Award winner, stereotype demolisher, and all-around empress of entertainment Shonda Rimes is undeniably the most powerful woman in television today. With her aptly titled “Shondaland” production company, Rhimes dominates Thursday night on the tube—and, let’s be honest, now that’s the only day we care about. Especially now that Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away with Murder are back on TV.
So how did it she get here? How did Rhimes redefine what it means to be a successful showrunner, create a slew of bombshell dramas, and shut down the New York Times (we’ll get to that)? Well, it wasn’t the easiest journey. Some perseverance and a hell of a lot of hard work is the moral to her story, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Shonda grew up in Illinois, worked hard throughout high school while volunteering at a hospital and landed at Dartmouth college. After working at an ad agency and inspiring a Barbie ad, she went back to school and learned how to get away with being a boss-ass bitch. After working on a few sets and selling scripts, she was invited to write the script for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Halle Berry won a Golden Globe for that one, which looked damn good on Shonda’s resume, too.
Then she wrote Crossroads. Yes, that one. Seemingly right after that came the script from The Princess Diaries 2 and then that little thing called Grey’s Anatomy. From that moment in time, Shonda bae majesty Rhimes became the television leader we all grew to love. After Grey’s came Private Practice, and the ill-fated Off the Map, which only lasted one season. Don’t feel too bad: Shonda’s next gig had a much different fate.
When Scandal hit the scene in 2012, fast-talking crisis fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) became an aspirational badass to millions, but more important, represented a powerful woman of color leading one of the most successful shows on television. Rhimes also proved that she was far too talented to focus solely on medical dramas and, of course, was not here for a one-and-done.
How to Get Away with Murder is just beginning its second season tonight but has already won a legion of fans, broken plenty of hearts, and made history. Viola Davis recently accepted an historic Emmy award for her role as Annalise Keating, which surely won’t be her last if there are any more moments like that wig-removing “dead girl’s phone” scene from last season.
And yes, in case you were wondering, her squad is live.
Then there was the Nov. 2014 New York Times incident. Former chief television critic for the Times, Alessandra Stanley, in assessing How to Get Away with Murder thought it would be smart to refer to Shonda Rhimes as an Angry Black Woman (and call Viola Davis “less classically beautiful”). The backlash was immediate and widespread. After creating some of the most powerful women in television and breaking down diversity barriers in the industry, she was belittled by a racist and ignorant descriptor. But with all the effortless grace she possesses, Shonda took the moment in stride.
So what’s next? Another #TGIT ABC series, of course. Shonda is hard at work on a mid-season replacement for How to Get Away with Murder. After a few shakeups in terms of cast and producers, The Catch is set to premiere in early 2016, following the story of a fraud investigator who falls victim to that very crime from her own fiancé.
Like with most of the Shondaland block, a strong female protagonist is at the center of the series and once she’s wronged there’s no stopping her on her way to justice. Here’s a trailer because at this point you need to know more.
So, when you’re stuffing your face with wine and popcorn, crying with Meredith, and rooting for Annalise tonight, don’t forget the fearless woman behind it all.