How Shonda Rhimes Became TV’s Most Celebrated Showrunner

Well, she is. We know that cuz every time we hear LB recommend a writer to an agent or producer he says, “____ is the next Shonda Rhimes, bucko!” and the writer immediately gets a meeting.

Well, maybe not immediately. Or every time. But…you know. Besides, Vulture says she’s the hottest of the hot too – and tells us how she got there. But don’t take our word for it:

shonda rhimes_chandra_wilson

 by Lindsey Weber

Thursday nights on ABC now officially belong to Shonda Rhimes: The 44-year-old writer/producer will premiere How to Get Away With Murder next week, an hourlong show starring Viola Davis that will round out a beyond impressive three-hour block of ShondaLand programming. (See also: Grey’s Anatomy andScandal.) But how did she get here? Where did she come from, and what came first? From Crossroads to Scandal, here’s a rundown of Shonda Rhimes and how she became television’s most celebrated writer.

Pre–Grey’s Anatomy

Shonda is born in Chicago, Illinois — the daughter of a university administrator (her mother, who got her Ph.D. after Shonda left for college) and a college professor. She’s the youngest of the family’s six children: “I always thought that I would end up being a novelist. I was making up stories and recording them into a tape recorder and my mom was transcribing them before I knew how to write … When I was 17, I saw Whoopi Goldberg live on Broadway and George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum. Both made me absolutely fall in love with the theater.”

Ten-year-old Shonda spends all of her free time “in a tree reading books” or “[speaking] only French, pretending her real family lived in Paris and were due any minute now to come whisk her off to the Sorbonne.” But she’s still a Midwesterner at heart: “Being from the middle of the country … I’m a TV watcher. Growing up in the suburbs, in the middle of the country, my taste might be more normal than someone who grew up in New York or Los Angeles, maybe less snooty. It makes it possible for me to constantly be amazed that I’m doing [Grey’s Anatomy].”


Shonda attends Dartmouth, where she’d return to give the commencement address 27 years later, in 2014

Shonda quits advertising to get an MFA at USC film school — after reading an article in the New York Times that said it was “harder than getting into Harvard Law and [I] thought, ‘This sounds like a really competitive thing to do. I’m going to do it.’” After school, she works as a development assistant while working on spec scripts on the side. One called Human Seeking Same is about an older white woman who falls in love with a younger black man after answering the wrong personals ad.” It doesn’t get made, but it gets her name out there …

… which eventually gets her a gig writing the teleplay for HBO’s IntroducingDorothy Dandridge.

Later, she writes scripts for 1998’s Blossoms and Veils, 2004’s The Princess Diaries 2 


…and (most notably!) 2002’s Crossroads, starring Britney Spears: “I never thought the critics were going to say Crossroads was a brilliant movie. My goal was for 12-year-olds to think it was brilliant … I became a rock star to the preteen set.” (Not to mention, that movie also bought her house.)

Read it all (including videos and cool pics)