The Queen Of Primetime: How Shonda Rhimes Saved Disney With ‘Scandal’

May 9, 2013  |  

While the rest of America is on pins and needles waiting for the season finale of Scandal, the folks over at Disney, the series’ network, are just happy Shonda Rhimes is on their team. The show has been a runaway hit for the network.

But as Forbes reports, it had been a journey for “the hottest woman in American television.” Not only does she put in an average 13-hour workday, but she multitasks like crazy. On the day of the magazine interview she was “having a dress-fitting for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner; picking songs and approving script edits for two of the most watched programs in prime time; taking her 1-year-old daughter to the doctor to investigate a mysterious bump.”

And she was writing the season finale to ABC’s hit Scandal, which has an enormous viewership of 8.3 million viewers each week and brought in an estimated $100 million in ad revenue this season.

If that weren’t enough multitasking, Rhimes has even got another magazine feature coming this week in the New York Times Magazine, that you can check out now online.

Rhimes is also the creator of ABC’s other hit show Grey’s Anatomy, making her literally the network’s savior from poor ratings. This 43-year-old single mother of two has become, as Forbes notes, “the Walt Disney Co.’s indispensable creator of an increasingly dispensable product: network television.”

Her two ABC shows are among the most valuable properties in television, pulling in more than $13 million in advertising for each week, just shy of $300 million a season, or about five percent of the network’s total revenue. Add to this tens of millions more for Grey’s syndication and licensing in other countries, which Disney shares with Rhimes’ production company, ShondaLand. Rhimes is pulling in a pretty penny as well. Forbes estimates she earned $12 million this year.

To offer some additional perspective —  broadcast TV audience ratings since 2002 have dropped by half while Rhimes continues to pull them in. “Each week more than 90% of Grey’s viewers stay tuned for Scandal, which follows at 10 p.m., a time slot it has owned in the ratings since its debut,” reports Forbes. Scandal watchers generate a stunning 3,000 tweets a minute during broadcasts.

Besides money and ratings, Rhimes has made network history in more ways than one. She is the only African American show creator to have consecutive hit series. In fact, Scandal is the first network drama written and produced by an African-American woman with an African-American woman in the lead role. And black viewers have responded to this. It is the highest-rated scripted drama among African Americans, with 10.1 percent of black households, or an average of 1.8 million viewers, tuning in.

“What Shonda Rhimes possesses is this extraordinary instinct and compass for what our audience needs,” Paul Lee, the president of ABC Entertainment Group, told the magazine.

But Rhimes remains cautious and aware of television’s fleeting fame. “It’s not like I’ve got this power so I’m going to stomp around doing whatever I want,” she explains to Forbes. “The power is that the network trusts me.”

Click through on those two links to read more about the woman who is ruling network television. Scandal is on tonight. What do you think is going to happen? Make sure to come back to the homepage tomorrow for our recap.

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