The reason Shonda Rhimes wants everyone to know how much she makes

You’re looking at TV’s highest-paid showrunner.
You’re looking at TV’s highest-paid showrunner.
Image: Reuters/Danny Moloshok
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When Shonda Rhimes announced last year that she had signed with the streaming-video giant Netflix, she kept the terms of the deal quiet.

No longer. At Elle magazine’s annual Women in Hollywood dinner Monday night (Oct. 15), Rhimes got a standing ovation from a celebrity-filled audience in Beverly Hills after revealing that she is now the highest-paid showrunner on television.

It doesn’t sound all that inspiring, at first: a ballroom full of wealthy people wildly applauding an already-wealthy person for getting even richer. But the creator of the hit series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder had prefaced the news by explaining why she found it important and necessary to share her historic salary rate, and it has to do with making sure more women are paid what they’re worth. Her words, according to the Hollywood Reporter:

The other day I came to this conclusion that men brag and women hide. Even when they don’t deserve to brag, men brag—[Donald] Trump, [Brett] Kavanaugh—and when men do deserve to brag, they are good at it. They do it so well. Men brag about everything, even things that aren’t things.

A little while ago in an inspiring article, [Grey’s Anatomy actress] Ellen [Pompeo]told the world she was the highest paid women in dramatic television. She did not hide. She bragged. She said she was powerful and she said deserved it, and there was some blowback. There should not have been. I have seen a thousand articles like that from men but she’s a woman and she shouldn’t say things like that. …

Ryan Murphy, bless your amazingly talented heart. When Ryan made his amazing deal with Netflix, what did he do? He shouted his salary to the world and he did this gorgeous cover shoot and photo for The Hollywood Reporter and he deserved every minute of it. I applaud him.

When I made a deal with Netflix, I let them [report] my salary wrong in the press, and then I did as few interviews as possible and I put my head down and worked. In other words, I hid. I’m getting this award for inspiring other women; how can I inspire anyone if I’m hiding?

She then announced: “I am the highest-paid showrunner in television.” She didn’t share the dollar amount, but presumably it’s more than the reported $300 million, five-year contract that Murphy signed with Netflix earlier this year.

Rhimes is a commercial and creative behemoth, whose shows for the network ABC have generated more than $2 billion in advertising, sales, and licensing. As her influence and power have grown, she has made a point of elevating women, as when she demanded that Pompeo be paid fairly for her value to the Grey’s Anatomy franchise. Sharing news of her record-setting paycheck so that other women might revel in it is another example.

“My point is that we need to set an example, because I am awesome and we are awesome, which is another way of saying we have power. We are powerful women and when we say we have power, what we are really saying is that we deserve to have power. We deserve whatever good thing it is that we are getting,” Rhimes said. “Demanding what you deserve can feel like a radical act.”