State of Shondaland: HUMANITAS Trustee Shonda Rhimes Talks 'Grey's' Spinoff, 'For the People' and Netflix
While her Netflix deal has already started, the prolific producer reiterated that she's not leaving her ABC shows anytime soon.
Hours after ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey addressed the future of Shondaland now that its creator-face Shonda Rhimes has inked an $100 million deal at Netflix, the prolific producer took her turn on the subject.
While Rhimes has an exclusive content deal at the streaming giant, she says she will continue to serve as an executive producer on Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder as well as rookie dramas For the People and the untitled Grey's spinoff for as long as the respective shows air on ABC. Rhimes also has a number of scripts in development at ABC, and will serve in the same capacity on those should any of them move to pilot and beyond at the Disney-owned network.
"There's a misconception," Rhimes told reporters gathered Monday afternoon at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour. "We're already at Netflix. Our deal with Netflix already began. It's not as if we're going to pack our bags. We have five shows at ABC and are developing another. All our new shows will be at Netflix. It's not as if we're going anywhere. It's not as if there's a separation date."
Pushed on what the Netflix deal would mean for a potential third spinoff from Grey's (remember, Private Practice ran for five seasons), Rhimes deflected by saying that right now five shows seems like enough. In the meantime, the 10-episode Grey's spinoff is Seattle-set and will focus on firefighters from the captain down the ranks to the newest recruit in their personal and professional lives.
The castmembers are expected to be introduced in an episode of the flagship series this season. Jason George will move from the flagship to the spinoff as his character Ben Warren gives up his ER career to become a firefighter. Originally, the actor was not set to join the spinoff despite the season 13 finale on which Ben went full firefighter to save a colleague as the hospital burned. Grey's veteran Stacy McKee serves as showrunner and exec produces alongside Paris Barclay, Rhimes and her Shondaland partner Betsy Beers. Jaina Lee Ortiz (Rosewood) stars as Andy Hererra, a key member of Seattle Fire Station 19.
McKee said the spinoff exists in the same universe as Grey's — the joke is that Fire Station 19 is three blocks way from Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. McKee called the spinoff "Grey's adjacent" and said there was "a lot of potential for crosspollination," noting that they would be excited to have would be excited to crossover with the characters or places from the flagship in "small ways or big ways."
Rhimes reiterated that the idea for the spinoff was organic and did not start with network execs approaching her to create another off-shoot of Grey's as she's parting ways with Scandal. "Channing and I talked about the idea of the spinoff way earlier and it had been in the back of my mind," Rhimes said. "If we can come up with a good idea, I'd be interested in it. Then Stacy had a good idea. To me, it felt like if you have an idea that's good enough, you should work on that. It felt like the perfect idea."
Like all of Rhimes' shows, the lead character was written and cast color-blind. Rhimes was asked why the spinoff was the right series for a Latina lead and she stressed that, like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, the show cast the best actress for the part, with Ortiz winning over everyone with her audition.
As for why George was the right actor to move to the spinoff, McKee said that it felt right given the number of times Ben has changed career paths. "His character seemed like such an organic character to transition to the spinoff. If you follow Ben as a character, he's changed careers a couple times. It just seemed like a really organic, natural transition. Plus he was playing in the fire in the Grey's finale last season," she said of the one-time anesthesiologist.
Producers were also pushed about the show's lack of a title, with McKee saying they are keeping their options open and are excited about a number of different ones (she declined to share any of them). Earlier in the day, Dungey had said that NBC's Chicago Fire was reason enough to not call it Seattle Fire.
For the People, meanwhile, has had its share of behind the scenes issues. After being picked up to pilot and held for midseason, the Shondaland drama underwent a number of recastings, with Britt Robertson and Jasmin Savoy Brown taking over the two leading roles from Britne Oldford and Lyndon Smith, respectively. Following the recastings, production was also shut down briefly in September as the series was reconfigured for its new leads.
Set in the Southern District of New York Federal Court, aka "The Mother Court," the legal drama follows brand-new lawyers working on opposite sides — for both the defense and the prosecution as they handle the most high-profile and high-stakes cases in the country, all as their personal lives intersect. Amma Deavere Smith co-stars in the project from showrunner Paul William Davies (Scandal) that counts Rhimes and Beers as exec producers.
Davies noted that the show is in the traditional Shondaland mold — "There is romance and sex," he said — but stressed that it is a procedural and it does have traditional relationship arcs. The series will take on subjects including entrapment, mandatory minimums in sentencing and subjects in the federal court system that include the war on drugs, foreign vs. U.S. jurisdiction, espionage. "[We also take on] personal issues when our characters engage with the law as young attorneys," Davies said.
The Grey's Anatomy spinoff is set to premiere Thursday, March 22, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, while For the People is set to launch Tuesday, March 13, at 10 p.m.