The Root 100 No. 1s: Shonda Rhimes Changes the Face of Television Forever

Celebrating Black ExcellenceThe Root 100: Celebrating Black Excellence, 10 Years and Counting

 Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The pop-cultural impact of Shonda Rhimes cannot be overstated, although at this point, it’s hard to imagine TV without her forceful, casually diverse, complicated and occasionally ruthless characters who fall outside of what was heretofore the “norm” (read: white, heterosexual male protagonists and their stories).

In fact, one could argue that the writer, producer and showrunner has changed the very face (in the very faces) of television. Yes, there was a golden era during the ’80s and ’90s when melanin-enriched viewing was de rigueur (think The Cosby Show, A Different World, Martin, Living Single, Moesha, Homeboys in Outer Space, etc.), but Rhimes stepped outside of the comedy genre and introduced people of color to drama—and plenty of it.


Undoubtedly, Rhimes’ “Shonda effect” begat a bevy of prodigious creatives we know and love today. Issa Rae’s Insecure, Donald Glover’s Atlanta, Kenya Barris’ Black-ish, Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar, Courtney Kemp Agboh’s Power and even Lee Daniel’s Empire have surely tread an easier road through green lights because Rhimes paved the way.

And for that—commandeering an entire evening of network television (#TGIT), bringing in nearly $300 million to ABC each season, as well as loudly using her platform to advocate for equality, Rhimes was named The Root 100’s No. 1 in 2015.


Rhimes began her career with ABC many moons ago with Grey’s Anatomy, a hospital-set drama now in its 14th season. She then followed up with Private Practice, which ran for six seasons; Scandal, now in its seventh and final season; and How to Get Away With Murder, now in its fourth.

Not only did the Ivy league-educated writer bless us with her signature nail-biting, sometimes improbable but always riveting helixlike episodes (her logo ain’t a roller coaster for nothing), but she has intelligently tackled issues such as abortion, interracial relationships, police brutality, rape and HIV/AIDS on network TV, usually with plots wrapped around badass women who are professionally accomplished and tragically human. As an aside, Rhimes’ taste in music is impeccable, and her penchant for classic Motown during her shows is Emmy-worthy in and of itself.


After more than a decade at ABC, with a breakneck writing and production schedule, Rhimes recently announced that she was taking her talents to streaming studio Netflix. Like many of her characters, it seems that she is ready to leave the restrictive confines of network TV to leap into the uncharted waters of a whole new world on demand.


In addition to a reported multiyear arrangement estimated to be worth well over $100 million, Rhimes will continue to receive producer-credit fees from the aforementioned ABC shows as well as produce two new vehicles, For the People and a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff.

“Shonda Rhimes is one of the greatest storytellers in the history of television,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, when the deal was announced. “Her work is gripping, inventive, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, taboo-breaking television at its best.”


Tell us something we don’t know, Ted. For her part, Rhimes, in a statement, called the move to Netflix an “evolution.”

“ShondaLand’s move to Netflix is the result of a shared plan Ted Sarandos and I built based on my vision for myself as a storyteller and for the evolution of my company,” Rhimes said. “Ted provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for—the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix’s singular sense of innovation. The future of ShondaLand at Netflix has limitless possibilities.”


Not since Norman Lear has one person had such an influence on television, especially when it comes to people of color. Not for nothing, but Lear’s brand of TV reinforced stereotypes, while Rhimes (what a name, right?) easily and often upends them—creating new realities with her rich, imaginative mind.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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Team Shonda! I resisted Grey’s for a long ass time. Then, somewhere around the time season 9 or 10 was airing I started it on Netflix. I’ve now watched it through a half dozen times. And the other three shows as well. She is a master heart string tugger. She won me over 100% with the Christina abortion storyline. And by all accounts, Shonda is also a fantastic person outside of her professional life. She deserves alllllll the money. I will watch alllll the shows. It is comforting to know that she out there, doing HER thing, in the face of the all the old white guys who keep giving us NCISCSISUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC over and over again.