Rhimes was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Vera, a university administrator and Ilee Rhimes, a college professor. Her mother attended college while raising six children and earned a Ph.D. in educational administration in 1991; her father, who has an MBA, is currently the chief information officer at the University of Southern California.
Rhimes lived in Park Forest South (now University Park, Illinois), with two older brothers and three older sisters. She has said she exhibited an early affinity for storytelling and that her time spent as a hospital volunteer while in high school sparked an interest in hospital environments. Rhimes attended Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, before enrolling at Dartmouth College, where she majored in English and film studies and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1991. At Dartmouth, she joined the Black Underground Theater Association and divided her time between directing and performing in student productions and fiction. She also wrote for the college newspaper. After college, she relocated to San Francisco with an older sibling and worked in advertising at McCann Erickson. She subsequently relocated to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California to study screenwriting. While at USC, Debra Martin Chase hired her as an intern at Rhimes credits her early success in part to mentors like a prominent African-American producer, who hired her as an intern at Denzel Washington’s production company Mundy Lane Entertainment. Chase would later serve as a mentor to Rhimes and work together on The Princess Diaries 2. Rhimes was ranked at the top of her class and earned the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship. She obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree from U.S.C.’s School of Cinema-Television.
Career beginnings: 1995–2004
After graduation, Rhimes found herself an unemployed scriptwriter in Hollywood. To make ends meet, Rhimes worked at a variety of day jobs, including as an office administrator, and then as a counselor at a job center that taught mentally ill and homeless people job skills. During this period, Rhimes also worked as research director on the 1995 Peabody Award-winning documentary, Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream (1995). Rhimes made her directorial debut in 1998 with the short film Blossoms and Veils starring Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jeffrey Wright. A feature script Rhimes wrote was purchased by New Line Cinema. This was soon followed by an assignment to write the acclaimed 1999 HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. It earned numerous awards for its star, Halle Berry. In 2001, Rhimes wrote Crossroads, the debut film of pop singer Britney Spears. Despite being panned by critics, the film grossed over $60 million worldwide. She then moved on to Disney’s sequel to its popular 2001 movie The Princess Diaries. Though 2004′s The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) did not score at the box office like its predecessor, Rhimes later said that she treasured the experience if for nothing else – the opportunity to work with its star, Julie Andrews. In 2003, Rhimes wrote her first pilot, about young female globe-trotting war correspondents, for ABC, but the network turned it down.
Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal and other projects: 2005–present
Rhimes is the creator and is currently the executive producer and head writer of Grey’s Anatomy. The series debuted as a mid-season replacement on March 27, 2005. The series focuses on the surgical staff at the fictional Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital in Seattle, Washington. The series features an ensemble cast with Ellen Pompeo serving as titular character Meredith Grey, who provides narration for a majority of the series’ episodes. On May 16, 2006, ABC announced plans to relocate Grey’s Anatomy from Sunday evenings to Thursdays in order to anchor the network’s Thursday evening programming, by airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST. As Thursday has historically been the most competitive programming night among American broadcast networks, the announced schedule change for the series has been viewed by media analysts as another vote of confidence in the series from ABC. The show is still being aired.
In 2007, Rhimes created and produced the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off series Private Practice, which debuted September 26, 2007, on ABC. The show chronicles the life of Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) as she leaves Seattle Grace Hospital for Los Angeles to join a private practice. The series features an ensemble cast, including Tim Daly, Amy Brenneman, Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs among others. The first season was shortened due to writers’ strike and consists of only nine episodes. In May 2012, ABC picked up Private Practice for the 2012-13 television season with 13 episodes. The series finale was aired January 22, 2013.
In 2010, Rhimes created a new pilot for ABC called Inside the Box, a female-centric ensemble drama set in a Washington, D.C., network news bureau. The lead character was Catherine, an ambitious female news producer, who with her colleagues pursued “the story” at all costs while juggling their personal animosities and crises of conscience. It was not picked up by the network.
In 2011, Rhimes served as executive producer for the medical drama, Off the Map, which was created by Grey’s Anatomy writer, Jenna Bans. It focused on a group of doctors who practice medicine at a remote clinic in the Amazon. The series was officially cancelled by the ABC network on May 13, 2011.
In May 2011, ABC ordered Rhimes’ pilot script Scandal to series. Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope, a political crisis management expert who is partially based on former Bush administration press aide Judy Smith. The series debut aired on April 5, 2012.
In 2012, she developed the period drama Gilded Lillys, which was not picked up to series.
In December 2013, it was announced that ABC had ordered to pilot the ShondaLand production How To Get Away With Murder. Actress Viola Davis joined the cast as the lead character in February 2014. It was officially picked up to series on May 8, 2014.
