What You Don't Know About Shonda Rhimes

Behind some of the best shows on network TV, including "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal," is Shonda Rhimes — one of the greatest writers and producers in the entertainment industry. She and producer Betsy Beers have been a formidable pair that continue to find ways to delight fans. 

After a long run working with ABC to produce original content, Rhimes transitioned over to Netflix with big expectations. At the time, she and Beers "were really obsessed with Bridgerton," Rhimes told Vanity Fair, adding that she'd "forced" Beers to read all eight of the "Bridgerton" books. The pair felt a series based on them could be a huge success — or a major flop. Even with their stellar track record, Rhimes confessed to wondering, "Are we going to stay straight-A students?" Unsurprisingly, "Bridgerton" was an absolute smash hit and "became Netflix's most watched original series ever" upon release, per The Hollywood Reporter. As a result, Netflix quickly renewed "Bridgerton," ordering four more seasons plus a spin-off series written by Rhimes.

Going beyond just entertaining on TV, Rhimes has released an insightful memoir called the "Year of Yes." According to The Hollywood Reporter, the book follows her yearlong journey of saying "yes to everything that scared her." It also reflects back on her life's low points and triumphs, including how Rhimes paved her own way in the face of adversity. Here, we're taking our own deep dive into the entertainment mogul's life. 

Inside Shonda Rhimes' childhood

Shonda Rhimes was born on January 13, 1970. She and her five older siblings spent their childhood not far from Chicago, and Rhimes learned a lot from her incredibly smart parents. The producer's "mother was a teacher who got her Ph.D. after Rhimes left for college," while her father would become "the chief information officer at the University of Southern California," per The New York Times

Rhimes was a total bookworm as a kid, and reading inspired her early passion for creating stories. She told Variety she "wanted to be a novelist" like her idol, American author Toni Morrison. Often, the young girl would craft her stories by sitting inside the family pantry, where cans of food would serve as her characters. On TV, she remembered watching Oprah Winfrey, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopie Goldberg captivate viewers. As a result, Rhimes recalled, "There was a moment where I suddenly looked around and felt like this could be a career." The future producer also credited her parents with instilling in her a belief that anything was possible. In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, Rhimes explained that "society is built to make women question their worth from the moment they're born, and we were just never raised that way."

In high school, Rhimes landed a job that foreshadowed her future career of writing about the medical field. As detailed by Oprah, she "worked as a hospital candy striper."

How the producer changed TV forever

The shows Shonda Rhimes creates are downright entertaining, but she's done more than just keep fans glued to their TVs — she has shifted the mindset of outdated casting practices and pushed for diversity in her shows. For example, Variety praised her for "casting women and people of color to play doctors; representing women's sexuality as assertive, not slutty; showing LGBTQ characters as three-dimensional human beings." 

These changes were the result of Rhimes pushing to make them happen, though she wished it was a natural evolution. "It makes me sad to have to say it," she confessed. "We changed the faces that you see on television." In a 2013 interview for The New York Times, she shared a similar sentiment, saying that she was proud of her casting diversity but believed "it's sad, and weird, and strange that it's still a thing." According to the writer, she hoped others would begin to cast and write characters in similar ways, if not for truly representing "how the world works," then for financial reasons. "Ratings-wise, it works," Rhimes pointed out.

In 2021, Rhimes was still creating conversations about diversity in the entertainment realm with her series "Bridgerton," which portrayed Black and white characters on equal footing in 19th century England. In an interview for The Guardian, Netflix's vice-president of inclusion strategy, Vernā Myers, revealed that the streaming company backed Rhimes' inclusive casting. "We've got to get folks in front of the camera and behind the camera," Myers said.

The Shonda Rhimes night

Thanks to the popularity of "Grey's Anatomy," Shonda Rhimes grew more and more influential at the show's network, ABC. She continued to create new premises, releasing the popular spin-off series "Private Practice" and the political drama "Scandal." In 2013, Rhimes told The New York Times that with her history of hit after hit, she could easily ignore unwanted advice. "What was great for me about 'Scandal' was I had earned a lot of political capital with the network," she explained. This allowed her to quit "taking network notes" while she worked to bring her vision to life. As Rhimes recalled about standing up against the network, "What were they going to do, fire me? I wasn't worried about what anybody else thought. This one was for me." 

Rhimes knew exactly how to keep people watching and continued to be one of the network's brightest stars. In fact, starting in 2014, she practically took over ABC's primetime schedule. For several seasons, ABC's Thursday nights were "the most valuable night of the week to advertisers," per Variety, thanks to "Scandal," "Grey's Anatomy," and "How to Get Away With Murder."

