Upfronts 2014: Shondaland Thursday Coming This Fall — But Can She Sustain It?

 

Shonda Rhimes is ABC’s biggest money maker right now. She’s been re-upped through 2018 and nearly all her shows get greenlit without much effort or fuss. Scandal is one of television’s hottest shows right now and Grey’s Anatomy has been 10 years strong, so it makes sense to keep that legacy going. And of course, if Grey’s starts to falter and Scandal has a tentative “end date,” then ABC wants to get some Shonda shows in there that could overlap and continue the dynasty.

This fall, Thursdays become Shondalnd Thursdays. In addition to Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda Rhimes’ new show, starring Viola Davis–How to Get Away with Murder–will premiere in the 10pm slot. Talk about a strong lead in. We know just from the Shonda brand that it will be highly watched, highly talked about, and will get ABC the Thursday ratings they want for the first few weeks at least.

But can she sustain it? Doing two shows at a time has got to be rough. The last time Shonda Rhimes had three shows on the air–no one remembers Off the Map, in conjunction with Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice? Exactly, that’s what happens when you have three shows on the air. Grey’s was in it’s seventh season and Private Practice in what became it’s second to last. Three shows is draining. Three shows is stretching yourself thin. Three shows is hoping you can trust the people in charge of your other shows with the characters, with the storylines. And while there are shows with big names attached spread across multiple shows (Dick Wolf (L&O), Jerry Bruckheimer), they don’t have the showrunner, creator, creative input that Shonda has. So we’ll see how well each show does with Shonda spreading herself across them like this.

My biggest example of a highly involved creator trying three shows at once is 2002 Joss Whedon.

It’s almost like he’s saying, “Shonda, beware!”

As he was entering Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s seventh season and Angel’s fourth season, Firefly came out. Cult hit that it (and the other two shows as well) was, that was a rough year for Whedonites. Yes, there were other factors to Firefly’s cancel (cough*FOX executive meddling*cough), but season 7 of Buffy and Angel’s 4th are some of the most contested seasons among fans. There’s a lot of dislike in the character development, storyline speed and progress, and just a general division among fans about whether or not they’re the weakest seasons in the bunch. Firefly was cancelled after 13 episodes (well, more like 10?), it became Buffy’s last season, and Angel’s second to last. In addition to all the other pressures that caused each show to go through it’s personal rough patch, it could not have helped that Joss had to concern himself with all three shows, in some way. Focusing on Firefly doesn’t mean that he could have completely ignored showrunner responsibilities for Angel and Buffy. That kind of stretching takes a toll on the showrunner and the shows.

I hope this doesn’t happen to Shonda. Both Grey’s (simply due to it’s length) and Scandal already have many fans once in love with the shows expressing apprehension about the coming seasons. Grey’s is losing a major, fan favorite character. Scandal’s struggled with White House saturation. With these cracks in the armor, can Shonda risk dividing her attention to another show? Only time, and ratings, will tell.

 

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