Shonda Rhimes is looking to build her own Thursday night trifecta on ABC. The über executive producer, who already has hit dramas Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal headlining ABC’s Thursday night schedule, will be given creative control over the entire Thursday night primetime lineup for Fall of 2014. Rhimes will add new drama, How to Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis (The Help) as a law professor at the center of a murder mystery, to her slate of intriguing offerings for Thursday night TV viewers.
Rhimes, who has given ABC two of TV’s and Thursday night’s biggest hits, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, is now getting a third hour to complete the evening with How to Get Away With Murder. Oscar-nominated film actress Davis (Doubt) brings gravitas to the role of Annalise Keating, who is a smart, sexy, and morally questionable law professor, who brings a group of first-year law students into her orbit, with murderous consequences. Despite having a thriving movie career, Davis was drawn to the TV role because her career has been dominated by supporting roles and she wanted a chance to shine as a leading lady. She wanted to play a character who took her out of her ‘comfort zone’.
As Shonda Rhimes prepares for her Thursday night trifecta on ABC, she will also have to content with some time slot re-shuffling of her hit Thursday night dramas. Beginning this fall, stalwart hit Grey’s Anatomy will move to the 8 p.m. EST/ 5 p.m. PST time slot, while cult phenomenon Scandal will be aired at 9 p.m. EST/ 6 p.m. PST. Therefore, new drama How to Get Away With Murder will complete the Thursday night primetime block by airing at 10 p.m. EST/ 7 p.m. PST. Despite the time slot shifts involved in her shows’ upcoming fall seasons, Rhimes has made clear her refusal to alter the content of her shows for network censoring. She maintains that programming is neither her concern nor responsibility, and feels there is nothing content-wise that has been done on the shows previously that could not be done in the earlier time slots.
Another aspect of Rhimes’ Thursday night trifecta is ABC’s aim to diversify primetime television by showcasing talented actors and actresses of African-American, Latino, and other ethnic persuasions, as well as other so-called minority groups on a scale never-before-seen on a major American broadcasting network. Traditionally, the broadcast networks have cast white actors in lead roles and counted on that fact to help boost a show’s chances of success in the ratings and international sales. Moreover, the creative teams behind-the-scenes have also been typically white as well. This is no longer the case. America has become the ultimate melting pot and minority groups are no longer the exception. Shows with all-white casts and crews are obsolete. They do not represent present-day American culture. This shift has been reinforced by the blockbuster success of ABC’s smash hit drama Scandal, which features an African-American leading lady in the form of actress Kerry Washington (Save the Last Dance), as well as multi-cultural hit comedy Modern Family, which showcases a gay couple and interracial marriage.
This fall, über executive producer Shonda Rhimes is looking to build her own Thursday night trifecta on ABC. Whether or not Shondaland succeeds in its trifecta quest remains to be seen, but given the success of established hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal as its lead-in, the odds of How to Get Away With Murder achieving glory and completing the Thursday night trifecta seems assured. The success of such a trifecta would prove significant on many fronts. It would demonstrate the desire and need for strong female characters, characters of varied race and creed, and diversity that reflects modern-day American attitudes and culture. The times they are a-changing and ABC is looking to help lead the way with Shonda Rhimes and her Thursday night trifecta.
By Leigh Haugh