Expect more creative storytelling from the woman behind ‘Scandal,’ ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’
Shondaland is moving to Netflix—and that’s probably a good thing for viewers.
Shonda Rhimes, the television showrunner behind blockbuster hits like “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” has inked a deal reportedly worth $10 million annually with Netflix. The contract is believed to tie Rhimes down for four years and will see the 47-year-old leave her longtime home at ABC Studios. Rhimes is not just beloved for her intelligent portrayal of women of color on TV— she’s also an extraordinarily lucrative creative outlet. According to the Wall Street Journal, her work has generated over $2 billion in revenue for ABC.
Rhimes’ defection marks the latest salvo between upstarts like Netflix and traditional networks. ABC is controlled by the Walt Disney Co., which last week announced that it was pulling Disney offerings on Netflix and creating its own streaming platform. Founded in 1997, Netflix has a market capitalization of $73.3 billion, larger than more established competitors like CBS and 21st Century Fox, which shares common ownership with Moneyish publisher Dow Jones. Disney is valued at about $160 billion, but has many businesses outside TV production.
In some ways, Rhimes is following a path previously trodden by the likes of Adam Sandler and Woody Allen, who’ve made shows with Netflix and Amazon Studios respectively. And “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman earlier this month inked a development pact with Amazon.
“The lines have blurred,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “If someone who’s been increasingly successful gets an offer from a non-traditional entity, why not? It works with the movie stars.”
What can Rhimes and her legion of fans—many in the lucrative 18-to-49 audience demographic—expect from Netflix? Netflix is spending about $6 billion this year to create expensive content of its own. It also has outstanding creative financial obligations of $15 billion, so slickly produced shows are definitely on the radar. While industry observers say Netflix doesn’t necessarily offer better financial terms to producers, it’s generally more hands off on the creative front and has backed ambitious but expensive shows like “Sense8,” a cult sci-fi drama filmed on five continents.
Being on an online platform also gives showrunners more freedom than network TV. “Profanity, violence and sexual content are available on platforms like Netflix but not on network TV,” says Dergarabedian. “It’s like going from being in a PG-13 world to R-rated and beyond. It doesn’t mean every producer will run with that creative latitude, but for creative folks, it’s about finding a home that best serves their vision.”
That’s also why a large chunk of Rhimes’ fans will happily follow her over to Netflix. “For Shonda Rhimes, storytelling doesn’t have to follow rules. Anything goes,” says Christina Lane, chair of the department of cinema and interactive media at the University of Miami. “Her viewers pick up on this, which is why they’ll remain loyal and follow Shondaland.”
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