Who thought one day the writer behind Disney’s The Princess Diaries and Britney Spears’ movie Crossroads would become THE producer everyone in Hollywood talks about, dreams to work with, dies to be? Shonda Rhimes, the queen of her own empire modestly called Shondaland, the queen of Thursday nights (#TGIT!), the queen of ABC, the queen of television, well THE QUEEN, has had a lot of success since she launched medical drama Grey’s Anatomy in 2004, still on the air 12 years later and probably for at least a couple more. Spin-off Private Practice quietly lived 6 years after a rocky start; Scandal got bigger and bigger; How To Get Away With Murder started strong right out of the gate last year. The Catch, coming this midseason, is a question mark for now, but the cast is just great (Mireille Enos, Peter Krause, Sonya Walger…). The only disappointment so far was another medical drama Off The Map, cancelled after 13 episodes in 2011. But Shonda Rhimes knows failures too. She also developed many projets and pilots that were not picked up to series over the years, like every other producer out there. Here’s your guide to the dark side of Shondaland: the shows you will never see (except if they are revisited some day)…
PILOTS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT
INSIDE THE BOX – ABC (2009)
Description: Welcome to the fast-paced, cutthroat world of network news. CNS is a hotbed of professional backstabbing and personal betrayals. The only way to survive here is through strength, talent and friendship. When the DC Bureau Chief retires, everyone assumes that Catherine Powell is a shoe-in for his job. She’s dedicated and savvy and she practically runs the newsroom already. So no one is more shocked than Catherine when the board passes her over in favor of the charismatic, but shallow Englishman, Kenneth Donnegan. Kenneth welcomes Catherine to stay onboard as part of his team but he makes it clear that it’s his team. There’s no way Catherine’s going to take this lying down. She quickly pulls together an investigative team of her own, including her loyal, right-hand man Jake Fisher and talented, but brutally ambitious reporter, Samantha Hathaway…
Cast: Indira Varma, Kim Raver, Jennifer Finnigan, Jason George, Martin Henderson, Sarah Drew…
I will tell you later in the article how Shonda Rhimes attempted to create a show revolving around journalists twice. But she finally made it the third time. Well. Almost. ABC ordered Inside the Box pilot the same year as The Deep End (basically Grey’s Anatomy with lawyers), The Forgotten (that we’ve all… yeah… forgotten, just one of those Christian Slater’s cancelled shows), Eastwick, V and high-concept and much talked-about Flash Forward. Despite quite an interesting cast (with an Indian lead! We had to wait for Quantico, starting this year, to get another one in a drama!) and a result that was said to be “great” from insiders, Inside The Box was not picked-up to series and it was announced that it would be redeveloped at a later time. Which it never was. Shonda used the cast for her other shows though. For having read the pilot script, I have to say I’m very surprised ABC didn’t even try. Yes, it was a bit generic, yet another soap not that different from the others, but it explored a new world and it had a real potential! That was a weird decision quite frankly. I would even call it a mistake.
THE GILDED LILYS – ABC (2012)
Description: After a year away in Paris in 1895, Violet Langton Lily – a beautiful young socialite from the renowned Lily family – gets blindsided by love on a New York-bound luxury liner. His name is John Kidd, a handsome working-class man whom Violet’s family definitely wouldn’t approve of. This sudden yet profound encounter makes her question everything including her future. Ultimately, Violet will have to choose between what her heart wants, and what her family expects. Back in New York, Violet returns to discover her father, Edwin Lily, has sunk the family fortune into the construction of the City’s first Luxury Hotel, The Lillian. Eager to get in on the action and attention, Edwin’s brother, Julius, offers to become equal partner and financier. Through years of reckless behavior, Julius has earned a reputation for being a playboy and lout. He’s the Black Sheep, and this is his chance at familial redemption. And he’s willing to get it no matter the cost…
Cast: Sarah Bolger, Matt Long, John Barrowman, Matt Lauria, Blythe Danner, Brian F. O’Byrne, Madeline Zima…
When the world fell in love with the English show Downton Abbey in 2010, Shonda Rhimes was among the early fans. So when The Nine writer K.J. Steinberg came to her with an idea of a similar show located in the US she couldn’t resist and accepted to produce it. The script was convincing enough for ABC to order a big-budgeted pilot. But it was not good enough to order it to series, so it seems. It’s hard to know what went wrong but one thing’s for sure: period dramas are always a tough sell, especially on a network, and it might be what doomed it in the end. And according to The Daily Mail at the time, John Barrowman as the lead was not considered a big enough star in the US to carry the show. The pilot had to compete that year with Nasvhille, Last Resort, Zero Hour, 666 Park Avenue and Devious Maids (first developed for ABC, then sold to Lifetime). Even though most of them came quickly to an end, they had very decent pilots… One year later, K.J. Steinberg created Mistresses for ABC, but without Shonda.
