Shonda Rhimes on Creating Hit TV at Netflix, ‘Inventing Anna’ and Whether Regé-Jean Page Will Ever Return to ‘Bridgerton’

These are among the many reasons Rhimes has been selected as Variety’s Show Woman of the Year.

Shonda Rhimes has launched TV superstars before — such as the entire cast of “Grey’s Anatomy,” led by Ellen Pompeo. But even she was caught off guard by the uproar earlier this year when Netflix and her company Shondaland announced that Regé-Jean Page, everyone’s favorite duke, was leaving “Bridgerton” behind, and wouldn’t be appearing in the show’s second season.

“What I loved was we were going to create this powerful, exciting, amazing romance,” Rhimes says of the relationship between Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings (Page) and Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor). “And then for once in television, they were going to get to have their happily ever after versus — well, you know! In network television, you have to come up with 15 years of why a couple has to be apart.”

Upon learning of Page’s departure, the internet erupted in mourning. “I don’t think I expected everybody to have such a reaction to it,” Rhimes says. “My assumption of what people knew of romance novels was … I overestimated a great deal.”

But she gets it. “People’s attachment to couples is real — I mean, I know that better than anybody,” Rhimes says. “And I think that means success. But I do understand their despair.”

Then again, maybe Rhimes, 51, shouldn’t have been surprised at all. “Bridgerton,” her long-awaited series debut for Netflix, exploded onto the streamer on Christmas Day 2020, and became a worldwide phenomenon — a cozy, carnal holiday binge. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO, revealed this fall that the Regency-period romance had topped Netflix’s charts as its most-watched original series of all time (before “Squid Game” came along), in both households and in time spent viewing.

Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria tells Variety that the streamer’s deal with Shondaland is successful based on what it calls the “‘Bridgerton’-verse” alone. “With ‘Bridgerton,’ 82 million member households around the world watched it in the first 28 days,” Bajaria says. “It didn’t have to be the biggest — but it’s amazing that it was.”

Rhimes has made a home for herself at Netflix, having succeeded there where some of her high-powered peers have flailed. With a newly renewed four-year deal, in which she’ll make $150 million with a bonus that could be worth an additional $200 million, she is the highest-paid showrunner on television, and she’s one of the most influential creators ever to work in the medium.

“Inventing Anna,” her limited series about the grifter Anna Delvey, and the first show she herself has written for the streamer, will premiere in February, Variety can reveal exclusively. And “Bridgerton” will return for Season 2 in 2022. These are among the many reasons Rhimes has been selected as Variety’s Show Woman of the Year.

When asked what she sees as her next frontier, Rhimes casually mentions that she’s learning to play the cello. The cello?

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