Shonda Rhimes on Bridgerton Season 2 and Whether It’s Time to End Grey’s Anatomy

Plus, why she won’t turn her new Inventing Anna limited series into an ongoing anthology

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In this week’s digital cover story, Shonda Rhimes—Adweek’s Media Visionary—talks about how she rewrote the rules of TV, on both broadcast and streaming. But we also know that Shondaland fans had other pressing questions for the creator, like what’s coming up next on Bridgerton and how much longer she’ll keep Grey’s Anatomy, now in Season 18, on the air.

Bridgerton Season 2 won’t debut until next year (though in the cover story, Rhimes promises that there will be a shorter wait for Seasons 3 and 4), and while Season 1 breakout Regé-Jean Page won’t be returning, Rhimes says the Season 2 love story will be as compelling as Page’s fairytale romance with Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor).

“Everybody was so upset about Regé not coming back as the Duke, and I said early on our goal is that every season, you have a couple that you’re obsessed with, and that you can’t believe that we’re not going to see more of their story next season, because we’re telling a complete love story every season,” Rhimes says. “And that is the beauty of what Season 2 is. We’re halfway through editing all the episodes, and they’re gorgeous.”

As Rhimes oversaw edits of Bridgerton’s first season during the pandemic’s early stages last year, “we were trapped in the house, but I was having the best time ever because the show was coming out so well,” she says. “That’s what Season 2 feels like, and that’s a really good feeling.”

Rhimes will write a Bridgerton prequel based on Queen Charlotte.Liam Daniel/Netflix

Bridgerton creator Chris Van Dusen continues to head up the main series, but Rhimes herself will be writing a prequel show based on Queen Charlotte (played by Golda Rosheuvel in the series), following what she calls a “request” from Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.

“I was obsessed with Queen Charlotte from the beginning, and the way that character has been created is so beautifully done. And the real history of who she is is super interesting, the story of her marriage, the entire thing,” says Rhimes. “And we were getting this fascinating Meghan Markle/Harry period that felt like it was part of the conversation again.”

As Rhimes points out, many people know currently know Charlotte’s husband, King George III, primarily from the hit musical Hamilton, “so he’s just a ‘mad king’ as far as they’re concerned,” she says. “But he was a really complex, interesting, man. And so that was an interesting relationship to me.”

‘On the fence’ about ending Grey’s

Rhimes turned over Grey’s Anatomy showrunning duties to Krista Vernoff in 2017, but she remains involved as an executive producer and will be the person who makes the call on when the medical drama—which is still ABC’s top series in the adults 18-49 demo—will finally end its run.

In 2015, Rhimes told Adweek she thought Grey’s could “go on forever,” but now says, “I don’t think I thought it was going to be this long. I’m amazed at where it still sits in the ratings for the network. I’m amazed at its importance for the network still, and feel extremely grateful that those fans are still there, and also really grateful to Netflix [which has streaming rights to the entire series] for keeping it fresh, so that 12-year-olds keep discovering it.”

Grey’s Anatomy celebrated its 350th episode in 2019.ABC/Craig Sjodin

However, she is giving serious consideration to whether this season will be the show’s last and admits she’s not sure what she’ll decide.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought, and at this moment, I’m on the fence,” Rhimes says. “Like, are we done? Should we do a few more? Should we see where we’re headed? And I’m on the fence. I go back and forth.”

Despite speculation that Grey’s Anatomy was very close to wrapping things up last season, especially as star Ellen Pompeo’s contract renewal talks went down to the wire, Rhimes says now that it wasn’t going to happen.

Last year, Rhimes and Walt Disney Television chairman of entertainment Dana Walden “discussed the idea of, you can’t end this medical show in the middle of this pandemic. It doesn’t feel right—and it didn’t,” Rhimes says. “The longer the pandemic went on, the less good it felt, the idea that we would end in the midst of this medical crisis. And so that stopped being interesting to me.”

Inventing an anthology?

Rhimes’ primary focus now is Inventing Anna, the first show she has created since Scandal. Debuting Feb. 11, 2022, on Netflix, the limited series is based on the 2018 New York magazine story about real-life con artist Anna Sorokin (played by Ozark’s Julia Garner), who passed herself off as a German heiress among New York’s social elite.

“It was a riveting story,” says Rhimes, explaining that Sorokin “was just a young woman who came to New York, like anybody else. So she’s an immigrant with an American dream. She came to make her dream come true and broke a lot of laws in the process, and made a lot of trouble in the process, but in reality, there’s not much different from her than any robber baron, any businessmen. If she’d been a guy, I doubt she would have gone to jail. They would have just called her street smart and brilliant. But she was a really smart woman—a little bit too smart for her own good—who I think got trapped in a system and punished for reasons that don’t necessarily have to do with the crimes that she committed.”

While Inventing Anna is a closed-ended, nine-episode series, Rhimes did consider turning the show into an anthology in which the reporter character investigating Sorokin, played by Anna Chlumsky (who works at the fictional Manhattan magazine), would tackle a new story every season.

“I loved the players at Manhattan magazine and I thought Anna Chlumsky was amazing. And the idea that we could tell stories about this reporter forever, that was in the back of my head somewhere,” says Rhimes, who ended up discarding the notion.

“Honestly, there’s not many stories that have that amount of complexity,” she says. “That story is so intense when you start to really get into it, and then as you move into the later episodes, it gets even more intense and funny and heartbreaking and all kinds of things that you just don’t expect or find in any other true stories. And it wouldn’t make sense to do an anthology series where suddenly you’re telling fictional stories. So it felt really great to be able to tell this story the way we told it.”