Even after Rhimes left ABC in 2017, the prestige of "Grey's Anatomy" remained. Season 18 began airing in 2021, and the show "has been licensed to more than 200 territories internationally and translated into more than 60 languages." On Netflix, the series reportedly "has drawn more viewing hours than any other licensed show on the streamer." Overall, Rhimes' creation created a "multibillion-dollar global business for ABC Studios."

Don't mess with Shonda Rhimes

When "Grey's Anatomy" was in its early days, one of its biggest stars, "The Ugly Truth" actor Katherine Heigl, found herself on the wrong side of a controversy involving Shonda Rhimes. It started in 2008 when Heigl announced that she had removed herself from Emmy consideration for her work on the TV medical drama. "I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention," she explained to The Envelope

As a result of the withdrawal, the show's writers and producers, including Rhimes, were "angered by what they considered a slap by Ms. Heigl at the people in the writers' room," per The New York Times. Even worse, her critical comments came during a time period when "Grey's Anatomy" had "the highest rate for commercials of any series on television after 'American Idol.'"

In a later interview, Rhimes took a dig at Heigl, who exited "Grey's Anatomy" in 2010. When talking to The Hollywood Reporter about "Scandal," she admitted that even though the show's production schedule was often frantic, its cast members were close with one another, and "There are no Heigls in this situation." Rhimes further explained that she adheres to a "no a**holes" policy because "I don't put up with bulls*** or nasty people. I don't have time for it."

The screenwriter's Grey-t idea

Before her "Grey's" days, Shonda Rhimes had become obsessed with watching doctors perform actual medical procedures on TV. "My sisters and I would call each other up and talk about operations we'd seen on the Discovery Channel," she recalled to Oprah. "There's something fascinating about the medical world — you see things you'd never imagine, like the fact that doctors talk about their boyfriends or their day while they're cutting somebody open."

At that point in her career, Rhimes only had a few screenwriting credits to her name. However, she was beginning to love the transition to TV as she worked on pilot episodes for ABC. "Writing for television is completely different from movie scriptwriting. A movie is all about the director's vision, but television is a writer's medium. When a show airs, it's exactly as I imagined it," she said. Rhimes became inspired to write a series set in the operating room because she knew the subject so well, and this ultimately became the pilot episode for "Grey's Anatomy."

In a MasterClass taught by Rhimes, she detailed what helped make the pilot — or any pilot — a success. The producer suggested that instead of imitating others, the "goal is to be the thing that other people would admire themselves." According to Rhimes, a key to success is to have an opening so compelling that it makes viewers "lean in." Additionally, she said it's best to be original and avoid "anything you've heard or seen before."

Shonda Rhimes opens up about her dating life

While Shonda Rhimes is open about many aspects of her life, her dating history is a little cloudier. She was connected with a guy during her time working on "Grey's Anatomy" but eventually realized that she had no interest in marrying him — or anyone else. Rhimes told Entertainment Weekly, "I was seriously dating somebody and I was like, I don't want to do this." 

According to the producer, she used to question her personal feelings about relationships based on what societal norms dictated. "I felt like there must be something wrong with me," she said. "But the minute I said it out loud to my family, it was fantastic." From that point on, Rhimes said she could proudly tell others she had no intention of looking for a significant other or getting married. She explained, "There's a freedom to that. There's no pressure if you're not looking for it." 

However, Rhimes did come very close to getting married. According to The Hollywood Reporter, she called off her wedding in 2014. When it came time to detail that part of her story in her memoir "Year of Yes," Rhimes was originally hesitant to include the story. At first, she thought about her former husband-to-be, "His life is not anybody else's business." But in the end, she felt other women could relate to her decision to remain unmarried and felt it was an important topic to explore.

Inside her life as a mom

At the start of the new millennium, Shonda Rhimes relocated to Vermont temporarily to work on a screenplay, per The New York Times. Sadly, her first day in her rented home fell on September 11, 2001. After a "few days in a state of anxiety," Rhimes decided to create "a list of all the things she most wanted to do in life, and at the very top was adopt a baby."  

The following year, Rhimes adopted her oldest daughter, Harper, becoming a first-time parent at the age of 32. Later, Rhimes adopted another little girl named Emerson. On the "Katie's Crib" podcast, she revealed that a surrogate carried her third daughter, Beckett.

"They couldn't be more different from one another, but they're all stubborn — and I mean that in the best way. No one will ever take advantage of them," Rhimes told Good Housekeeping about her girls. She explained that she was raised in a similar way and wanted her children to be confident. As someone who stands out in Hollywood for sticking to her beliefs, Rhimes said of her kids, "I don't want to have a nice girl. I'd rather have a stubborn girl." She also led by example by bringing her daughters to work, where they had their own "rooms across the hall from her office," The New York Times reported in 2013. Emerson, who was an infant at the time, would often be present at her mom's meetings.

