Shonda Rhimes' Netflix Deal & Grey's Anatomy: Why There's No Reason to Worry

A closer look at what Shondaland's leap to the streaming service means for ABC's existing TGIT line-up.

By Billy Nilles Aug 14, 2017 7:04 PMTags
Shonda RhimesJay Goldman/ABC

Shondaland officially has a new address.

Shonda Rhimes has the TV world buzzing with news that she and her mega-successful production company would be decamping from their long-time home network of ABC for the greener pastures of Netflix, with a multi-year deal to produce new series and other projects for the streaming giant. And while the prospect of the Shondaland team creating for Netflix, completely free from the standards-and-practices shackles that come along with broadcast television, is positively thrilling, the news has fans of Rhimes' existing hit properties asking one big question: What does this mean for the future of TGIT?

The short answer to that question? Not much. Allow us to explain.

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Courtesy ABC

While Scandal is entering into its final season this fall, both Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder are tentpole shows for the network, earning both consistent critical acclaim (for Viola Davis' performance on HTGAWM, in particular) and some of ABC's highest ratings (heading into its 14th season, Grey's remains the network's highest-rated drama). Regardless of where Rhimes will be creating new content in the future, these shows belong to ABC. And the network shows so signs that they're even thinking about letting go. On top of that, there are still more Shondaland projects in the network's pipeline, including the mid-season legal drama For the People and the still untitled Grey's spinoff. Despite Rhimes' deal, sources at the network stress that these projects will stay put at ABC, with each show's showrunner locked into overall deals.

So while Rhimes and her longtime producing partner Betsy Beers may have left the building, Shondaland remains very much in business with ABC.

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"Shonda, Betsy and I started working together with the first episode of ‘Grey's Anatomy' and those early days will forever remain one of the highlights of my professional life.  We are happy to continue working with Shonda and her team at Shondaland on ‘Grey's,' ‘Scandal,' ‘How to Get Away with Murder,' and the upcoming ‘For the People' and ‘Grey's' spinoff," ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said in a statement responding to the news. "I'm proud to have given a home to what have become some of the most celebrated and talked about shows on television.  With the launch of a new season upon us, fans can rest assured that TGIT remains intact and will be as buzzed about as ever."

ABC Studios president Patrick Moran echoed Dungey's sentiment with a statement of his own. "We're so proud of the work we've done with Shonda and Betsy throughout our long and productive relationship," he said. "From the worldwide success of Grey's Anatomy to today, with five series (‘Grey's Anatomy,' ‘Scandal,' ‘How To Get Away With Murder,' ‘For the People,' and the ‘Grey's' spinoff), a pilot from Allan Heinberg and a number of projects in development, we will continue to shepherd that success together.  The Shondaland imprint will always be an important part of ABC Studios and we wish them all the best in this new endeavor."

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While Rhimes' decision to depart ABC may be big news, it's important to remember that it's not uncommon or unheard of for celebrity showrunners to work with multiple networks vis a vis their production imprints. In fact, before Rhimes effectively made being a celebrity showrunner a thing—and before she helped usher in the practice of showrunners working exclusively with one network—that sort of thing was de rigueur. (And, frankly, has remained that way for production companies not run by celebrity showrunners.) 

If you're still worried that Rhimes might just up and pull Grey's Anatomy from ABC—or that ABC might cancel the TGIT line-up out of spite—trust us when we tell you that there's no cause for concern. First of all, Rhimes couldn't move Grey's to Netflix on her own even if she wanted to. And both Shondaland and ABC are still making way too much money off of the Thursday night line-up—Grey's especially—to want to tip over the apple cart. For proof of Rhimes' commitment to Grey's Anatomy's continued dominance, look no further than her decision earlier this summer to bring back veteran writer Krista Vernoff to run the show after a seven season absence. An important name from the show's early years (she was head writer and executive producer for seasons one through seven), Vernoff's return now reads, in light of the Netflix deal, as Rhimes' appointing her successor. And as for HTGAWM, Rhimes' involvement in that series has always been minimal. That's creator Pete Nowalk's baby, and his overall deal with ABC remains in tact.

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While no one can truly say what the future may bring—and sure, there's a possibility that Shondaland's new ABC offerings flop and ratings collapse for TGIT and that's the end of the production house's presence on the network for the time being—we can look to another super-producer's recent foray into Netflix programming for a bit of guidance. Chuck Lorre, arguably the face of CBS comedy, has taken Chuck Lorre Productions to Netflix for the upcoming Kathy Bates-starring pot comedy Disjointed, premiering Aug. 25 as well as the just-announced Michael Douglas comedy, The Kominsky Method. And his presence in the streaming service's stable of creators has not stopped The Big Bang Theory from reigning as TV's No. 1 comedy or kept Mom from earning Emmy nominations or prevented him from spinning TBBT's Sheldon off into a prequel series of his own in the form of Young Sheldon, debuting this fall.  All this is to say: Rhimes going to Netflix doesn't have to—and most likely will not—mean the end of TGIT as we know it.

"Our current shows will continue to thrive on ABC and Shondaland will be there every step of the way," Rhimes assured in her statement announcing hew move to Netflix. "I could not have asked for a better home to begin my career. I continue to be grateful to work with so many talented people – especially our studio gladiator Patrick Moran and our most powerful and brilliant champion Channing Dungey."

If her track record has proven one thing, Rhimes is a woman we can trust. So set your fears aside and get back to your regularly scheduled programming, AKA waiting impatiently for TGIT to return next month.

Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder return for seasons 14 and 4 on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8 and 10 p.m., respectively, with Scandal's final season kicking off one week later in its 9 p.m. time slot.