Shonda Rhimes Opens Up About Leaving ABC: 'I Felt Like I Was Dying'

The mega writer-producer left the network for a deal at Netflix in 2017

Shonda Rhimes
Photo: Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

Shonda Rhimes is reflecting on her path thus far in the entertainment industry.

In The Hollywood Reporter's October cover story, the mega writer-producer opened up about her decision to leave ABC for a deal at Netflix, explaining that she was ready to move on and create stories for her own enjoyment.

After spending 15 years at ABC, creating shows like Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder that made her a household name, Rhimes said she started to feel restricted by the pace and constraints of network television.

"I felt like I was dying," she said of her work producing nearly 70 hours of annual television. "Like I'd been pushing the same ball up the same hill in the exact same way for a really long time."

Rhimes said her breaking point came when she asked for an additional all-inclusive pass to Disneyland, one of the perks of her ABC relationship, to give to her visiting sister. After receiving pushback, she said she eventually got the pass — but that it failed to work.

Rhimes told THR she then called a "high-ranking executive at the company," who allegedly replied, "Don't you have enough?" After hanging up, she said she instructed her lawyer to figure out a way to get her out of her ABC contract so she could move to Netflix, or she'd find new representation. (A rep for ABC did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.)

Shonda Rhimes.

Ahead of the major move in 2017, Rhimes said she knew what she wanted to do next and made it clear to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos when the two spoke in the fall of 2016.

"The first thing I said was, 'You're not going to get another Grey's Anatomy — not Grey's Anatomy in a cornfield, Grey's Anatomy on a baseball field or Grey's Anatomy at an airport, that's just not happening,'" she recalled. "And he said, 'I'd never expect it to.'"

"And then I said, 'I just want to be in a place where I can make stuff and no one's going to bother me or make me feel like I'm beholden,' and he was like, 'That sounds great to me,'" she continued.

Despite experiencing "real culture shock" when making the switch from network television to the streaming platform, the 50-year-old showrunner was ready to take her passion for storytelling to the next step.

"My legacy is set, I'm writing now because I love to write," she said.

The Shondaland founder told THR she's spent a lot of time thinking about something Oprah Winfrey once told her in 2006, when she first emerged onto the entertainment scene.

"You're not enjoying this yet," Winfrey said, which Rhimes now admits she agrees with. "So now," Rhimes said, "now, I just want to enjoy this."

The acclaimed producer is currently working on at least 12 projects, including the period drama Bridgerton, which will be the first Shondaland series to hit Netflix.

Florence Hunt, Luke Newton, Ruth Gemmell, Phoebe Dynevor, Claudia Jesse, Jonathan Bailey, Will Tilston and Luke Thompson in Bridgerton. LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX

Based on Julia Quinn's best-selling novels, the show will follow the competitive world of Regency London high society. The cast includes Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Adjoa Andoh and Ruby Barker, as well as Julie Andrews, who lends her talents as the voice of Lady Whistledown.

Bridgerton premieres Dec. 25 on Netflix.

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