Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Shonda Rhimes, whose new series Scandal premiers on Thursday, was flooded with questions about her old ones – Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice — at tonight’s panel “Welcome to ShondaLand: An Evening With Shonda Rhimes & Friends” at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood. Questioners eager to find out how the seasons will end for two key couples: Meredith and Derek of Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey) and Charlotte and Cooper of Practice (KaDee Strickland and Paul Adelstein), weren’t able to drag much information out of Rhimes, Pompeo or Strickland (the panel also included Grey’s Sandra Oh, Private Practice cast member Taye Diggs and, from Scandal,Kerry Washington, Tony Goldwyn and Katie Lowes). “I don’t know,” said Pompeo. “I know that Shonda usually writes the [season] finale, so it’s going to be good. So who cares? Let’s just wait.” Rhimes confirmed that she is writing the episode, but wouldn’t say whether it will see Meredith and Derek in their “dream house”. “I would have said yes three days ago, but I went into the writer’s room and totally dismantled the finale again, so I don’t know,” Rhimes said, to laughter.
At the event, named after Rhimes’s production company ShondaLand, she also touted the upcoming return of the Grey’s spinoff Private Practice. “I think that the end of the season of Private Practice is pivotal for a lot of the characters, a lot of really profound things are happening,” she said. “We come back on Tuesday, April 17, and I feel like the first episode back, if you miss the last two minutes of it, you are going to miss the thing that we’ve been building to since the show began, so I think you’re really going to want to see that.” She added that the characters have been on a “dark journey this season but there are also “light amazing moments,” such as the Charlotte King character discovering herself as a mother.
Washington, who stars in Scandal as crisis management specialist Olivia Pope (based on George W. Bush administration press aide Judy Smith), confirmed what Rhimes had to say about herself – she’s not so much secretive as she honestly doesn’t know ahead of time which direction she will choose for her characters. Nor does she give the actors much in the way of backstory for their characters. In fact, Washington said that she and other cast members would make up their own backstories and e-mail them to Rhimes, who would either accept or reject them. “I don’t go to the stage very much to watch things film,” Rhimes said. “Because I don’t go to the set very often, I write it, hand it in, it goes to the sound stage and comes out in the editing room. Sometimes something I write will play totally differently from the way I thought. When I hand them a script, I am handing them a blank slate.”
Rhimes did say that, even with her penchant for blank slates, Scandal was a series she felt compelled to write. After hearing from producing partner Betsy Beers about Judy Smith, Rhimes initially thought the story was interesting but believed she was too busy and the project should go to somebody else. “I already have two jobs, so it’s not like I have a lot of time,” the prolific producer said. It took Rhimes a year and a half to finally sit down and write the pilot on a four-day trip to Mexico. But now she’s hooked. “I see 100 episodes and I have to write them,” she said.