Thursday's episode of Scandal will put showrunner Shonda Rhimes in a very exclusive club.
The "what if" themed hour marks the ABC political thriller's 100th episode and, for Rhimes, her third show - following Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice - to notch the impressive milestone.
Prolific showrunners like Norman Lear, Dick Wolf and Chuck Lorre have all had at least three shows surpass the 100-episode mark, but the roster of female runners who have accomplished the same is very slim.
Friends and Dream On's Marta Kauffman did it twice, as did Mara Brock Akil (The Game, Girlfriends); Carol Black - with husband Neal Marlens - did too (The Wonder Years, Ellen). A deep dive into some of the most well-respected showrunners reveals only CSI: Crime Scene Investigation duo Ann Donahue and Carol Mendelsohn have done it three times - with two spinoffs (CSI: Miami, CSI: New York) from the Anthony Zuiker-created series that until recently ranked as the most watched show in the world.
Rhimes' feat would make her, by our account, the first and only woman to have created three shows to go 100-plus episodes as well as the first African-American to achieve the triple milestone. It's also fitting that Scandal is the show that pushed Rhimes into the club given that the Kerry Washington starrer is the first drama in 37 years to feature an African-American woman at the top of the call sheet.
"I don't think I've really thought about it until we were standing there at the 100th episode celebration with the cake and everything," Rhimes tells The Hollywood Reporter of the triple feat. "I truly didn't realize it. I don't know if it's a milestone because I'm a woman or a milestone because I'm an African-American woman - it's America, so everything is a milestone if you're an African-American woman it seems. But it does feel fun that we get to do these shows and get here and the fans are following. Obviously there's storytelling that's universal and storytelling that people like and women who have stories that are compelling, and I like that people are watching them."
Scandal is the last pilot Rhimes wrote. In recent years the prolific producer has shifted to developing other talents from her Shondaland stable (like How to Get Away With Murder showrunner Pete Nowalk and The Catch's Allan Heinberg). She next has ABC's Romeo and Juliet take Still Star-Crossed (working title) awaiting a premiere date and an untitled legal drama pilot from Scandal grad Paul William Davies in consideration for next season.
"It's a gigantic achievement and we're incredibly honored," Shondaland partner Betsy Beers tells THR. "Shonda and the writers continue to write shows that I want to see. And this cast just keeps getting better. It's an honor to continue to get to make TV I love but also a delight to come to work every day."
Added star Kerry Washington (Olivia) of Rhimes' accomplishment: "It's very historic. Shonda is a boss, badass beast and I'm so happy to be living in her queendom."
As for the future of Scandal, the Kerry Washington political soap received an early seventh-season renewal. Rhimes previously told THR that Scandal was not a show that would run for eight or 10 seasons like Grey's (already renewed for an impressive 14th season). "I used to know how it ended, and then Donald Trump was elected. We had a destination, and I don't know if that's our destination anymore," Rhimes said in THR's Scandal oral history pegged to the 100th episode.
"There was a very specific planned progression that was going to be easy to tell because Hillary was going to be president, and we were going to be living in the light. But it didn't occur," Rhimes told THR. "I'm still trying to come to terms with that. One bad thing after another keeps happening, and the world feels very unstable. So in a world in which all of the things that we would write on Scandal are happening in real life, it's very hard to write Scandal the way we used to, when it was like, 'Let's make Washington the most outrageous, horrifying place it could ever be.'"
The 100-episode milestone is becoming increasingly rare in the so-called Peak TV landscape. Cable and streaming episode counts hover in the 10-episode range, and the barometer for success on broadcast has become increasingly difficult to determine as ratings continue to dwindle and networks have become more likely to pull struggling rookies off the air.
Looking ahead, Scandal is on the cusp of electing a new president to follow Tony Goldwyn's Fitzgerald Grant. His ex-wife and former first lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) remains in the race after season six kicked off with the president-elect being assassinated.
"We're planning the season finale right now and I can't possibly tell you what the finale is going to end in because we're still arguing about it," Rhimes says. "Part of the idea is that we're hurtling toward this conclusion of this very weird election cycle and this very weird thing that's been happening. What I've loved is that this has been a season in which our people, who have usually been so evil - have been the victims of people and have had to come together to be something better than they were. When we get to the end of the season, we'll see how that all culminates. I'm hoping we're going to have a new president, that's the plan. But we're still debating that. It will be interesting to find out what happens to Fitz."
Scandal's 100th episode airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC.