ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey put a positive spin on Shonda Rhimes’ exit to Netflix on Monday, but admitted she’s uncertain whether Rhimes could produce any future spinoffs or reboots of her successful franchises at the network.
Beyond “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and the retiring “Scandal,” Rhimes still has two upcoming shows: A still-untitled “Grey’s” spinoff set in a Seattle firehouse, and the legal drama “For The People.”
“I’m less clear what that means in terms of trying to do subsequent spinoffs of ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ given the terms of her new deal,” Dungey said. “We haven’t had those conversations yet. What I do know is that we have her services on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and the spinoff and the rest of these shows until the end of their runs.”
That also extends to eventual reboots or revivals of Shondaland shows like “Scandal,” which wraps up its series run this season. Should ABC want to revisit “Scandal” in the future, Rhimes would likely be unavailable — and Dungey said that probably makes it a non-starter of an idea.
“I don’t know if ‘Scandal’ would be ‘Scandal’ without Shonda,” Dungey said. “It’s so wrapped up in her DNA… I guess anything’s theoretically possible.”
Dungey confirmed that Rhimes had informed Disney/ABC a while ago that she would be decamping for Netflix once her deal expired; that timetable wound up being accelerated and finalized in August.
“We’ve known for a while that Shonda was interested in stretching different sets of creative muscles and I think we all know there are different challenges and opportunities in broadcast and different challenges and opportunities in streaming,” Dungey said. “Shonda is a very creative individual, and a lot of times creative people want to try different things. She wrote a book, she’s very interested in theater, there are a lot of things she wants to try and do.”
But, Dungey added, “I would have worked with Shonda forever.”
In the press release announcing the deal this summer, Rhimes – who has become close friends with Netflix chief creative officer Ted Sarandos, said the exec provided “a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for — the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach… The future of Shondaland at Netflix has limitless possibilities.”
As for the future of ABC primetime without a Shondaland pipeline, Dungey said she wasn’t too concerned: “We have as a network over time, [been asked] how are they going to survive without Aaron Spelling, how are they going to survive without Steven Bochco, how are they going to survive without J.J. Abrams, and now they’re saying, how are we going to survive without Shonda Rhimes? The great thing is there is always new talent that emerges. This will give them an opportunity to step into the spotlight.”
Speaking of the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, ABC has not yet finalized a title for the show, which premieres on Thursday, March 22 at 9 p.m. with a two-hour premiere. The show, following firefighters at Seattle Fire Station 19, stars Jaina Lee Ortiz and Jason George.
“Coming up with a title is one of the most challenging things we do,” Dungey said. “‘Grey’s’ didn’t have a title literally before it goes to air. There are a few final ideas we’re rolling around.”
As for “Scandal,” the series’ final four episodes air at 10 p.m. Thursdays, from March 29 through the finale on April 19.