PROJECTS THAT WEREN’T ORDERED TO PILOT
CORRESPONDENTS – ABC (2006)
Description: drama about four female journalists from different media who travel the country…
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan…
In 2003, Shonda Rhimes sells her first script deal for a TV series to ABC, about four female war correspondents who strive to maintain some semblance of normal life despite their demanding careers. She’s virtually no one at the time and the project doesn’t pass the script stage but Disney is impressed and wants her to write something else. One year later, it becomes a little show called Grey’s Anatomy. But the woman is obsessed with the idea of a journalist-centric TV show so she comes back with a similar idea, this time without the “war” part, with Pete Horton, Grey’s Anatomy‘s pilot director, on board. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is meant to be part of the cast after his highly-praised recurring role on Grey’s Anatomy as Denny Duquette. Again, the script was never ordered to pilot. Probably because she is already very busy working on two different shows at the same time and not experienced enough to be able to add another one. Yet.
THE CIRCLE – ABC (2012)
Description: drama about 10 friends, adopted as children by a billionaire philanthropist, who begin to question their past when one of their own is murdered
Created by Richard Robbins, like Inside The Box, The Circle was developed the same year as The Gilded Lilys. Maybe ABC didn’t want to order two Shondaland pilots at the same time, especially since Shonda already worked on two shows. Or maybe the script was just not good enough. We’ll never know. But even if the premise is exciting, it’s hard to imagine something really good coming out of it for the long haul.
WILDWOOD – FOX (2012)
Description: period drama about a wise-beyond-her-years teenager who poses as an adult in order to land a job at a popular bar on the jersey shore in 1985
The first time Shonda developed a show for another network than ABC -but it was still ABC Studios-produced of course- it sounded a lot different than what she’s used to make. The coming of age 80s dramedy was written by Diane Ruggiero, whom she never worked with before, a prominent Veronica Mars‘ writers, who later created iZombie for The CW. It sounded cool, and reminds me now of The Carrie Diaries. Retrospectively, FOX may have missed a great opportunity to get a hit but it may have been considered too teenage-y for the network.
UNDER THE GUN – NBC (2013)
Description: drama about a woman who goes to work for the FBI as she struggles to make sense of a terrible event in her past that ruined her life and tore her family apart. While her young and fragile appearance doesn’t typically suggest that she’s best suited to work as a field agent, her dark past helps her get inside the head of criminals who were normal one day and cracked the next…
Two years before Pete Nowalk created How To Get Away With Murder -after writing mostly for Grey’s Anatomy- he came to Shonda Rhimes with the idea of Under The Gun. The script was sold to NBC and not to the Alphabet network. Not ABC enough? Not good enough for NBC either? Anyway, it sounded like a procedural we’ve already seen.
MILA 20 – ABC (2013)
Description: sci-fi thriller about a young woman who discovers that she is a Mobile Intel Life-like Android, Mila, an experiment in artificial intelligence created by the U.S. government and her scientist mother, who kidnapped her when she was found to have human emotions…
This Bionic Woman-like story, based on a book for teenagers, was written by David DiGilio, who created the really good but cancelled too soon Traveler for ABC in 2007. It didn’t sound good and I’m not sure Shonda Rhimes and her fellow associate Betsy Beers were the right persons to work on it… But the idea of a sci-fi show produced by Shondaland is appealing in the future!
THE MIX – ABC (2013)
Description: drama about the public and not-so-private lives of five very different women who sit in the hot seats as hosts of an influential morning talk show
I’m still not over the fact that this very promising idea never came to fruition. Inspired by ABC’s incredibly popular morning show The View, it was created by screenwriter John Hoffman, who co-produced HBO’s Looking later on. I was already picturing it as the new Desperate Housewives! Going too far?
COOKING UP FOR NEXT PILOT SEASON…
WARMTH OF THE OTHER SUNS – FX (2016)
Description: llimited series based on Isabel Wilkerson’s book which chronicles the movement of some 6 million African-Americans from the south into the north and western regions of the country from the period of 1915 to 1970
Shonda Rhimes is working for the first time for a cable network! And it’s a historic drama, another first for her. It might never see the light of day but the high-profile project is in development right now, written by Dee Rees, who made recently HBO movie Bessie.
UNTITLED CONVENT DRAMA – ABC (2016)
Description: It revolves around a group of Catholic nuns fighting the closure of their Bronx-based convent who must suddenly deal with three young novices whose arrival unearths long-buried secrets.
This is SO EXCITING, good lord! It’s original –Sister Act is long gone- and it exactly sounds like what Shonda Rhimes does best, with the right amount of soapy elements and feminism, in a very different environment than before. It’s too soon to tell if ABC will give it the thumb up for shooting a pilot but as of now it’s one of the best things that ABC has in store, at least on paper. And creator Alison Schapker has written for Alias, Brothers & Sisters, Lost, Fringe and The Flash. Impressing. That can’t be bad, right?
SPLITSVILLE – ABC (2016)
Description: in the wake of a wave of divorces, the single residents of a suburban cul-de-sac join forces to raise their kids and get through it together…
Shonda Rhimes has yet to produce a comedy series. She develops a few projects but this one seems to have a better chance to land a pilot order next cycle. Emily Halpern (Private Practice) & Sarah Haskins, the women behind great and cancelled too soon Trophy Wife, are writing it right now…