Over the course of nearly 15 years, Shonda Rhimes has become an absolute force to be reckoned with in the television world. Her career in Hollywood first began during the mid-90s, but she did not truly hit her stride until 2004, when she created the show that would make her into a household name, Grey's Anatomy.
Grey's Anatomy almost instantly became a ratings juggernaut and won several awards. The rapid success of Grey's Anatomy helped allow Rhimes to create a plethora of other successful shows. This would include (but is not limited to) Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. All of these shows fall under the umbrella of Shonda Rhimes's production company, Shondaland.
Shondaland continues to reign supreme as a rousing success, most recently striking lucrative deals with Netflix and Disney-ABC. Everyone is talking and raving about Shondaland, which is exactly the kind of word of mouth that Shonda Rhimes should want. What she probably does not want are any of the dark secrets getting out surrounding her producing company.But that is exactly what we are going to do for the sake of this list.
Without further ado, here are just 15 Secrets You Didn’t Know About Shondaland Shows.
15 Fitz was white for a reason
When Scandal hit the airwaves in 2012, Obama was in office. Their version of the president is and always has been white, and if he wasn’t, Kerry Washington may not have been on board for the show.
During a 2013 interview with Ebony, Kerry Washington admitted that if a black actor was chosen to play the President of the United States on Scandal, she would not have taken the job. Her biggest concern was that she feared the storyline would be something of an art-imitating-life situation revolving around then-President Barack Obama. “Because to [Washington], it was too important a moment. I didn’t want to do anything that compromised my relationship with [Obama] or that made it seem like I had an insider view on the Obama presidency,” she explained. “I thought that it would be so disrespectful and so against all that work that I had done.”
14 New York Times Shades Shonda Rhimes
In 2014, a New York Times article review for How to Get Away with Murder ruffled more than a few feathers. Long time NYT writer Alessandra Stanley praised Shonda Rhimes as "angry black woman" who has managed to both embrace and shy away from such offensive stereotypes.
In an attempt to praise Rhimes's work, Stanley did more to offend her than anything else. Even worse is the fact that she spoke of Rhimes as if she was the showrunner and creator of How to Get Away with Murder, when Rhimes was merely the producer.
People got even more up in arms when Stanley called Viola Davis "less classically beautiful" than light-skinned actresses. Stanley tried to clarify her statements, but fans and cast members alike continued to drag her for being ill-informed and disrespectful.
13 Connor/Oliver Scenes Cut
Rai 2, a television station in Italy, feared that it would receive backlash from audiences if they included the love scene between Oliver and Connor in the pilot episode of How to Get Away with Murder, so they cut it from its broadcast entirely. This proved to only make audiences even angrier than they initially would have been had the scene stayed.
Twitter was outraged when news broke out of the scene's exclusion and accused the network of being homophobic. Even Shonda Rhimes had to put her two cents in, saying that "Censorship of any love is inexcusable."
Amidst the controversy, Rai 2 released a statement that a staffer onboard had "mistakenly" excluded the scene from airing and they planned to rectify the situation by re-airing the episode in its entirety.
12 Viola Davis Injured Her Back During Bed Scenes
People tend to forget that love scenes have a very physical component to them. Reading that aloud, it sounds way more obvious than intended, but when we point out the physicality of filming a love scene, we mean that they don't come without a risk of injury.
Just ask Viola Davis. During an interview with SiriusXM, Davis revealed that while filming such a scene with Billy Brown on How to Get Away with Murder, Brown picked her up and slammed her against a wall. This blew out Davis' back, and she needed a moment to collect herself and recover before going on with the scene.
It is also worth noting that before every love scene she films, to get herself in the mood, Davis takes a shot of vodka before filming.
11 The Wig/Makeup Removal Was Viola Davis' Idea
One of the most powerful and talked about scenes in the history of How to Get Away with Murder came in season one when Annalise removed her wig and makeup moments before confronting her husband about a revealing picture of himself found a dead girl's phone.
The idea for the scene did not come from any of the writers or Shonda Rhimes, but the always brilliant Viola Davis herself. Davis' she did not want her character to be played up as a sexualized. She wanted Annalise to come off as a real person, and for such a real, raw moment as the one presented between Annalise and her husband, Davis thought it was a necessary opportunity for the realness of Annalise Keating to shine through.
10 Taraji P. Henson and Gabrielle Union Auditioned for Olivia Pope
Before Kerry Washington won the part of Olivia Pope as the star of Scandal, several notable black actresses went to ABC to audition for the role. Among them were Gabrielle Union and Taraji P. Henson.
When asked about how she felt losing the part, Union admits that she holds no sour grapes or animosity toward Washington for getting the part, especially when she went on to star in her own show, Being Mary Jane, afterward.
Taraji P. Henson probably feels the same sentiment, given that she herself went on to star in Empire for Fox. Interestingly enough, Henson once recalled that while reading for the role, all she could imagine was Kerry Washington in the part. During the audition, she asked herself: "This is Kerry Washington. Why am I here?"
9 Laurel Wasn't Originally Latin
During an interview with ETOnline, Karla Souza revealed that her How to Get Away with Murder was not always intended on being a Latina character. Specifically, she explained: “I think that’s exactly what Pete and I were going for with people not even knowing. When I was cast, Laurel wasn’t supposed to be Latin at all. Then when Pete and Shonda [Rhimes] had that conversation about making her Latin, it was very important to have that be something that ‘could or couldn’t be,’ that wouldn’t ‘make or break’ the character, that it wasn’t the label of the character. She just happened to be Latin, and we could find it out later on.”
One thing that may have helped urge the decision to make Laurel Latina was that, prior to the show, Souza flourished in Mexico City as a Latina telenovela actress.
