what else did you say yes to? Oh?

Speaker 1 (21:42):
I went on Jimmy Kimmel Live. And I had always
been afraid of being on like any kind of live show.
I thought that was going to be a terrible thing.
Jimmy was amazing and sort of made it easy. It
was fun. He's so fun, and he was so kind
to me because I so clearly was terrified. I starred
in an episode of The Not Start guest starting in
an episode of The De Kayaling Show where I was acting,
which has always been a thing that was also terrifying

for me as well. I did a lot of things.
I mean it was very interesting, and I joined a
lot of things, and I found myself having just these
new experiences that changed my life.

Speaker 2 (22:13):
You said that you said yes to know to a proposal.

Speaker 1 (22:17):
Yes I did. I was sort of on that track
that you're supposed to be on. And really great guy
and never been married, No, never been married.

Speaker 2 (22:26):
Never been married. Really great children do you have?

Speaker 1 (22:28):
I have three, three kids? Oh nice, various ways.

Speaker 2 (22:31):
And you said your daughter's out just graduated from college.

Speaker 1 (22:34):
I have a daughter who's in college in New York City,
and I have a ten year old and an eleven
year old. So I just it just wasn't me. Like
I kept trying to figure out how I was going
to fit myself into this box and it wasn't me.

Speaker 2 (22:47):
And I remember, I can't imagine that you have time
to be married. That's so that's it, that you don't
have time, right.

Speaker 1 (22:54):
Someone once said to me that you can be married
you can have a career, and you can have or
you can have children, but you can't have all three.

Speaker 2 (23:00):
Well, when we talked about balance in the olden days,
you know, everybody thought you could balance work with husband,
with children, with home with entertaining. And you know, I
talk about I talk about that a lot because balance
just it didn't work for me. And getting divorced freed me,
not happily. I like being married, yeah, but freed me

from that kind of situation and angst because it's hard
to be married and do everything that the husband wants
right and then do your own thing. And building a
company was next in my agenda and uh, and it's
worked out fine. And I haven't wanted to get married again.
See I understand that, but I don't want to. I don't.
I don't. I love having I love men, I love

taking going out with men, I love talking to men,
but I don't have to be married to them.

Speaker 1 (23:47):
I agree. I agree. I'm looking if anybody wants to
be out here on Martha, she's looking, But I'm not
looking to get married.

Speaker 2 (23:53):
Okay, same with me, Yeah, always always the same. That's
out of the way. So was one, Yes, really fantastic
exciting that you did that you never thought you would do,
like jump out of an airplane with the parachuters.

Speaker 1 (24:08):
Oh gosh, I think my yeses were smaller. They were
definitely smaller than that. The best thing I did, and
I did a Ted talk on this, and it sounds crazy,
but the best thing that I did was I said
yes to my children every time they asked me to play, which,
as you know, as busy as life gets and as
busy as you are with work and with everything else,
it's very hard to take that time. And what I

realized is if I said yes every time, they stopped worrying,
that I would say no number one and therefore didn't
ask as much in an interesting way. And two, they
really only need ten minutes. Like you say yes, it's
really only ten minutes a time, and it may have
been definitely.

Speaker 2 (24:44):
Run off and do something else, but you were there
for that right.

Speaker 1 (24:48):
I was there for them, and that made a huge difference.

Speaker 2 (24:50):
I remember working at your age and a little younger,
and traveling to New York to my job and making
sure that I got home every night just to have dinner,
because even though it was very very difficult, I got
home for making dinner and sitting down at a table
with my husband and daughter, and that was very important.

Speaker 1 (25:08):
It's very powerful for them too, for your child especially,
it's a really powerful thing to know that you're there there.

Speaker 2 (25:14):
Your producing partner is Betsy Bears. Yes, how important is
that relationship to your work.