The TV mogul talks about her looks

Even though Shonda Rhimes is often behind the camera, she has spoken extensively about her physical appearance. After she dropped close to 150 pounds, she penned an article about the experience for Shondaland. She admitted that she despised the entire weight loss process, and even after she accomplished her goal, she confessed, "I hate every single second of maintaining my weight, too." According to the writer, she decided to lose weight because ascending stairs was becoming difficult for her. 

As Rhimes' appearance changed, she noticed that people's attitudes towards her also changed — and not necessarily for the better. "You know what's worse than losing weight? How people treat you after you lose it," she wrote. On the surface, it seemed nice. "Women I barely knew gushed," she recalled. Men, meanwhile, "stood still and had long conversations with me about things." However, she found it "horrifying" and "disconcerting" that people suddenly felt like her body was an acceptable topic of conversation.

In another Shondaland article, Rhimes talked about her ever-changing hair. She recalled sporting almost every style imaginable, whether curly, relaxed, or cropped short. She's also experimented with different colors, including pink streaks and multicolored highlights. But no matter how she styles her tresses, for Rhimes, it's about so much more than chasing trends. "What I do with the stuff on top of my head is a clear representation of who I am. Of what I am about. Of where I stand at any given moment in time," she explained.

Shonda Rhimes struggled with fame

Despite her undeniable influence on pop culture and TV, Shonda Rhimes claims she is an introvert. After she became famous for "Grey's Anatomy" and her other hit shows, she admitted to NPR that "the fame that came with it was very daunting for me." As a result, she remembered becoming more closed off for a time. She said she rarely attended star-studded soirees and didn't live what she called a "glamorous life." Instead, she recalled, "My time really was spent going to work ... and spending time with my family because that was what was important to me."

Earlier in her career, the writer was "sometimes shy or defensive while doing press," according to Variety. She admitted to the outlet in 2021, "I'm having this conversation with you just freely and comfortably — and not with any Xanax or panic or any of that stuff." 

According to Rhimes, she made a huge leap forward when she started to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Her memoir, "Year of Yes," detailed the results of her resolution "to say yes to every opportunity that scared her." According to Rhimes, the experience "changed me in so many ways." She learned to truly embrace being herself by "shedding other people's judgments" as well as her own. She also said that much of her experimental year was spent "figuring out how to be happy."

She attended two elite schools

For her higher education, Shonda Rhimes first attended the elite Dartmouth College. While at the Ivy League school, "she majored in English literature," Oprah recapped. Rhimes revealed to Variety that she also "did a lot of theater" in college, but her dream was to become a novelist. That is until she "read an article that said it was harder to go to USC film school than it was to go to Harvard Law School." 

According to Rhimes, her parents, who were both "academics," couldn't challenge the exclusivity argument, so she "applied to USC film school and got in and went." She elaborated on the decision to The New York Times, explaining that film school seemed "like a really competitive thing to do. I'm going to do it." While in California, Rhimes earned an MFA at the university's prestigious School of Cinema-Television, per Oprah.

Once Rhimes became a star in the entertainment industry, the president of Dartmouth reached out to her and asked her to deliver one of the school's commencement speeches. Rhimes almost declined the offer because she hated giving speeches and "was conscious of how her remarks would be posted and analyzed online," The Washington Post detailed. Fortunately, even after "a full six months of terror and panic" in preparation for the commencement, Rhimes delivered an uplifting and insightful speech to the class of 2014.

How Shonda Rhimes entered the entertainment industry

After graduating from the film school at the University of Southern California School, Shonda Rhimes became a research director for a baseball documentary titled "Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream." Then, in 1996, she scored another big career win by selling her very first movie script. However, the film never made it into production, per Oprah

The story was called "Human Seeking Same," which was "about an older woman who begins dating a man through personal ads," The New York Times recapped. A few years later, she co-wrote the script for the 1999 HBO special "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," which starred Halle Berry. Rhimes then moved to the big screen and wrote the screenplay for Britney Spears' big-screen debut, "Crossroads." The movie's producer, Ann Carli, stumbled on a spec script written by Rhimes and was impressed. "The writing shook me, it was so good," Carli told Vice. So, she reached out to the relatively unknown Rhimes. 

For "Crossroads," Rhimes recalled trying to craft a character that captured the pop star's true personality. Rhimes said about Spears, "I was much more interested in the young woman that I met than the image that people had of her." The film also marked the beginning of Rhimes' progressive approach to diversity in entertainment. To her, most movies of that era "didn't feel realistic" because of their "oddly homogeneous" casts. She explained, "It wasn't that it was important to show people from diverse backgrounds — it just felt like the movie should look normal."

