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Black Female Showrunners Chart ‘the Shonda Effect’ of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Mega-Producer Shonda Rhimes

The SXSW virtual panel "Female Showrunners Breaking the Mold" was moderated by Mekeisha Madden Toby.

Shonda Rhimes arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Shonda Rhimes

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

When it comes to Shonda Rhimes’ success, there is no “Grey” area.

The “Grey’s Anatomy” creator redefined the network TV landscape before moving on to Netflix in an unprecedented first-look deal for the streamer. There, Rhimes has produced the record-breaking “Bridgerton” and created viral true crime sensation “Inventing Anna,” all while paving the way for other Black female showrunners, according to SXSW virtual panel “Female Showrunners Breaking the Mold.”

At the event, select OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and The CW filmmakers discussed the “Shonda effect” on modern television, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Produced by Warner Bros Television and Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY, the “Breaking the Mold” panel included Dee Harris-Lawrence (“All Rise”), Jill Blankenship (“Naomi”), Shaz Bennett (“Queen Sugar”), Janine Sherman Barrois (“The Kings of Napa”), and Teri Schaffer and Raynelle Swilling (“Cherish the Day”). TVLine editor Mekeisha Madden Toby moderated the virtual panel.

“The Kings of Napa” creator Barrois explained just how much Rhimes impacted the industry.

“She’s somebody who did a medical show on a network that made a billion dollars. And then she did it again, and then she did it again,” Barrois said. “There came a point where people looked and said, ‘Oh my gosh, people of color, Black people, can create global hits, and so we cannot count them out.’ And then the doors started opening more.”

Those doors also inevitably led to more authentic stories being told, as “Cherish the Day” co-showrunner Teri Schaffer explained.

“It’s just interesting watching it change over the years. I’ve been doing this a long, long time. In the old days, you were very careful, as a writer, speaking out about things character-wise, if you were the only Black writer on a Black show,” Schaffer said. “People were let go and stuff for speaking out. Now, I love the young writers are speaking out.”

The filmmaker recalled a moment on “The Bernie Mac Show” where even Mac had to put his foot down. “They had Bernie doing something crazy — I won’t go into detail — and the showrunner, at this time there was a white showrunner, and he just goes, ‘Well, I think Bernie would do this.’ And Bernie goes, ‘I am Bernie!'” Schaffer said. “You have to be really careful. It’s just beautiful how it’s changed where you can speak out and say, ‘That doesn’t feel real,’ and not worry too much about getting fired.”

Or, as Barrois summed up, “Ten years ago if you had said to any of us a Black woman [Channing Dungey] would be the chairman of Warner Bros. Television, we’d be like, ‘What?!’ All of these things have pushed the system.”

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