Speaker 1 (25:20):
Betty and I have been together since the beginning of
Grey's Anatomy as producing partners. I've known her as long
I mean as long as the show's been on the
air and before I've known her. I've known her as
long as I've known my daughter twenty one years. And
she's been amazing, Like she's been sort of the other
half of my brain in terms of thinking about producing
in the practical ways where I'm thinking sort of in

the creative ways. But she's also been a great person
over the years to bounce things off of. And she's
the person who came to me and said, you have
to meet this woman named Judy Smith. I think she
could be a television show. And I was like, I
don't want to do that, and she was like, do it.
And that's how scandal came to me. Like she's she
knows me really well, and I know her really well,
and I think we work together well. For that reason
was Judy was the extual inspiration.

Speaker 2 (26:01):
She was she was the fixer. Yeah, it was your
CEO that lives in Dallas.

Speaker 1 (26:06):
Oh, that's mega. I have a wonderful CEO who lives
in Dallas. And that was sort of a thing that
we did starting at the beginning of our sort of
pandemic experience. I know I needed to knew I needed
to hire somebody, and I knew I needed somebody and
we were sort of being remote and we still are
really doing a lot of remote things, and it felt
like if I was going to move to Connecticut, I
needed somebody who was going to be boots on the ground.

Speaker 2 (26:28):
Well, she loves her job. I met her husband in Italy, Yes,
and we talked about it. So she goes back and
forth to La. Yeah, manages everything spectacular somebody like that.
So can you describe how your roles are different on
your roster of hit shows? So, Gray's Anatomy, right, you're
the writer, Well, Scandal, you're the writer.

Speaker 1 (26:49):
Right, Gray's Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice. As the writer and
executive producer on How to Go with Murder, I was
the executive producer for a wonderful writer named Pete Nook.

Speaker 2 (27:02):
That's such a good show.

Speaker 1 (27:03):
Oh he and he did just He's amazing, He's brilliant
and it was wonderful to work with him. I hope
we get to do it again sometimes because he was
so great. And then on the streaming shows when we
moved over to Netflix, Bridgerton was a project that I
found and was in love with and felt like really
strongly about. But I brought in another writer to write,
which was great because it allowed me to shepherd but
not be inside. And Queen Charlotte and Inventing Anna the

same way were things I wrote and executive produced.

Speaker 2 (27:29):
I have some numbers here that were like astonishing.

Speaker 1 (27:33):
We had three shows in the top ten Netflix Feeling
of all time, and then a fourth show. Okay, Queen
Charlotte came in and knocked one of the third show
that we had on there off the list, and so
we still have three shows.

Speaker 2 (27:44):
Oh Ohlie knocked off Bridgerton cho.

Speaker 1 (27:47):
No, King Charlotte knocked off Inventing Anna. So yeah, that
was a good show. I enjoyed that writing that show.
That was very different for me and so much fun.
When your actress was so good, she's incredibly talented. They
all were. It was really wonderful.

Speaker 2 (28:00):
Show was amazing. Here's some interesting facts. Netflix most watched
TV shows one to ten. There's Squid Games, Stranger Things,
Damer Wednesday, Money Heist, and then Bridgerton season two, Ridgerton's
season one. But you want to know how many viewers?
How many hours Bridgerton two six hundred and fifty six

million hours watched? Yeah that is and that's but that's
not that's on a single TV not knowing how many
people are around that or watching the TV exactly. So
if you multiply that same family of three or something.
I mean, do you do you know how people watch TV? Now?
Do they watch on fa me or do they watch individually?

Speaker 1 (28:44):
It depends on who they are. I mean, I think
there are couples who watch everything together. I think there
are definitely. I hear a lot of anecdotal stories about
families watching Bridgerton together, although I don't recommend watching it
with your mom. It's a lot.

Speaker 2 (28:55):
Did you love Squid Games?

Speaker 1 (28:56):
I thought it was fascinating. I did too, Yeah, I
was fascinating.

Speaker 2 (28:59):
My daughter banded from her children. They were a living
I get that. Yes, banned it and and then I
started to talk about it with with film one day,
and they knew everything.

Speaker 1 (29:10):
They watched it.

Speaker 2 (29:11):
Of course they had watched it, and they and I
thought it was funny, and they didn't think it was
quite as funny as I thought. It was interesting. But
but but that they knew.

Speaker 1 (29:20):
Everything they do, and you think you think you're sort
of hiding something from them or keeping something from them.

