Shonda Rhimes on How Oprah Winfrey Inspired Her: Suddenly, 'My Imagination Had No Limits'
Turns out, we have Oprah Winfrey to thank for Shondaland’s #TGIT.
On Wednesday, Shonda Rhimes was honored at the 24th Annual Television Academy Hall of Fame ceremony in Los Angeles, where Winfrey took the stage to pay tribute to the writer/producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder.
“I’m here for Shonda,” said Winfrey, 63. “She could not have come at another time. She could not have come to another place. She belongs to this medium, and she belongs to this moment in a way that doesn’t so much defy the odds as redefine the odds. She is currently the most powerful showrunner in television. Period.”
“Shonda Rhimes makes appointment television with an inclusive world view,” she continued. “Her business card simply states, ‘storyteller,’ because that’s who she is and what she does. Shonda tells stories that reflect the wonderfully multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-everything world that we see all around us, and she writes about individuals from different backgrounds, who defy stereotypes.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Rhimes, 47, had some high praise to sing in return. After taking the stage, the showrunner revealed that Winfrey was the root of her inspiration.
“The only limit to your success is your own imagination — but still, you have to be able to imagine it,” she said during her speech. “One day I turned on the TV and saw something it had never occurred to me to imagine. I saw this woman on TV, and she was smart, and funny, and emotionally honest, and she seemed unapologetically herself. She was in charge, comfortable, powerful, smart, real, it was her show, and she looked like me.”
“She was a black woman on television, and then she was a black woman taking over the world through television,” she continued. “She was Oprah. Oprah Winfrey changed my imagination. She changed what I found to be imaginable. Any limits to my success suddenly seemed — something clicked, and my imagination had no limits. The world got wider.”
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Rhimes explained that she grew up “sheltered from the ugliness of any realties having to do with poverty and real racism.”
“I was a middle class kid from the suburbs, with a private school education, and nerdy intellectuals for parents,” she said. “I played the oboe. … [But] I was a brownie, and I’d still never seen anyone on TV who looked like me on the outside, and looked like me on the inside.”
“It had never occurred to me that television could be where my imagination would be most at home,” she continued. “If you can’t even imagine something, how can you reach for it? You cannot see what you cannot be. And it wasn’t that I wanted to be Oprah, but it was that I now knew there was a door somewhere inside that television screen, and that it was absolutely possible to either knock on it or kick it down to get inside.”
Other honorees this year included writer-producer John Wells (China Beach, ER, The West Wing and Shameless), the late comedian Joan Rivers, production designer Roy Christopher and the legendary original cast members of Saturday Night Live: Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Case, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and, posthumously, Gilda Radner and John Belushi.