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Entertaining Business: Shonda Rhimes, Career Maker

April 30, 2015

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Patrick Dempsey’s big exit from Grey’s Anatomy last week came as a shock, and many fans are still reeling and calling for his return. But, there’s no question that he’s more famous now than he ever was.

A lot of that has to do with Shonda Rhimes, who created the show. She’s one of the most prolific show creators currently working in television, with three shows currently in production, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. 

She often is responsible for an entire night of ABC’s programming lineup, and she’s got a knack for casting compelling actors in roles that either kickstart their acting career or at the very least boost their public profiles.

While Dempsey was a steadily working actor for years before this show debuted in 2005, he hadn’t had many breakout roles since the late ’80s when he starred in teen rom-coms Can’t Buy Me Love and Loverboy.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he credits the show and Rhimes’ vision for boosting his career, “After 15 years in the business, I had overnight success. I understood what that meant, and how long it took to get it. And then we were off and running.”

Post-Grey’s, he starred in Enchanted, Freedom Writers, Made of Honor and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. By signing a two-year contract last year, he also has a production deal that will allow him to develop or star in more shows.

Last year he was one of the highest paid TV actors, according to Forbes’ 2014 list.

And he’s not the only one who has benefited from being on one of Rhimes’ shows.

• Through her role as Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy, Katherine Heigl went from child star and lesser known shows like Roswell, to starring roles in Knocked Up, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, One for the Money and recently fronted the NBC drama State of Affairs.

• Sandra Oh had many supporting roles before Grey’s, but playing Christina Yang definitely raised her public profile and showed her dramatic versatility, earning her a Golden Globe for her work. She’s continued to do independent films, but also had a role last summer in the blockbuster Tammy.

• Kate Walsh was also a steadily working actress pre-show, but she was such a standout on Grey’s Anatomy that Shonda opted to spin her off into her own series Private Practice that ran for six seasons. Since staring on Grey’s, she’s been on the acclaimed series Fargo, had her on NBC series Bad Judge and had roles in movies like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Scary Movie 5. She’s even launched her own fragrance line.

• Kerry Washington had always captured our attention, but it was as the wife in Ray, or Django Unchained. Now she’s front and center as the commanding Olivia Pope, a fixer on Rhimes’ political drama Scandal, and was selected as one of Time‘s Most Influential People (for 2014) was ranked second as People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People (in 2013) and was on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Powerful Celebrities.

• Rhimes doesn’t get all the credit for Mamie Gummer’s career trajectory, as Gummer does happen to be the daughter of Meryl Streep. But it was on Rhimes’ short-lived series Off the Map that Gummer first daughter our attention. She then landed a starring gig on another short lived medical show, Emily Owens MD, and has a recurring role on The Good Wife.

Rhimes is also a fan of recasting some of her cultivated crew of actors, Paul Edelstein starred on Private Practice for its duration and is now a recurring character on her drama Scandal. The same goes for Jason George, who had a small part on Grey’s, left to do Off the Map and then returned to Grey’s in a larger role, while also getting cast in summer shows like Mistresses.

The biggest compliment to Rhimes may be that award-winning actors are now clamoring to join her cadre. Viola Davis had Golden Globe and Oscar nods, and has a Tony Award. But the lead role on How to Get Away with Murder, one of this season’s break out hits, certainly has generated a lot of positive buzz, which lifts her visibility even further.

Time will tell if Joe Adler’s recently announced upcoming stint on as a new intern on Grey’s will benefit from the Shonda Rhimes effect, but coming in on the heels of Dempsey’s exit is certainly a tenuous position to be in for anyone.

STORY IDEAS

Joe Adler Joins Grey’s Anatomy 

How Shonda Rhimes Became Disney’s Primetime Savior

Petition to Bring Back Patrick Dempsey

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