Bad timing for the screenwriter

Shonda Rhimes was on her way to becoming a full-time movie scriptwriter after penning "Crossroads" and "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement." But her interest in TV increased when she adopted her first daughter. "The baby wouldn't sleep, so Rhimes would lay her on her chest while she watched 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Felicity' and '24,'" The New York Times recapped. 

When the lightbulb went off for Rhimes, she remembered thinking, "Television is really good. And I'm really tired of writing about teenage girls and their makeovers." She then wrote a pilot for ABC "about journalists covering a war," she told Oprah. "I really loved it, but then we went to war in Iraq, and the pilot suddenly felt like poor taste because the characters were having too good a time," Rhimes explained. Because of the bad timing, all parties decided to scrap the idea. This was also the first time Rhimes worked with her production partner Betsy Beers, per Vanity Fair.

Later, Rhimes attempted to turn her idea about female war correspondents into a movie. As detailed by The Hollywood Reporter in 2013, Columbia Pictures hired Rhimes to adapt her pilot for the big screen in the film "War Correspondents." An executive for the production company said in a statement, "Shonda's unparalleled story sense — especially when it comes to stories about women forging their way in traditionally male professions — made this project irresistible." Sadly, the film never made it to production.

Shonda Rhimes reveals her schedule

Being the big boss in Hollywood means Shonda Rhimes has a lot of people depending on her. While she certainly puts in the hard work, she is also an expert at work/life balance. She told InStyle that she often gets up very early: 5:30 a.m., to be exact. According to the producer, it's how she squeezes in some alone time before her three daughters wake up. "Sometimes I use this time to write in my journal, but sometimes I just sit and stare out the window," she revealed. 

While most people catch up on news to stay abreast of the happenings around the world, Rhimes is constantly absorbing information and thinking about how these stories could be entertaining. "Ideas for my shows can come from any of these sources," she said about NPR, Twitter, and newspapers. But even as Rhimes became more powerful in entertainment, she made a change to ensure that her life didn't become all about her career. "I used to get to the office at 9, but lately I've been going in at 10 to force myself to work a little bit less," she revealed.

At work, Rhimes sets clear boundaries and expertly delegates to people she trusts. That way, she can be efficient at work while still enjoying time away from the office. "I do not answer phone calls or emails after 7 p.m.," she told Fast Company. "I do not work on the weekends, which I have to tell you is incredibly difficult."

The charitable side of the Shondaland founder

When she's not busy coming up with the next smash TV show, Shonda Rhimes spends some of her free time doing charity work. In a video for the Shondaland website, she shared some of her favorite organizations to work with. She first mentioned the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. "I love the arts. I love dance. I love little kids dancing," she explained. So it makes sense that she also supports the Chloe & Maude Foundation for its work using tap dancing to boost confidence. 

The other organizations she championed included Planned Parenthood and Beyond12, which promotes college education. She revealed that she's a member of the latter group's board.

Giving back is so important to Rhimes that she created her own charitable organization, the Rhimes Family Foundation. As a self-proclaimed "patron of the arts," Rhimes' nonprofit endowed an undisclosed amount to the IAMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles, per the Los Angeles Times. "I think it's hard for any playwright to find opportunities," Rhimes, herself a writer, told the outlet while discussing the donation. "If people aren't being included, then I'm going to find a way to make sure they're included. I'm going to find a way to make sure they have opportunities." Rhimes launched her foundation in 2016 and became involved with several philanthropic efforts. For example, the group "gave $10 million to the new Smithsonian African American museum," which opened in 2016 in Washington, D.C., per the museum's website.

How much is Shonda Rhimes worth?

As one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, Shonda Rhimes can place a high price tag on her work. In 2017, she entered into a deal with Netflix worth a reported "$100 million to $150 million," per The Hollywood Reporter. She hoped her big salary would inspire future women in entertainment. While speaking at Elle's Women in Hollywood event in 2018, she confidently said, "I will not hide. I am going to brag. I am the highest paid showrunner in television." 

Rhimes' value only went up after that time. Following the massive success of "Bridgerton" on Netflix, the streaming giant extended her contract for "five more years" in 2021. According to sources for The Hollywood Reporter, this extension included bonus options that "could elevate its value to the $300 million to $400 million territory of fellow uber-producers" like "American Horror Story" creator Ryan Murphy. This deal, plus her many other streams of income, made Rhimes worth an estimated $140 million as of 2021, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

With some of this money, it appeared Rhimes wanted to buy a different house. As reported by Dirt, she listed her Los Angeles mansion for $25 million in 2021. She bought the home in 2014 for a reported $8.8 million from "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Patricia Heaton. The asking price was set to "obliterate the current neighborhood record for the highest price ever paid for a single-family home."