TV critics want to heap a lot of responsibility on Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes already has her fill, thank you very much, what with overseeing ABC’s entire Thursday lineup in the fall, including Grey’s Anatomy at 8 PM, followed by Scandal at 9 PM, and new How To Get Away With Murder at 10 PM. At TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2014 this morning, she resisted their efforts to get Money Quotes for their TV Diversity Navel-Lint Gazing pieces.
Scandal’s debut in the spring of 2012 marked the first time in 30 years American TV featured a primetime series with a black female star. Now, just three years later “We have two shows,” marveled one TV critic, who asked Rhimes to speak to the “lesson” to TV in this, also asking for her thoughts on “the impact of having two shows on network TV that star black women.”
“Do I think there are any lessons? No, I don’t. The shows speak for themselves,” Shonda responded curtly.
In re the impact of having two shows starring black women on American primetime TV, Rhimes brushed it off with, “It remains to be seen. It hasn’t happened yet.”
The sexy suspense-driven legal thriller was created by Pete Nowalk and stars Davis as a brilliant, mysterious criminal defense professor named Annalise Dewitt, whose students becomes entangled in a murder plot that could rock the university. One critic wanted the show to be autobiographical for Rhimes, and asked her if she felt so too.
“It doesn’t feel autobiographical, because I didn’t write it,” Rhimes said briskly. “She’s not like me at all. I think she’s a fascinating character who’s written as incredibly complex and, as played by Viola, incredibly intriguing.”
And so, Rhimes continued to take questions from critics, who came away from the experience resembling the spot marked with an X where the accident occurred. One expressed her concern with the overly long and complex hashtag — #HowToGetAwayWithMurder — that ABC has been trying to foist on the new series, and wondered whether Rhimes gave this any thought when settling on the series’ name. “We don’t consider a hashtag when we’re writing,” Rhimes snarked, to applause from other media in the room.
Later she added, “Even the question – the idea that we decide what Twitter is going to call something – is weird. Twitter makes its own decisions. Twitter has a lovely community of people,” she continued, adding that it’s a new thing for the TV networks to try to impose hashtags on its TV series. “Twitter makes things up,” she explained.
When one critic mulled the probability of success of a series with such a long name in a world of one-word TV series titles (Glee, Scandal, Revenge, Mom, Nashville, Castle) — two at most (The Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow, Downton Abbey, The Following) — Rhimes explained that Nowalk had come to her and said “I have a show, and I wanted to call it How To Get Away With Murder, which is also the name of the class being taught by the lead character. “One-word titles feel tired now,” Nowalk said, adding, “I hope that’s what makes us stand out.”
And, of course, Davis being an Oscar nominee, she got asked the Deciding to Do Television question: “I have gotten so many wonderful film roles,” she acknowledged. “I’ve gotten so many where I haven’t been the show — I’ve been invited to fabulous parties to hold up the wall. I wanted to be the show — to have a character that took me out of my comfort zone, and that happened to be on a Shonda Rhimes show. So I did the only sensible thing and took it.”