Speaker 2 (29:25):
It's very hard to do. How accurate it is Queen Charlotte.

Speaker 1 (29:36):
We tried to be accurate in as many ways as
we possibly could, Like there's a lot of actual history
embedded in there. But I was really trying to tell
the story not of the actual Queen Charlotte, but of
the Queen Charlotte you've come to know in Bridgerton. Like
I wanted to tell her origin story because as played
by Golda, I mean, that character is amazing, and I
kept thinking, how does she come to be who she is?

And so we were sort of melded some real history
with a lot of the fiction of Queen Charlotte from
Bridgerton and built that.

Speaker 2 (30:03):
The American audience of course loves it. What about the
English audience.

Speaker 1 (30:06):
He really embraced it as well. It did really well
over there, which was really exciting to see. I also
think that a lot of them enjoyed. You know, we
really depicted mental health in a very specific way, and
I was really proud of that, like that we got
to sort of humanize this character who for a long
time had been sort of referred to as just mad
King George and made fun of. So I think that helped.

Speaker 2 (30:26):
So how do you foster a creative environment in your
writer's room.

Speaker 1 (30:31):
I love having people in the room who will argue
with me, and I try to make that very clear,
like your dissent is welcome, because I think it's terrifying
uncreative to me in a room where everyone's supposed to
agree with me.

Speaker 2 (30:40):
Well, you say you have an hour script for Bridgerton?
Is it an hour? A total hour?

Speaker 1 (30:45):
Brigishon's an hour?

Speaker 2 (30:46):
Yeah, and you have to write how many pages does
that take?

Speaker 1 (30:51):
Well, luckily I don't write Bridgerton, but Bridgington's an hour
and it's probably about sixty five seventy pages. But like
inventing Anna, it was the same thing, and Queen Charlotte
was the same thing. But a writer's room should be
a place where people feel like they can tell you
you're wrong, They could argue your opinion. And I love
people who think very differently than I do, so I
like to fill the room with people who are like

real individuals.

Speaker 2 (31:12):
How long does one hour of Queen Charlotte take? You're right,
you do an outline.

Speaker 1 (31:19):
I don't do outlines. I mean I have to be
I'm a person who doesn't do outlines, but when it's
in your head right. But when I have writers writing
with me, it's really important, and I think we try
really hard to give them time to you know, you
break a story, you talk about it a lot, and
when you're working with a room, it's really important that
I'm very talkative and share like what's in my mind,
and then they can build on that and share their

opinions and thoughts too. Some of the best episodes we've
ever had. My favorite episode of Inventing Anna was completely
written by another writer, Matt Byrne, who just knew what
he was doing and built this story that was so
great that when I read it, I thought like, this
is perfect. But we'd also like argued it out in
a room for a long time, which was wonderful.

Speaker 2 (31:59):
What a great thing to show the viewing public a
character like that which we would never get to know
just from a book.

Speaker 1 (32:08):
It was important. I thought it would be really fun
too to sort of see where she came from and
to view it. I mean, not with a ton of sympathy,
but with a ton of empathy for who she is
and how she got there.

Speaker 2 (32:19):
That's a good word. That's yeah. And what's for you,
besides of course obvious success, what's the most rewarding aspect
of being the head of shondalam a media company? You
know you are a megabrand.

Speaker 1 (32:34):
I love getting to invest in talent and help them
tell their stories. We have a series of podcasts with
amazing people. We enjoy like bringing other young writers along
and helping them have their own shows. And if I
can help them in any way, I think that that's exciting.
So to me, like, that's what I enjoy the most.

Speaker 2 (32:52):
Who is your competition, and you know your competition.

Speaker 1 (32:56):
I don't know that we have exact competition. They're really
big companies who do some other really great things. But luckily,
I think we all have our own specific creative lanes
right now.

Speaker 2 (33:06):
Like Squid Names has their own lanes, Squid.

Speaker 1 (33:09):
Games has their own life in Korea too, right, exactly,
but they're indefinite like a lot of companies. Ryan Murphy's
company makes a ton of shows. We are in totally
different lanes, which I love you. So it's it's fun
to be able to have it that way.

