Shonda Rhimes Talks LGBT Representation in Series, Thoughts on Emmys

(l-r) Pete Nowalk, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Shonda Rhimes, Ellen Pompeo and Betsy Beers. (ABC)

One of the upsides of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour is getting some face time with the prolific (and very busy) showrunners and writers who are crafting some of the hottest television series on the air.

Shonda Rhimes is a name that easily rises to the top of any showrunner list as she currently has three shows on the air : “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and the Pete Nowalk created/Rhimes produced “How To Get Away with Murder.” She took to the stage for a panel entitled “TGIT” (Thank God It’s Thursday) promoting the fact that the aforementioned series air on ABC’s Thursday night schedule.

During the panel, which featured  Rhimes alongside fellow producers Betsy Beers and Nowalk as well as actors Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and Ellen Pompeo, I had the chance to ask about the reception she’s gotten over LGBT representation in her series over the years. Here’s an excerpt from the panel transcript:

Shonda Rhimes fielded questions during the TCA panel. (ABC)

Shonda, you've always had LGBT stories and characters in the thread work of your shows. Have you seen a difference in, either by the network notes you get or even just on social media, how people are responding to those things today as opposed to 10 or 11 years ago?

Shonda Rhimes:  Well, 10 or 11 years ago, there wasn’t any social media, really, and I think that we don’t—I’ve never really gotten any negative network notes about anything.  We don’t get negative network notes about anything.

Betsy Beers:  No.

SR:  It’s always been very—great.  Does the story you are telling tell the story?  That’s never been a thing that we’ve experienced ever, actually, I don’t think.

BB:  No.

SR:  So no.

I was just wondering about social media now, like, in the last four or five years. What do you hear from fans?

SR:  I think…(under breath) I don’t read a lot of comments… it’s been interesting. There’s a huge, huge, sort of, beautiful Calzona fan base online that I have a very special place in my heart for that spends a lot of time having conversation.  So, to me, there’s a really—I think there’s a really beautiful community online that’s very supportive and very excited and very invested in the storylines that I’ve spent time with, you know, in terms of who is talking to me online.  And they seem very excited about Zyra’s storylines.  And I’ve heard stuff about the “How To Get Away with Murder” storyline.  So, to me, it seems very supportive.  It’s very rare that I see something that’s not supportive.

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Aside from my question, another reporter asked about the upcoming Emmys and the fact that Davis could be the first black woman to win a Best Actress award. Rhimes was also asked about legacy in terms of the success she's had on ABC. Also from the transcript:

Shonda Rhimes:  I don’t know if I’m thinking of that as much as I’m thinking about the work that we are doing.  I don’t think we spend our time focusing on awards or accolades.  I think we spend our time focusing on the work that—I’m not going to speak for the actors—but I think we spend our time focusing on the work that I do as a writer and the directors as directors and the actors as actors.  I don’t think we spend our time thinking about that, and I certainly don’t spend any time thinking about legacy because we are still doing this.  You’d have to be not doing it anymore to think about that.  So I really think staying in the present is more useful to me.

(l-r) Nowalk, Davis, Rhimes, Pompeo, ABC Pres Paul Lee, Beers and Washington. (ABC)

Viola Davis:  I couldn’t have said it better.  I mean, if you are in this business for awards, you are in the wrong business.  I mean, really, it’s like being in the business for money.

Kerry Washington:  Or a job.

VD:  Yeah.  Or some laughs, you know.  But I will say this, because I remember a friend of mine was talking about Peter O’Toole and said…at that point, he had been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and he had never won.  And someone said, “Isn’t that a travesty?”  And how she looked at it was at least whatever roles he was given were so great on the page that they were worthy of awards attention.  And it speaks to the quality of the narrative, that people who give awards are woken up because—I say it all the time.  Oftentimes, I’m the third girl from the left.  You may have the talent of a Meryl Streep or a Julianne Moore but, you know, the role of the spear carrier.  And when that happens, nobody can see you shine.  And, you know, Shonda is very modest, and Pete is equally as modest, but they let us shine, and I appreciate that.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” “How To Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal” all return for their new seasons on September 24 on ABC.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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