She’s a titan. She’s a fierce and phenomenal woman. She’s a mom. And she’s one of the women who’s put forth the most episodes of television ever.
She’s Shonda Rhimes. And she’s just hit 300 epic, McDreamy, McDisastery episodes of the hit ABC series Grey’s Anatomy.
I remember the day I fell in love with Grey’s and, subsequently, television as an artform. It was the week after the Super Bowl 2006. Everyone, the week before, had gotten hooked on “It’s the End of the World,” which introduced Kyle Chandler as the bomb squad guy trying to save Meredith from, well, herself. Everyone but me, because I don’t do sportsball. So the week after, I remember vividly hanging out with my dad and brother, who wanted to watch the next episode, “As We Know It,” because, as I said, they’d gotten hooked. I watched the second half of an episode of a show I’d never seen and it changed my life. It put me on the edge of my seat, was kind of funny, had romance, I felt like I was learning medical stuff, and I totally called that Kyle Chandler would explode! I’d never fallen in love with a TV show so fast.
My dad and brother don’t watch Grey’s anymore (I don’t think they watched much more after that second episode), but that episode affected how I saw television and what I knew and hoped television could do, even still now, more than ten years later. Even when I spent time away from the show, I came back and it felt like home. It felt like I was the one who’d made the mistake of leaving this world of ever-changing, ever-growing characters who I now realize I will always love, adore, and come back to.
Beyond just the show itself, Grey’s Anatomy sparked my love of television as a whole and set the path of my life to writing about and editing television content. I knew I liked TV before that episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but “As We Know It” led me to be interested in television as an artform, as something worthy of study, as something worth fighting for when it came to inclusiveness and representation. Whether writing for television or writing about television, I wanted to just talk about television all day every day, and that episode of Grey’s Anatomy — and Shonda Rhimes’ existence — helped me believe I could do that.
I didn’t know (m)any Black showrunners by name, much less Black women showrunners. But here came Shonda Rhimes, producing and writing addictive television, introducing diverse casts, and showing that investing in diversity and Black women could get you a lot of money and attention from audiences who had long felt unrepresented.
Even when Grey’s was at its weirdest — I’m looking at your Brain Tumor!Izzie — it remained a beacon of what diverse, inclusive television could be and set the mark for every proceeding show that Shonda put her hands on, as well as ABC’s current very diverse lineup. That was the influence of Shonda and everyone who worked with and believed in her vision.
Because for Shonda, it’s not about diversity points, it’s about showing reality.
And in showing reality on the small screen, Shonda has affected reality IRL. People have wanted to become doctors because of Shonda Rhimes. People have invested in diverse content because of Shonda Rhimes. People — me — have pursued a love of television because of Shonda Rhimes. There are medical professionals, and lawyers, and writers (for and about TV and entertainment) because 12 years ago, Shonda Rhimes brought the real world around her to our TVs and wouldn’t stop until she had a whole night of entertainment named for herself.
300 isn’t the marker for her accomplishment — because she’s been hard at work for 12 years, 6 Rhimes-produced shows, and many speeches, books, and TEDxTalks — but it’s a perfect time to talk about and reflect how much Shonda Rhimes has affected the industry, the careers of her co-workers and co-conspirators (because only a devious conspiracy could pull off that plane crash and the painful irony of Derek Shepherd’s death) and the lives of her fans. Fans like me fell in love with the vision of entertainment Shonda brought to our world.
So I just wanted to say briefly: thank you Shonda. Thank you for saying “yes” when you wanted to and “no” when you had to. Thank you for carrying through your vision not just to get the characters out of your head, but to fight to get them into our lives in ways that have rippled through to the rest of televised media. Thank you for supporting women and Black people and queer people and for supporting underrepresented communities and making that amazingly and unrelentingly clear both on camera and behind the scenes. Thank you for 300 episodes of these wacky, wonderful, and real doctors. Thank you for Maggie Pierce, who represents me like few other characters do. Thank you for Meredith Grey, who isn’t perfect but is still tough and loving and smart and amazing and big-hearted. And thank you for everything you will continue to bring us.
Here’s a large glass of wine to you.