Speaker 2 (33:21):
I talked to him and he says, he goes up
and then he goes down. He has happy, then he
goes to evil, then he goes happy. That's true evil.

Speaker 1 (33:30):
That's interesting.

Speaker 2 (33:31):
Yeah, you're a little bit more even tempered. I am
a little bit more, but you're a mother, yes, and
I think that makes a huge difference.

Speaker 1 (33:39):
I think it does too.

Speaker 2 (33:41):
So you've written characters who have become really a part
of the pop culture lexicon. We talked about doctor McDreamy Mix, Steamy,
Olivia Pope. How do you know when you've developed a
character that will really resonate with the audience. How did
you know that Olivia Pope would resonate as she did
so strongly?

Speaker 1 (34:03):
You know, my only goal when I start writing shows
is to write something that I really really want to watch,
and that's my only barometer. I think one day, shows
I really really want to watch might be something that
nobody else wants to watch. But I have the good
fortune right now that when I create a character that
I really care for, it feels like the audience also
feels that cares for them too.

Speaker 2 (34:22):
So why do you think Gray's Anatomy has withstood the
test of time for twenty one years? Wow?

Speaker 1 (34:29):
I think part of it is the longevity of the characters.
I mean, most people stayed on that show for between
seven and ten fifteen years. I mean there was always
somebody sort of doing the follow through. We didn't have
a lot of attrition. I'd say yeah, and then.

Speaker 2 (34:43):
Liked their jobs. Yeah, I liked being who they were
on the show. I think they did. I think that
those characters are heroic in a lot of ways. I
also think, though, that there's something really relatable for the
public about the kind of medicine we were practicing, and
that we were telling the stories from the point of
view of people who were struggling to do their jobs well.
And when you did your job badly on a day,

someone died, I think there's something really relatable about that.
I'm always amazed when I run into young women who
tell me that they became doctors because they became addicted
to Gray's anatomy, and I love hearing that because something
about it made them stand in those women's shoes and
get excited about science and realize that they could do
that job.

Speaker 1 (35:20):
Yes, every year I'm surprised, and every year I'm thrilled
that people are still embracing the show.

Speaker 2 (35:26):
Is there a big difference between writing for a network
or a Netflix?

Speaker 1 (35:32):
So I think the big deal about writing for network
is there are all of these fences involved. You have
to tell a story in this many acts, you have
this much time, you can say, oh, we're do all
these things right. There's a lot of those fences. And
when you go to a place like Netflix, there are
no fences, and they've been very supportive and wonderful about
the creative stuff we want to do.

Speaker 2 (35:53):
The problem you're one of their super super superstars.

Speaker 1 (35:56):
But the problem with being able to do what you
want to do is that you really have to then
feel the responsibility of the quality control because if you
can do anything, that's always a terrible thing. I think, like,
it's nice to remember that we can do anything, but
we shouldn't do everything.

Speaker 2 (36:09):
Well, there are executives there. Don't they say anything to
you or.

Speaker 1 (36:13):
Do they just oh, They're very supportive and lovely. But
we really have been given a lot of freedom that
I don't think necessarily other people have, and I take
that as a great responsibility.

Speaker 2 (36:23):
Did you propose Bridger to them? Yes, okay, and they
liked it.

Speaker 1 (36:28):
Yeah. These were books that I had become obsessed with
and really really wanted us to have, And so I
walked in the door with those like really in my
mind of something we should do.

Speaker 2 (36:36):
So spin offs and sequels have become their own world.
What's the difference between building a show and then building
a franchise from that show.

Speaker 1 (36:48):
That's a good thing. That's a good question. We have
built a franchise off of Grey's Anatomy, obviously with Station
nineteen and with Private Practice, and it's all working. It's
about doing it authentically, Like you can't just jam some
other show onto something. You really have to make it
spring from the heart of what the show is to
really build it so it works. I think that's the
most important thing. When you're building a show, you're building

a world, and then anything that comes off of that
world really has to be a bit of that world
and feel natural.

