Netflix’s huge investment in Shonda Rhimes is starting to pay off

“Bridgerton,” Rhimes’ first show for Netflix, is a huge success.
“Bridgerton,” Rhimes’ first show for Netflix, is a huge success.
Image: Netflix
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Netflix is paying TV mega-producer Shonda Rhimes more than $100 million to make hit shows. That is an enormous sum for a single creator—but if her first series under the partnership is any indication, it’s going to be a smart investment.

Bridgerton, which launched Dec. 25, will be watched by 63 million households in its first four weeks, according to Netflix. The size of its audience is difficult to compare to those of broadcast TV shows (Netflix counts any subscriber who watches at least two minutes of a series as a “view”), but we can compare it to other Netflix content. By that metric, Bridgerton would be the fifth most popular Netflix release of all time, and about three times more popular than season three of The Crown.

Based on a series of best-selling novels by Julia Quinn, Bridgerton is a romance set during the social season of Regency London, falling somewhere on the spectrum between period dramas like The Crown and the many popular rom-coms on the streaming service. (Thank you, algorithm?) It enjoys a robust 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, with Entertainment Weekly calling it a “wonderful diversion.”

The show proves Rhimes understands the kind of content that works best on Netflix. As the co-creator and producer of broadcast TV hits like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Rhimes could have formed a pact with any streaming platform or TV network she wanted, but in 2018 she chose Netflix, believing it was the best place to help grow her “Shondaland” brand globally. (Netflix’s deep pockets also helped, of course.)

Rhimes has roughly a dozen projects in the works at the company, but has thus far taken a slightly more calculated approach than other big-name producers who have also signed exclusive production agreements with Netflix. One such producer is Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy, who is getting twice as much money as Rhimes—but has been half as cost-effective. He has already produced three glitzy TV series and two movies for the service, but most have either garnered mediocre reviews or underwhelming viewership (or both). Kenya Barris, another TV producer who signed a Netflix deal the same year Rhimes did, is reportedly looking to get out of it already.

As Netflix increasingly behaves more like a traditional TV network, and is more careful about doling out resources than in the past, Rhimes could provide a model for other creators to follow. Netflix will likely never be as curatorial as HBO was in its golden years, but it surely wants to be more efficient. And so far, Rhimes’ success rate is 100%.