Shonda Rhimes Says She’s Striking With Writers. For Her Studio, It’s Complicated

The four-week old screenwriters strike is putting TV-show creators like Shonda Rhimes in a bind.

(Bloomberg) — The four-week old screenwriters strike is putting TV-show creators like Shonda Rhimes in a bind.

Rhimes publicly supports the work stoppage. “I am a writer on strike right now,” she said in an interview with CBS News earlier this month. “I won’t be putting pen to paper.”

But work continues on The Residence, a murder-mystery set at the White House that her production company, Shondaland, is making for Netflix Inc. Many weekday mornings, sometimes as early as at 3 a.m., striking writers walk a picket line outside of Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles, where the show is filmed. 

They’ve successfully turned away trucks bringing in gear for the shoots, according to people familiar with the protests who asked not to be identified. As if to remind everyone of her clout in the industry, giant billboards for Rhimes’ latest hit, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, have lined the outside of the Raleigh building, visible to the writers who’ve also been marching across the street at Paramount Pictures. 

Like many of her peers, Rhimes plays a dual role in Hollywood — serving as both a writer and producer of TV programs. Studios have told some in that position that they still have to perform their producer duties. There’s speculation that the media giants will use the strike as a pretext to get out of high-priced deals they gave some writer-producers in exchange for office space, staff and exclusive access to their ideas.

Much of the writing for The Residence was completed before the strike, according to people with knowledge of the situation. Shondaland didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Rhimes, whose credits include Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal for Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network, signed a multiyear deal with Netflix in 2017. Her hits for the service include Bridgerton and the spinoff Queen Charlotte, the most-watched English-language TV show on Netflix in mid-May.

Some of Rhimes’ contemporaries, including J.J. Abrams and Ryan Murphy, have walked the picket line in recent weeks. Work on an Abrams’ series for Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., Duster, was shut down after Teamsters refused to cross picket lines, Deadline reported this week.

The writers who also produce shows have a key role to play in resolving the strike, said John August, who wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and serves on a negotiating committee for the writers union. 

While August didn’t comment specifically about Rhimes’ situation, he noted some TV-show creators have been “remarkable about saying, ‘Not only am I not going to do the writing function, I’m also not going to do this producing function. I’m not going to help you make your product, and I’m going to step away from the shows,’ and so one after another, these shows have shut down.”

Putting pressure on the other side is the goal of any strike, said Catherine Fisk, a professor of labor law at the University of California at Berkeley. 

“It’s hard for the striking workers, it’s hard for Shonda Rhimes, but that’s the only way, when everyone feels economic pain, to get to a settlement,” she said.

Dozens of TV shows have shut down since the strike began on May 2, either because the writing wasn’t done or the creators didn’t think they should continue during the work stoppage. The writers union tells its members they shouldn’t work, but the actors guild has said its members should, even if they are publicly sympathetic to the screenwriters cause. 

The Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,500 TV and film scribes nationally, is seeking higher pay for members and changes in work rules, such as a minimum number of writers per show. Higher compensation from streaming services such as Netflix is a key part of the dispute. 

Negotiations between the union and the studios’ bargaining group, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, broke down earlier this month. The alliance is now negotiating with the Directors Guild of America, whose contract expires next month.

Read more: Star Trek Actors, Weezer Give Boost to Striking Screenwriters

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.