In a fantastic interview with NPR's Renee Montagne, Shonda Rhimes discussed what's to come on Scandal — but also went back to the beginning of her television legacy. Rhimes said she thinks female characters on television don't have to be likable anymore and reveals that when Grey's Anatomy first started, ABC television executives told her no one would watch a show where the female lead had a one-night stand with a guy the night before she started a new job, only to kick him out so she could get to work.
For starters, Rhimes talked again about how she considered race an important part of fleshing out the character of Olivia Pope:
Being an African American woman felt to me like there were certain things about that job that would leave her as being the only black person in the room sometimes and there were ways in which she would be treated that I felt were very specific to the black experience. We did an episode where she walks into the room and the client immediately assumes that Abbey, who is the tall white redhead she works with it Olivia Pope, simply because she's the white woman in the room versus the black woman in the room. And there were things about it that I thought were very interesting.
Rhimes said that with her shows, she's not worried about "making the character's sympathetic in traditional ways" – she wants them "to feel watchable":
I remember having an early discussion at ABC with people who no longer work at the network before Grey's was picked up, where I was sort of brought into a room and a bunch of older guys told me that nobody was going to watch a show about a woman who had casual sex and threw a guy out the night before her first day of work, that that was completely unrealistic and nobody wanted to know that woman. And I remember sort of sitting in that meeting and thinking, "Wow, they don't know anything that's going on in the world right now."
That classic exchange, for reference:
And that kind of conversation I think would never happen now. I think now we're in a world in which nobody's worried about whether or not the women are likable. If you have a show with a female lead which was a fairly rare thing to do a little while ago, because it was so rare, everybody wanted that person to be perfect because she had to represent everybody. Olivia Pope is very rare because she's an African American woman and everybody wants her to be perfect because she has to represent everybody. So there's a box that you get placed in. My goal, really, is to blow that box wide open.
Images via ABC