A SCANDAL Writer’s Journey to ShondaLand

These days it seems like everybody loves every TV series Shonda Rimes produces, especially writers looking for good gigs on shows that seem like they’re going to last forever. Here’s one woman writer’s story of what it’s like to make it into ShondaLand:

raamla_picture.jpg.CROP.rtstoryvar-largeby Akilah Green

Before we [headed] into the season 4 finale of Scandal, The Root sat down with Scandal writer Raamla Mohamed to talk about how she began her TV writing career, what it’s like working with Shonda Rhimes and her thoughts on the importance of diversity in TV writing.

I was introduced to Mohamed by a mutual friend when I moved to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., two years ago to pursue my own career in TV writing.

Mohamed began as a writers production assistant on Grey’s Anatomy in 2009. Then she worked as a medical researcher on Off the Map before becoming a researcher on Scandal during season 1. After being accepted into the Disney-ABC Writing Program, Mohamed returned to Scandal for season 2 as a Disney fellow.

Since then she has worked her way up the ranks of the writing staff, and starting season 5, she will be an executive story editor. Mohamed has written five episodes of Scandal and co-wrote an additional episode with another writer. This season Mohamed has written “Where’s the Black Lady?” and “I’m Just a Bill.”

The Root: How did you first decide that you wanted to be a TV writer?

Raamla Mohamed: I’ve always been a fan of television and movies. I’m an only child, so it was pretty much like the TV was my friend. I was also raised by a single mom, so when I got home from school, I would do my homework, then watch TV. Then, at Columbia [University], where I went for undergrad, I double-majored in English and film studies. So I had been interested in TV and movies for years, but I didn’t know in what capacity.

After college I worked in off-Broadway theater in New York [City] and had the opportunity to watch so many shows and plays. That’s when I realized that I was excited about writing, so I applied to grad programs.

TR: And how did you land your first job in the industry?

RM: About a year after I graduated from University of Southern California’s grad school for film and TV writing in 2008, a friend told me that there was an opening for a writers production assistant on Grey’s Anatomy, one of my favorite shows, so I interviewed for it and got the job. That’s where I really learned a lot about TV, and I got to watch these writers sit in a room and on couches telling stories.

I tell people that it’s like this music video back in the ’90s by Blind Melon called “No Rain,” where this girl was a bumblebee, and at first she couldn’t find her place, but then she found this place with all of the bees. That’s kind of how I felt when I started working at Grey’s. I was like, “All of the bees are here! And they pay you for this!” After that I was like, “Whatever it takes, I will try to make this my career.”

TR: So what is it like working for Shonda Rhimes?

RM: Well, I’ve been working at ShondaLand for almost six years, and even when I was an assistant and Shonda would give notes after our table read, it would be pretty amazing how she could just pinpoint what was wrong with the script and know how to fix it. And afterwards you’re like, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But she’s Shonda Rhimes.

There have been things that she’s pitched and I’ve been like, “Really??” For example, when she first came up with the idea that Fitz and Olivia would just take one minute with one another sometimes, I saw the script and was like, “What? And then what happens?” But then cut to when I see it on-screen: Fitz and Liv are sitting there and the song is playing, and I’m crying. That, to me, is a perfect example of how she just has her finger on the pulse of what’s going to be awesome. You learn a lot.

TR: As of season 5, you’ll be an executive story editor on Scandal. Fancy! What is the best part of working in a writers room?

Read it all at The Root