The Magic Of Shonda Rhimes And #TGIT

This post contains spoilers.

Everyone knows when Thursday rolls around that they better stock up on popcorn and red wine, ready to curl up for TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday). In the tradition of TGIF, which featured a lineup of family friendly comedies over a decade ago, TGIT showcases the demonstrative talent of the one and only Shonda Rhimes. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and the Rhimes-produced How to Get Away With Murder top the ratings with an average of 28-million viewers across the nation. Quite impressive for an individual who has revolutionized showcasing primetime diversity and dicy drama on a major network.

ABC Studios (once seeing the potential for a night full of insightful, twisted, and award-winning programming) quickly used the branding of TGIT to catapult the evening to set an unprecedented standard in television.The show that started it all, Grey’s Anatomy, has followed a set of interns into their respective careers in medicine at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital for more than a decade and takes the first slot at 8 p.m. EST. There are medical mysteries, sexual trysts in the on-call room, and sure-fire sobs as Meredith Grey navigates her way this season around the death of her beloved husband Derek Shepherd.

Scandal takes on the White House as Olivia Pope fixes Washington D.C,’s  political backlash while also sleeping with the President of the United States. Airing at 9 p.m. EST, Scandal in its fifth season has finally given its fans what they wanted by having Olivia choose President Fitzgerald Grant and letting their relationship open publicly to the press. Will Olivia take to marriage or a life in the public eye with ease? Or will she choose her own power again over the men who throw themselves at her feet?

Finally, the newcomer How to Get Away With Murder takes viewers at 10 p.m. EST over the edge with a dark crime thriller about Annalise Keating’s law school class becoming too invested in the defense attorney’s personal life, misgivings, and penchant for crude cover-ups.

I watched the first episode of Grey’s Anatomy in 2005 and was an instant fan. I stuck around for two seasons, watching it stealthily on my bedroom television to my parent’s disapproval, and then fell out of habit keeping up with new episodes. Over the next decade, my hesitance to binge watch the entirety of the series came from parts of the media who held the opinion that Grey’s had become a tiresome soap opera which fed upon the sentimentality of the public. As Scandal quickly rose to fame and its popularity surged, I decided to give Grey’s Anatomy another chance. In 11 seasons, I watched the friendship of Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey blossom. I saw critical, social, and political issues tackled head on without reservation, and of course witnessed the tragic deaths of numerous doctors and patients (I’ll admit, drowning in my own tears almost every time).

When Shonda Rhimes first gave the pilot script for Grey’s Anatomy to her producers, they told her that she needed to change the opening scene of Meredith and Derek waking up after their initial one-night stand because a woman apparently would never have sex with a stranger the night before taking on a new job. This is what a male-dominated industry looked like where Shonda, I’m sure, has had to in the past constantly correct and defend her creative choices in how she portrays women who are human, flawed, and sexual beings.

Viola Davis has admitted that before taking on the role of Annalise in HTGAWM, she was never given characters who were openly sexual creatures and that the role has been a welcome challenge to her crafting a new persona from the script. Kerry Washington exclaims in an interview with Essence magazine that, “…being able to work with somebody who I don’t have to translate my experience to all the time-that’s important, because I’m not having to walk someone down the path of racial understanding to tell a story about a woman of color.” Shonda’s career as a show runner has put power in the hands of women: women of color, LGBT women, women who defy traditional gender roles, and women who are unabashedly feminist.

There have been character arcs and relationships that depict the struggles of real couples. Callie and Arizona have been through severe trauma with one another, adultery, divorce, and custody battles over their daughter Sophia. Owen and Cristina struggled with Owen’s PTSD after his return from the military and Cristina’s refusal to become a mother when she knew it would impact her career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

The world applauded when Olivia Pope declared herself openly as a feminist to a prospective client and were struck when her father announced the truth that, “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have;” a creed that resounded with black communities and was a jolt to white audiences who understood that in a country that has struggled its entire history with racial divide, his statement was true for far too many.

When Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy Award, with her timely and inspiring speech about creating opportunities for minorities in Hollywood, audiences recognized we have before been shortchanged by the lack of  diversification in the media.

Shonda Rhimes has filled her casts with characters of various ethnicities, sexualities, and political views. She constantly subverts expectations by showcasing the talented ability of her cast  and crew to portray difficult experiences without falling prey to categorizing stereotypes. She has described herself as an introvert who in the past has prefered to stay at home with her three beautiful children while getting lost in the writing hum of her shows.

Her new book Year of Yes chronicles her quest to start  taking the opportunities of her position (galas, interviews, celebrity functions) and enjoy the success she’s worked so hard to earn. The book, she writes, was difficult to lay out as she always has felt more comfortable writing fiction and imaginative plot devices. As a work of  nonfiction, Shonda Rhimes chronicles not only how she was able to move past her vulnerabilities to make the changes she needed in her life but also brilliantly doesn’t let her success overwhelm the privilege she’s gained out of her fame. As she so movingly quips:

Being able to buy wine and steak and not think about the price is very important to me. It was a goal. Because when I was a struggling graduate student in film school, I often had no money. And so I often had to choose between wine and things like toilet paper. Steak did not even enter into the equation. It was wine or toilet paper. Wine. Or. Toilet paper. The toilet paper did not always win.

Just the kind of sensibility and humour you’d want to expect from the first black female show runner in television history.

So thank you, Shonda, for making shows that make the viewers think about the world the around them. For creating characters that are just as dark and twisted as we are sitting in our living rooms. For having a no-assholes hiring policy that makes us reevaluate who we surround ourselves with in our work and personal lives. And of course for letting us into the artistic, visionary worlds of your mind every Thursday night.

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