The Year in Shonda Rhimes

December 15, 2014 2:44 PM

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The Year in Shonda Rhimes

She’s the executive producer of the hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy, the political thriller Scandal, and the legal potboiler How to Get Away With Murder, which air in contiguous time slots on ABC. The network hasn’t packed three programs by a single executive producer into one night since 1982, when Aaron Spelling’s series T.J. Hooker, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island aired back-to-back-to-back on Saturdays. All three Rhimes dramas, including the freshman Murder, are popular hits, which is why ABC recently extended its deal with Rhimes’s production company, Shondaland, to keep her on the hook through mid-2018. She’s a master juggler, subcontractor, and impresario who seemingly has yet to succumb to the kind of focus problems that have bedeviled other multitasking showrunners. She created Grey’s and Scandal and oversees Murder, which is the brainchild of Peter Nowalk, a longtime writer and producer on her other programs. Rhimes is as hands-on as a TV producer can be while keeping tabs on multiple shows and having something like a private life. Each workday, she drops her daughter off at school, then heads back to her house, where she tracks the real-time cutting of Shondaland shows via a closed-­circuit feed of editors’ workstations. She also holds in-person or virtual story conferences, reads and writes and rewrites scripts, confers with network executives, and who knows what else.

The notion of Rhimes as an NSA-level master of surveillance — the eye in prime time’s sky — would be intriguing even if her shows weren’t good. But they are good. At their best, they’re proof that brazenly commercial pop culture can be at once silly and serious, entertaining and artful, disreputable...

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