Saying goodbye to Rhimes’ ABC days
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.
The original cast of “Grey's Anatomy,” which premiered in 2005.
“For the People” follows the Rhimes formula in a legal setting.