8 The Network Wasn't Behind Olivia's Romance With The President
A major aspect of Scandal has been the affair that Olivia Pope has had with President Grant. That is, in fact, the scandal that lies at the center of Scandal. But we almost never got to see such a scandal depicted on the show due to initial pushback from the network.
At first, ABC deemed it both inappropriate and uninteresting to portray a president committing adultery on television. However, that didn't change Shonda Rhimes' mind about the significant plot point she envisioned specifically for the show.
While the show was in pre-production, Rhimes gave them a proposition: "So in episode six or seven, this woman is going to [be] with the president in the Oval Office on the desk. So if everyone can't get behind that, then we shouldn't make the show." Needless to say, ABC obliged.
7 Origin of Miranda Bailey's iconic "V" line
Of the many memorable moments of the character Miranda Bailey on Grey's Anatomy, perhaps the grandest of them all came when she managed to coin the phrase "vajayjay." What was meant to be a simple joke on the show turned into an official phrase in the stratusphere of pop culture that caught on to many people as every day slang. Even Oprah got caught on camera casually using the word.
For anyone who may be wondering who came up with the phrase, it was actually an assistant on the set of the show. Since Shonda Rhimes keeps a close ear to everything said and done on the set, she heard the assistant say it and loved it immediately. She found it so hilarious that she wrote it down and put it in a later episode.
6 How Shonda Got The Idea for Grey's Anatomy
Grey's Anatomy remains as Shonda Rhimes's longest running and most successful television show to date. A lot of people wonder how someone with absolutely no background in doctoral work could have possibly come up with the concept behind Grey's Anatomy. The idea came to her in a simple, yet very strange story.
Rhimes once recalled in an interview that she got the idea after a doctor friend told her how hard it was to shave her legs in the hospital showers. At first, Rhimes thought of it as nothing more than a funny remark, but the more she thought of it, she realized this was the only time and place her friend could shave her legs because of how tough the job of a doctor is on a daily basis. She used this eureka moment to start writing for the show.
5 Bonnie Was Very Different In The Script
It has been well documented that the minds behind How to Get Away with Murder are always willing to have in depth conversations with the actors regarding what they want for their performances vs what the writers want. This was definitely the case for the character of Bonnie, Annalise's trusty assistant.
Showrunner Pete Norwalk once admitted that while the project was still in its early stages, he always envisioned Bonnie as a much more bubbly antithesis for Annalise's hard-edged personality. Much to Norwalk's surprise, actress Liza Weil decided instead to bring a "real heaviness" to the role that Norwalk found to be much more interesting. This change also changed the tone of the show, as originally, Bonnie's crush on Annalise's husband is "girlish and funny." Weil's performance made it "dark and obsessive."
4 Scott Foley Was Supposed to Play Finch
Ever since the second season of Scandal, Scott Foley has enjoyed a strong presence on the show as NSA director and former love interest to Olivia Pope, Jake Ballard. Although, originally, he was supposed to come in for a very different role on the show.
Shonda Rhimes wanted Scott Foley to play Stephen Finch, Olivia's loyal friend. At the time, Foley was a mainstay on Grey's Anatomy, so Rhimes decided to kill off Foley's character to free up his schedule for Scandal. There was only one problem: the network did not want Foley to play Finch. The role went to Henry Ian Cusick, and Scott Foley, was, well, jobless.
To make up for the misunderstanding, Shonda Rhimes gave Foley the part of Jake Ballard.
3 Olivia Pope is Based on Judy Smith
Not a lot of people know this, but Olivia Pope was based on a real life political figure. Yes, Olivia was actually created in light of Judy Smith.
Judy Smith is a crisis manager and a lawyer, as well as the president/founder/CEO of Smith & Company, a crisis management firm. In 1991, Smith served as a Special Assistant and a Deputy Press Secretary for the Bush Administration back when George H. W. Bush was the President of the United States.
Shonda Rhimes' producing partner, Betsy Beers, encouraged Rhimes to sit down and talk with Judy Smith for inspiration. After 10 minutes of conversation, Rhimes was able to almost instantly envision nearly 100 episodes worth of television storylines in her head. She knew a character like Smith would make for a compelling story arc.
2 Why Katherine Heigl Left Grey's
As a member of the Grey's Anatomy cast, Katherine Heigl became a breakout star playing Izzie Stevens. The Emmy-winning role soon led to her appearing in box office smash hits like Knocked Up. Things took a turn for the worse in 2009 when she asked to have her name removed from that season's Emmy consideration list, stating that she did not think her performance, nor the writing of the show, was up to par that year.
This reportedly angered the show's producers and writers who took it as Heigl insulting their hard work. A few months later, in March 2011, Heigl did not show up to work one day. From there, Heigl and Rhimes agreed to immediately release Heigl from her contract. Shortly after, her movie career went downhill, which some speculate is a result of Heigl being blackballed from Hollywood after disrespecting writers.
1 Connie Britton Almost Played Olivia Pope
The star power of Kerry Washington has shattered records and broken barriers for other black women in Hollywood to break out as leads in the mainstream. Scandal has achieved many accolades just on the basis of having a black actress in the lead, but many of those accolades would not have been achieved had ABC went with their original plans for the character of Olivia Pope.
Originally, ABC wanted to bring in Connie Britton for the part of Olivia Pope, but Shonda Rhimes was adamant that a black actress played Olivia Pope. To appease her, ABC allowed black actresses to test for the part. One of those actresses happened to be Kerry Washington and she nailed it. Kerry Washington, along with Rhimes, truly made Scandal the hit is today.
Do you have any Shondaland trivia to share? Leave it in the comments!