Speaker 2 (37:18):
One question that came up was what are three episodes
that you have created that you're so proud of. Oh,
interesting in any of your shows, This is a good question.
This gives you the shivers still, the super.

Speaker 1 (37:34):
Bowl episode of Grey's Anatome where Meredith has our hand
and on a mom and about body cavity. That was
one because it was the first big episode of anything
I'd written, and it was exciting. Scandal, There are so
many episodes Scandal that I really just love, but the
one where Olivia Pope has an abortion on Christmas Eve

might be the one that I like the most because
of its power and how we told that story. And
then Private Practice, we did this an amazing episode called
did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King? And she
had been attacked and it was a great medical episode
about what happens when you're attacked. So those three always
stand out to me because they're the ones people mentioned
to me the most. But for me writing Queen Charlotte,

the final episode of Queen Charlotte is probably my favorite
thing I've ever written.

Speaker 2 (38:21):
Really. Yeah, So your family is such an important part
of your life. You do so much for your family,
and what roles have they played in your career?

Speaker 1 (38:30):
I feel like my family has done so much for me.
How many sisters you said, you have several sisters. I
am the youngest of six. Oh wow, yeah, so girls? No, no, no, no, no,
four girls, two boys.

Speaker 2 (38:39):
We were three boys, three girls in my fas.

Speaker 1 (38:41):
Oh see, yeah, same saying six. So I was the
youngest of six. My sister Sandy, who is amazing and
probably my best friend in the world, also sort of
runs the other half of our company, the digital division,
and all that goes along with that. So for her,
I love it because she's a person who can say
to me, that's a bad idea, Shanda, No, but also
just has this well of creativity of her own which

is amazing and really springs to life. And then my
other siblings, we've all been really really close, aren't this
whole time? We've been lucky for that.

Speaker 2 (39:09):
Did they live around Yeah, some of them live.

Speaker 1 (39:12):
Pretty close, which is wonderful. And my parents, who when
I moved to Connecticut, they basically said to me, you
took our granddaughters and they packed up and they moved
to Connecticut too, So they live about four blocks from me.

Speaker 2 (39:22):
Now, oh how great.

Speaker 1 (39:23):
Yeah, we're a close family.

Speaker 2 (39:26):
That is so nice.

Speaker 1 (39:27):
Yeah, so very nice.

Speaker 2 (39:29):
In your book, you talk a lot about how hard
you were to create a future for your daughters. What
are your hopes for your daughters?

Speaker 1 (39:37):
You know, the best thing I can say the world.
The best thing I can say is I feel like
my parents did everything they could to set up a
world so that me and my siblings that we could
so that we could all succeed, succeed in the way
that we wanted to succeed. And I think that they
made sure that we had the education behind it and
all of those things that were necessary. And for me,
I feel like now I'm in a position where I

can set up the world for my daughter so that
they can pursue their passions. In a lot of cases,
making a living is not the same as pursuing a passion.
So they can pursue their passions the way they want to,
but also have like the foundation to take care of themselves,
which I think is important, especially in this world. I
want them to be savvy and I want them to
be civic minded. I want them to be voters. I

want them to pay attention to everything.

Speaker 2 (40:22):
And this is a silly question they want me to ask. Okay,
if you were able to date any of the characters
from your shows. Who would it be? Which are those
sexy men would you be dating?

Speaker 1 (40:37):
I might have to reach back in time and say
that I would need to date the Duke from Bridgerton
for season one of the Bridgerton of that series. He's
a little damaged, but all of the men I write
are pretty damaged or yeah, so I think probably maybe
him recently, but it's hard to know. I mean, there's
so many interesting ones, and it's also just not healthy
to think about dating somebody whose lines you write.

Speaker 2 (41:02):
Well, you have been fantastic. Thank you so much for
talking to me for such a long time, and to
keep up with all that Shonda is doing, and it's
a lot. Follow her on Instagram at Shonda Rhymes. Find
her podcasts and more on her website Shondalandmedia dot com.
Thank you so very much for taking the time, Shonda.

Thank you, it's a pleasure. And keep up this fantastic
work so we have things to watch forever and ever.

Speaker 1 (41:29):
Thank you, thank you.
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