Say­ing good­bye to Rhimes’ ABC days

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - BOOKS - Shonda Rhimes Kelly Lawler

Thurs­day nights will never be the same.

Shonda Rhimes, the power pro­ducer who brought Grey’s Anatomy, Scan­dal and How to Get Away With Mur­der to your TV screens, is part­ing ways with ABC. In Au­gust, Net­flix an­nounced that Rhimes had inked a mul­ti­year deal with the stream­ing ser­vice.

Of course, Grey’s will con­tinue to run for as long as ABC can con­vince Ellen Pom­peo to stay on, and Mur­der still has juice left in it (al­though Scan­dal next month wraps its sev­enth and fi­nal sea­son). But with two (ap­par­ently) fi­nal new ABC shows — le­gal drama For the Peo­ple and Grey’s fire­fighter spinoff Sta­tion 19 — Rhimes has fin­ished the TGIT chap­ter of her ca­reer, and it’s a bit­ter­sweet farewell to an era of di­verse, fast-talk­ing and (Mc)steamy TV.

I re­cently went back and watched the first episode of Grey’s, which aired in the very dif­fer­ent world of 2005. Thir­teen years and two pres­i­dents later, it’s re­mark­able how re­fresh­ing, sharp and en­thralling it was back then. Rhimes’ writ­ing was elec­tric, her char­ac­ters bold and unique. The pal­pa­ble emo­tion that the se­ries could elicit on a weekly ba­sis was — and still is — stag­ger­ing.

The suc­cess of Grey’s helped her pro­duc­tion com­pany, Shon­da­land, to grow. There were rel­a­tive hits Pri­vate Prac­tice, early Scan­dal and Mur­der, and misses — do you re­mem­ber Off the Map or Still Star-Crossed or The Catch? Rhimes and her pro­duc­ers didn’t al­ways strike gold, but her rep­u­ta­tion never took a hit, and her style re­mained con­sis­tent.

Now, Rhimes’ brand is so wellestab­lished that the story beats of her shows have turned from ap­peal­ing fea­tures to hum­drum bugs. Peo­ple and Sta­tion are so pre­dictable, they are clichés.

Both dra­mas fea­ture a group of ide­al­is­tic, at­trac­tive and di­verse pro­fes­sion­als en­tan­gled in work­place and ro- man­tic drama. For the Peo­ple fol­lows a group of am­bi­tious young pros­e­cu­tors and pub­lic de­fend­ers in the pres­ti­gious “Mother Court” in New York. Sta­tion 19 spins off Grey’s doc Ben War­ren (Ja­son Ge­orge), who has given up surgery for fire­fight­ing, al­though Sta­tion pri­mar­ily fol­lows fe­male fire­fighter Andy (Jaina Lee Or­tiz). Their rhythms are overly fa­mil­iar, as are the char­ac­ter types and the weekly plots.

Maybe it’s a good thing that Rhimes is mov­ing to Net­flix, which has few rules about length or con­tent. It could al­low her to pro­duce more ex­cit­ing shows with new view­points or some­thing more ex­per­i­men­tal.

Al­though I’m hope­ful that Rhimes’ Net­flix era will al­low her to grow,I worry that in such an un­fet­tered en­vi­ron­ment, her shows might go off the rails. Even on ABC, with its cen­sors and com­mer­cial breaks, se­ries like Scan­dal be­came out­landish, hammy and vi­o­lent as they burned through plot too quickly and looked for more ways to shock view­ers. In the Wild West of stream­ing, Rhimes’ se­ries could bal­loon to a full hour, which few shows need; be­come gra­tu­itously sex­ual and vi­o­lent; or flame out even faster than they did on broad­cast.

But Rhimes, who has not yet said what she has in mind for Net­flix, might sur­prise me. I wouldn’t have pre­dicted that Grey’s would be head­ing to­ward its 15th sea­son as ABC’s No. 2 drama.

But I’ll miss the era when a bomb in a body at Seat­tle Grace was the stuff of post-Su­per Bowl episodes, or when I filled gi­ant wine glasses to watch Olivia Pope han­dle Wash­ing­ton. But as Rhimes has no­ticed, time — and TV — march on.

FRANK OCKENFELS/ABC

The orig­i­nal cast of “Grey's Anatomy,” which pre­miered in 2005.

NI­COLE WILDER/ABC

“For the Peo­ple” fol­lows the Rhimes for­mula in a le­gal set­ting.

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