The making of Shonda Rhimes: How the TV show queen built her wealth

BY Nii Ntreh July 2, 2024 2:11 PM EDT
Shonda Rhimes. Photo Credit: X, formerly Twitter.

Saying Shonda Rhimes has epitomized television excellence would still be an inadequate portrayal. Her involvement in the ideation and creation of nearly a dozen programs that have successfully aired for multiple seasons and garnered esteemed accolades is a testament to her unparalleled achievements. But Rhimes’ path to triumph has been nothing less than extraordinary, characterized by pioneering shows and transformative business endeavors.

Rhimes has gained worldwide acclaim as the creator, executive producer, and head writer of popular television shows such as Scandal Grey’s Anatomy, Bridgerton and Private Practice. Additionally, she produced Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

After completing her MFA program at the School of Cinematic Arts of the University of Southern California, Rhimes said she discovered a novel approach to storytelling that resonated with her and brought her immense satisfaction. Subsequently, she embarked on her professional journey by contributing to various local endeavors, notably including her involvement in the production of the critically received documentary Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream, which received the Peabody Award in 1995, as well as her participation in the creation of the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999. However, it was her pivotal role in developing the pilot episode for Grey’s Anatomy, upon her affiliation with ABC a few years later, that firmly established her presence within the realm of television.

Rhimes is the first woman to create three television dramas that have achieved the 100-episode milestone. These shows have augmented the expectations of television fans in the US and beyond by demonstrating that series featuring characters of color are more financially lucrative in terms of advertising revenue and audience engagement than all-white series.

Over time, she has established herself as one of the most productive writer-producers in the industry and a business magnate. Unsurprisingly, she was featured in the 2022 highest-aid entertainers list, with a total annual income of $81 million.

Her exceptional creative vision and groundbreaking business expertise propelled her to establish Shondaland, a prominent global media conglomerate encompassing brand partnerships, merchandise, theatrical and streaming content, and a digital division. The resounding triumph of her remarkable Shondaland portfolio, notably the acclaimed series Grey’s Anatomy, has catapulted her into the annals of television history and secured a lucrative multimillion-dollar partnership with Netflix.

Throughout her illustrious three-decades-long career, Rhimes has consistently delivered hugely appreciated projects, amassing substantial financial gains that have positioned her among the 100 wealthiest self-made women in America. In the following analysis, we shall delve into the six strategic deals and investments employed by Rhimes to amass her considerable fortune.

ABC shows

Rhimes’ breakthrough in television was with Grey’s Anatomy. The show debuted in 2005, and in early 2022, ABC announced its renewal for a 19th season. According to estimates by Forbes, Rhimes’ earnings have significantly increased since the premiere of Grey’s Anatomy in 2005.

She went from earning approximately $30,000 per episode to an impressive $250,000. In 2018, Forbes estimated her net worth to be a staggering $135 million, attributing much of her wealth to her partnership with ABC.

In addition to the fees she received for each episode of the shows she produced (over 317 episodes for Grey’s Anatomy alone), Rhimes also earned $10 million annually from ABC during the final three years of her contract. Furthermore, she received at least 10% of the profits generated from the syndication deals of other programs she created, such as Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and Private Practice. These shows were sold to platforms like Netflix and Lifetime for approximately $1 million per episode, as reported by Forbes.

After the remarkable success of Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes proceeded to produce a series of programs for ABC, establishing a highly fruitful partnership with the network that has endured for nearly two decades. Collectively, Rhimes’ series is said to have generated a minimum of $2 billion in revenue for Disney, the owner of ABC, through advertising, syndication sales, and international licensing. Shonda Rhimes further solidified her presence in popular culture with her acclaimed shows Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, which became synonymous with the hashtag #TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday). This moniker was coined due to the overwhelming dominance of Rhimes’ shows in the Thursday night primetime lineup on television.

Netflix deals

In 2017, Rhimes disrupted the entertainment industry’s business model by departing from network television and negotiating an unprecedented agreement for Shondaland to produce streaming content exclusively in partnership with Netflix. Her groundbreaking $100 million five-year deal with Netflix marked her transition from traditional network television to the world of streaming content. The first program launched under this partnership was Bridgerton, which achieved instant success, with 82 million subscribers watching the show in the first month of its availability, according to Netflix. The resounding success of Bridgerton was evidence that Rhimes’ decision to leave ABC in 2017 had paid off.

In July 2021, it was announced that Rhimes and Netflix had renewed their partnership for an additional five years. Many reports claimed Rhimes received a substantial increase from the initial $100 million agreement she signed in 2017 to $150 million. Since transitioning to the streaming platform, Rhimes has produced some of the most captivating television series in recent history. Her creations include popular titles such as Bridgerton and its spin-off, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Inventing Anna, and Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.


For numerous years, Rhimes and her production company, Shondaland, have solely focused on dominating the television industry, achieving remarkable success in the process. According to estimates by The Wall Street Journal, Shondaland had generated over $2 billion in revenue by 2017. Since then, the company has further expanded its reach by launching additional highly successful shows and venturing into other platforms, such as web content and podcasts.

In 2017, the iconic showrunner collaborated with Hearst to establish Shondaland.com, an innovative lifestyle and storytelling website. Shondaland produces articles covering various topics, including health, wellness, and culture. The website also features updates from Rhimes herself and information on programs originating from the same production company. The financial gains from this venture remain somewhat unclear, although the website has been operational for over five years.

In 2019, Rhimes joined forces with iHeartMedia to introduce Shondaland Audio, a podcast division of her highly successful company. Shondaland Audio has produced popular podcasts such as You Down?, Katie’s Crib, Go Ask Ali, Criminalia, and the official podcasts associated with the production company’s television shows Bridgerton and Inventing Anna. However, the exact financial details of the partnership between the two brands were not publicly disclosed.

Other films and TV shows

Before her rise to prominence, Rhimes had worked as a writer and producer, albeit with some difficulty in achieving a significant breakthrough. Some sunlight shined through with writing the scripts for two moderately successful films in the early 2000s: Crossroads (2002), featuring Britney Spears, and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004). Although neither film received critical acclaim, they were financially successful. Crossroads generated over $61 million in revenue, with a production cost of $12 million, while The Princess Diaries 2 earned nearly $135 million, exceeding its $40 million budget.

Literary works

Rhimes has achieved significant financial success as a scriptwriter, however, it was not until 2015 that she released her inaugural literary work, titled ‘Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.’ This publication attained the esteemed status of a New York Times bestseller. Rhimes boasts an impressive repertoire of over 28 published books, encompassing titles such as ‘Inside Bridgerton,’ ‘The Year of Yes,’ ‘Queen Charlotte,’ ‘The Princes Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,’ and ‘Summary of Between the World and Me.’

Real estates

The entertainment mogul has also demonstrated a penchant for investing in high-end real estate properties. Rhimes owns several properties in Los Angeles, California, and at least one in New York City reportedly purchased for $11.75 million. While most of her acquisitions have come at a significant cost, some have potentially yielded a profit.

In 2010, she acquired a home in the upscale Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles for $5.6 million, which she later sold in 2019 for $7.16 million. Additionally, Rhimes owned another property in the same neighborhood, which she sold in early 2022 for a record-breaking $21 million, making it the most expensive sale in the area. She had purchased the nearly 100-year-old estate in 2014 for $8.8 million and renovated it before selling it again.