Master the Art: Shonda Rhimes on building a TV empire

The executive producer of Bridgerton, Scandal and Grey's Anatomy shares her advice

Shonda Rhimes knows good television. As the head of her own production company, Shondaland, Rhimes has been responsible for some of the most popular programmes in recent history - from long-running shows like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, to limited series like Inventing Anna, and of course, everyone's favourite Regency drama, Bridgerton.

"We make projects that we want to watch - that's really it," Shonda Rhimes tells us in the latest episode of our Master the Art franchise. "I read Julia Quinn's [Bridgerton] books over and over again; I thought that they were amazing. I could see myself in them which meant that they felt universal to me, and I thought that these would make great shows. I would want to watch them, and I felt like other people would want to watch them too. That's pretty much how we choose to make our projects.... We follow our gut and we make the projects that we love."

bridgerton l to r simone ashley as kate sharma, jonathan bailey as anthony bridgerton in episode 204 of bridgerton cr liam danielnetflix © 2022

It ultimately boils down to entertainment, she says, and telling stories that feel universal. Plus, there will never not be a need for escapism.

"I think people want to be entertained, I really do," she explains. "The joy of getting to watch a good programme and be entertained and have something like Bridgerton to sit down to and escape with, is important. I don't think that there's anything more comforting than getting to sit down with a show like that and enjoy yourself and escape that way."

That instinct for good storytelling also extends to casting; Rhimes and her team have a keen eye for spotting exciting emerging talent as well as securing established names for her projects.

"When we're casting Bridgerton we're always looking for people with that special spark," she says. "I love to find new talent and actors that get excited about the work that they are doing... We love to work with people who love to work. There are so many incredible theatre actors out there who deserve to showcase what they can do on the larger scale."

bridgerton l to r regÉ jean page as simon basset and phoebe dynevor as daphne bridgerton in episode 102 of bridgerton cr liam danielnetflix © 2020

Rhimes' projects have also been widely praised for their diversity and inclusivity - with Bridgerton's colour-blind casting in particular making headlines. It's something that the writer and producer describes as an integral necessity, rather than being "an extra" that needs to be discussed.

"In talking about things like diversity and inclusion, that discussion is only a luxury to somebody who is always included in the conversation," she says. "If you are a person who has not always been included in the conversation then it's not a discussion that you need to have; it is a necessity. So for me, it's always just been an obvious necessity to make sure that people who look like me are included in the conversation."

She adds: "I don't think that it's 'an extra' that needs to be discussed. It's just an obvious necessity."

Watch our full video with Shonda Rhimes above, in which she shares her masterclass on building a TV empire - from building a powerful team to telling compelling stories, and knowing that there's always more to learn.

Video interview by Olivia Blair

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