CANNES, France – Ahead of her tribute at Mipcom as Personality of the Year, Shonda Rhimes said Tuesday that she only produces TV programs she would watch herself and that they’re filled with strong female protagonists because “I don’t know any dumb and weak women.”
At a packed news conference in Cannes, Rhimes said her recipe for delivering groundbreaking series such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” was to “only make shows we’d want to watch.” That goes for both the content she produces herself and for third-party material that she and Betsy Beers, executive producer at Shondaland, look at.
As for the female protagonists who populate her programs, Rhimes draws on personal experience. “I get asked a lot how I manage to create such smart and strong heroines,” she said. “But I don’t know any dumb and weak women. I’m writing heroines who talk like my mothers, my friends, like Betsy and me. I never felt that what they said was wild.”
Asked what she thought of Donald Trump’s recent lewd and misogynistic comments, Rhimes quipped that the Republican presidential candidate was “full of surprises.” She said her experience directing a short film to introduce Trump’s opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention was a “huge honor and an amazing challenge.”
Rhimes was joined at the news conference by Beers; actress Mireille Enos of “The Catch,” whose Season 2 opener screens at Mipcom on Tuesday evening; and Tony Goldwyn, who stars in “Scandal.”
Rhimes was asked about the ways in which she pioneered bringing diversity in TV drama, by having minority actors play lead roles. “I chose not to examine that fact. We make TV characters look like normal people in the real world. We just try to tell the truth,” said Rhimes.
Goldwyn agreed. “What’s so unique [about Shondaland] is that it’s not instructing. It sets a template about how things are or how they should be. For the broader parts of America and the world, these shows have a tremendous impact.
Rhimes said that she has started focusing more on the creative side and less on the business side in recent years. “I came to the realization that I’m supposed to be a storyteller and not the business person, so we’ve expanded Shondaland to hire people,” she said, adding that she spends “a lot of time in the editing room and with the writers so that they understand what’s in my head.”
Goldwyn said that what makes Rhimes’ characters so compelling is that they’re “always filled with contrast” and not consistently sympathetic. “We can find ourselves hating them,” but then “in one page she’ll flip it….All of a sudden your heart goes out and you want your character to triumph.”
During the presser, Rhimes also talked about her new show “Still Star-Crossed,” which is based on Melinda Taub’s novel. She explained she was drawn to the project because it allowed her to shed light on the myriad of characters who surrounded Romeo and Juliet, rather than focus on the mythical duo like previous works have done.