A Peek Inside Shondaland's Development Pipeline: What's Next

'Reset' and 'The Warmth of Other Suns'
COURTESY OF PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE; George Pimentel/Getty Images

Despite joking she's "not Superman," Shonda Rhimes has a superpowered path ahead with at least 12 projects in the works, including an adaptation of 'The Warmth of Other Suns.'

"Worlds that are new to us," is how Shonda Rhimes' longtime producing partner Betsy Beers describes their focus in the streaming era.

And while Beers makes clear their company, Shondaland, is aiming for “intentionality over sheer volume,” there are at least 12 projects in various stages of development, including an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson's first book, The Warmth of Other Suns, which both Rhimes and Beers will shepherd.

Rhimes herself is set to write a film and series version of Recursion, an adaptation of the popular book series, which is equal parts sci-fi, romance and police procedural, as well as an episode of her planned anthology series Notes on Love, which will explore the intersection of love and marriage in its first season. Rhimes had also hoped to pen the adaptation of Ellen Pao’s memoir, Reset, which chronicles, among other things, her gender discrimination lawsuit, but now fears she has too much on her plate.

"I'm not Superman," she jokes.

Maybe not, but thus far Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has been impressed by her eagerness to understand what works on his service and why. In fact, Rhimes' call was the first he received after releasing the interactive Black Mirror episode in late 2018. She wanted to know exactly how it was done and if she could do something similar with one of her juicy relationship dramas. “Can you imagine an audience getting to decide, like, what guy she texts or if she walks away?” says Rhimes, who's excited to experiment in the space.

He praised her, too, for having global instincts — or at least a desire to make programming for Netflix's global audience. Proof: Rhimes' first series swing, Bridgerton, is based on a series of Regency period romance novels that tout a fervid international fanbase. And given Rhimes' insistence on inclusive casting and timely tales, Chris Van Dusen, whom she tapped to run the series, jokes that it's "not your grandmother's period show." Two other projects on Shondaland's initial development slate, Pico & Sepulveda and Sunshine Scouts, are, per Rhimes, no longer moving forward.

At the same time, the nine-figure face of Netflix continues to deliver for ABC, too, with flagship Grey's Anatomy — run day-to-day by Krista Vernoff — still a top performer heading into its 17th season. And like Sarandos, ABC Entertainment chairman Dana Walden heaps praise on the prolific producer: "[Shonda] has a spectacular eye for talent," says Walden, "and her shows are sexy, compelling and addictive." Already, there are rumblings of another potential Grey's Anatomy spinoff, though Rhimes is coy, acknowledging only that there's often interest in doing more, but it requires her permission and she's rarely willing to grant it. "You have to be careful," she says. "If it's going to be done, it has to be done exactly right."

In the meantime, Rhimes is still writing and rewriting the end to Inventing Anna, her highly anticipated Netflix miniseries about the infamous Anna Sorokin (alias Anna Delvey), who conned her way through the New York society scene. The series, based on Jessica Pressler's 2018 New York magazine story, stars Ozark Emmy winner Julia Garner as Anna and Veep's Anna Chlumsky as a dramatized version of Pressler. The cast, recently back in production in New York, will be filled out by familiar faces including Laverne Cox, Anders Holm and Scandal's Jeff Perry and Katie Lowes.

"I was like, 'Oh man, are my clothes going to be off?' Because the joke at ABC is as soon as you thrust, it's like 'Cut!' and I've always been like, 'Oh, thank God,'" says Lowes of the move, with Rhimes, from network to streaming. "But what's amazing about Shonda in the streaming era is that it's ramped up in a way, but it's still the Shondaland special sauce, which is character, character, character, relationship, relationship, relationship, and that page-turny, you can't devour it fast enough, all of a sudden you're crying and you don't know why."

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.