Shonda Rhimes looks to Marvel Studios as a model for her new Netflix empire

Yes, there was a Shonda for Shondaland.
Yes, there was a Shonda for Shondaland.
Image: Phil McCarten/Invision/AP
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Shonda Rhimes was already one of the most important creators in American television. Now at Netflix, she wants her “Shondaland” TV empire to expand around the globe and become a cultural staple whose name long outlives her own.

In an interview with the New York Times, Rhimes detailed her wide-ranging, multi-year deal (paywall) for the powerhouse streaming service, estimated to be worth around $150 million. The Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator, who formerly worked exclusively at American network ABC, has at least eight different shows in development at Netflix, with many more surely on the way.

Rhimes envisions Shondaland’s place within Netflix similarly to that of Marvel Studios’ vast superhero kingdom within Disney: a talent incubator and globally loved brand inside one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world.

“It would be really amazing to me at some point down the line—not now—if somebody said, “There was a Shonda for Shondaland?'” Rhimes told the New York Times. “It needs to be bigger than me.”

Her diverse list of shows in development at Netflix is not unlike Marvel’s famously abundant superhero slate, which is planned several years in advance. Rhimes’ plans include a show about the Great Migration (the movement of more than 6 million African Americans out of the Jim Crow South into the US Northeast and West); a series about the “private lives” of US presidents, their families, and the White House staff (Downton Abbey, anyone?); and a show that explores sexism in Silicon Valley, based on the book Reset by former Reddit and Kleiner Perkins executive Ellen Pao. You can see the full list here.

Another model Rhimes wants to emulate is United Artists, the film and TV studio founded in 1919 by four of the day’s most prominent artists—Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks—to have more control over their work and the creative process.

Part of what drew Rhimes to Netflix was the streaming service’s reputation for giving its many writers and producers total creative freedom. “I can’t wait to show everybody what a Shondaland show is that we make for the world,” Rhimes told the New York Times, implying that the streaming service is free of some of the language, content, and commercial restrictions that are put on US network television shows.

The new partnership is likely to be as beneficial for Netflix as it is for Rhimes and her brand. Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos told the New York Times that more than half of the service’s 125 million subscribers around the world have watched at least part of a Shondaland series. (Shows like Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder are available on Netflix in a number of countries.)

Rhimes is one of the few names in TV who’s actually capable of creating a massive global brand in the vein of a Marvel Studios. It’s not a wildly unrealistic goal, either, given Netflix’s own plans for world domination.