ShondaLand is the name of Rhimes’ production company. It and its logo also refer to the shows that Rhimes has created, and is also commonly used to refer to Rhimes herself. Shows which are included in ShondaLand are:
• Grey’s Anatomy
• Private Practice
• How To Get Away With Murder
Thank God It’s Thursday
In 2014, ABC programmed its entire Thursday prime time lineup with ShondaLand dramas Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, then branded the night as “Thank God It’s Thursday” (or “TGIT”). This echoes ABC’s former TGIF branding of its Friday night family sitcoms and even NBC’s Must See TV promotion of formidable Thursday night television hits in the 1990s. Thursday is an especially important night for American television networks because it’s the last chance for advertisers of weekend purchases like movies and cars to reach a large TV audience, and networks schedule highly rated programming for the night to attract those advertising dollars. The Associated Press called Rhimes’ reign of an entire night of network television “unmatched in TV history.”
Actors within ShondaLand
Some actors appear on more than one “ShondaLand” show. Characters can be recurring in one series while a main character in another:
Actor Grey’s Anatomy Private Practice Scandal How To Get Away With Murder
Darby Stanchfield Tess Milford Abby Whelan
Katie Lowes Blood Donor Kendra Quinn Perkins
Jeff Perry Thatcher Grey Cyrus Beene
Kate Burton Ellis Grey Sally Langston
Joshua Malina Seth Hammer Jason David Rosen
Bellamy Young Kathy Kathy Melody “Mellie” Grant
Scott Foley Henry Burton Jake Ballard
Liza Weil Alison Clark Andi Amanda Tanner Bonnie Winterbottom
Tom Verica Michael Norris Tom Keating
Kate Walsh Addison Montgomery Addison Montgomery
George Newbern Stan Mercer Brian Reynolds Charlie
Dan Bucatinsky Jeffrey James Novak
Rhimes adopted her first daughter in June 2002 and adopted another girl in February 2012. In September 2013, Rhimes welcomed her third daughter via gestational surrogacy.
In 2014, Rhimes spoke at her alma mater Dartmouth College’s commencement and received an honorary doctorate.
Shonda Rhimes has won a Golden Globe award and been nominated for three Emmy Awards. She has also won awards from the Writer’s Guild of America, Producer’s Guild of America, and Director’s Guild of America. Below is a more complete list.
• 2003: Nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay for the 2002 Britney Spears film Crossroads.
• 2005: Won Grey’s Anatomy won official selection for the American Film Institute’s (AFI) tv program of the year.
• 2005: Nominated for a Black Reel Award in the category Best Screenplay, Adapted or Original for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.
• 2006: Nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding drama series
• 2006: Nominated for an Emmy Award for writing in dramatic series
• 2006: Won WGA award from the Writer’s Guild of America.
• 2006: Nominated for Producers Guild Award for the “Television Producer of the Year Award in Episodic” for Drama in Grey’s Anatomy
• 2007: Won Golden Globe for “Best Television Series, Drama” for Grey’s Anatomy.
• 2007: Won Producers Guild Award for the “Television Producer of the Year Award in Episodic” for Drama in Grey’s Anatomy
• 2007: Nominated for WGA award from the Writer’s Guild of America.
• 2007: Nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding drama series.
• 2007: Along with the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.
• 2007: Won an Image Award for “Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series” for the episode “It’s the End of the World” on Grey’s Anatomy.
• 2008: Nominated for Producers Guild Award for the “Television Producer of the Year Award in Episodic” for Drama in Grey’s Anatomy
• 2008: Won “Outstanding Writing for a Dramatic Series” at the 39th NAACP Image Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium in California for the episode “A Change is Gonna Come” on Grey’s Anatomy. In addition, Rhimes and fellow writer Krista Vernoff won an award for “Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series” for Private Practice.
• 2009: Won NAACP Image Award for the episode “Freedom” (Parts 1 and 2) for “Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series” on Grey’s Anatomy.
• 2010: Won NAACP Image Award for episode “What a Difference a Day Makes” for “Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series” on Grey’s Anatomy.
• 2011: Won NAACP Image Award for episode For the episode “Did You Hear What Happen to Charlotte King?” for “Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series” on Private Practice.
• 2013: Won TV Guide award in the “Fan Favorite” category for “Scandal”
• 2013: tv series Scandal wins official selection for the American Film Institute’s (AFI) tv program of the year.
• 2013: Nominated for NAACP Image Award for “Scandal” episode “Sweet Baby”
• 2014: Won Directors Guild of American diversity award
Check her work out this Thursday on ABC!