Netflix’s Shondaland Deal Fallout: How Crucial Is Shonda Rhimes to ABC?

“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” mastermind is taking her new ideas to streaming giant

Last Updated: August 14, 2017 @ 1:36 PM

Shonda Rhimes is packing up her hit-making pencils and heading to Netflix.

While the TV mega-producer’s Shondaland banner will leave “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” on ABC — also where upcoming legal drama “For The People” and the next “Grey’s” spinoff and will air — any future ideas are property of the streaming giant.

Rhimes’ multiyear agreement, which sees her bringing over partner Betsy Beers and the entire 30-person Shondaland roster, marks another big coup for Netflix, as well as the latest issue for the already-struggling Disney-owned broadcast network. But just how big of a deal is this for the winner, and the loser?

When counting all programming, which includes sports, ABC has been a last-place fixture lately among the Big 4 broadcasters. Not having the NFL really hurts the Mouse House’s over-the-air real estate — will no Shonda deal it a death blow?

It’s not all doom and gloom at Paul Lee’s old stomping grounds. Excluding sports and news, ABC actually rounded up in ratings to tie NBC for No. 1 across the latest September-to-May traditional TV season. That’s the good news for new(ish) Entertainment chief Channing Dungey, who was previously head of Drama overseeing all this Shondaland development. The bad news? Rhimes’ Thursday shows were a big part of that entertainment-only feat, and they may have been what kept Lee employed for as long as he was.

“Grey’s” remains the big, consistent hit that weeknight — especially as “Scandal” has come back down to earth in terms of both Nielsen ratings and its creative arc. With a down lead-in, “HTGAWM” was just a modest success itself over the last two seasons. We can drill down further than “good” and “bad,” of course — and we’ll include a week’s worth of delayed viewing to be fair to all.

Over its 2016-2017 season, “Grey’s Anatomy” averaged a 3.5 rating among adults 18-49 and had 11.2 million total viewers. While those are very good numbers, the medical drama has declined each year since the heights it reached in 2006-2007. Last year, it slipped 8 percent in the demo and just 2 percent among overall viewers. This show is still ABC’s top series, which feels important

“Scandal” — the 9 p.m. show of the “T.G.I.T.” trio — settled for a 2.6 rating in the main demo and averaged 8.6 million viewers. The Kerry Washington series saw big declines in both the 2015-2016 season (-21% and – 17%, respectively) and worse ones across this past run (-27% and -21%). Dungey has announced that “Scandal” will end after this fall’s Season 7. Though “Scandal” is ABC’s No. 6-rated series, it’s probably time to resign the time slot.

This season, the younger-skewing “How to Get Away With Murder” — ABC’s fifth-best show — actually managed a higher 2.6 (sans rounding) than its lead-in, though with a smaller 7.9 million overall audience members. The Viola Davis-led program saw drops over each of the prior two seasons that were quite rough, however. From Season 1 to Season 2, “HTGAWM” fell 30 percent in the demo and 31 percent among viewers. It then slipped 25 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in its third season. Not exactly killing it, “Murder.”

To drop so much, a show has to be pretty high from the get-go, of course — though not everything Rhimes has ever touched has turned to gold. Remember “The Catch”? Don’t worry, you’re not alone — and that one was only canceled this past May. A month later, her “Still Star-Crossed” was demoted to Saturdays, all but officially ending that series.

Before those failures came Shondaland’s “Off The Map.” This reporter needed to Google that one, and I write about TV for a living. The forgettable 2011 medical drama lasted just 13 episodes, so that’s why you’re reading Wikipedia right now, too.

Hey, at least “Grey’s” spinoff “Private Practice” mostly worked out, at least in its early years — that’s somewhat reassuring news for the next branching-out into Meredith Grey’s extended universe. That one is about firefighting, and we’ll have to wait until midseason to see if it burns up the ratings charts, or just flames out.