Netflix signs Shonda Rhimes away from ABC in huge coup

The deal will let Rhimes avoid the "grind of network television," she said.

Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters

Disney recently turned the screws on Netflix by pulling its content and unveiling a streaming service of its own, but now the tables have turned. Netflix revealed that it has signed Shonda Rhimes away from Disney-owned ABC to a multiyear production deal. Rhimes and her production company, Shondaland, will move from their ABC Studios base to Netflix, though she'll continue to work on ABC shows currently airing or in development like Grey's Anatomy.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but money is reportedly not the main reason Rhimes jumped ship. "I'm thrilled by the idea of a world where I'm not caught in the necessary grind of network television," she told the WSJ. "Ted [Sarandos, Netflix's CEO] provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix."

Rhimes says she'll be able to focus more on storytelling and avoid the stress of 18-24 episode network TV seasons. That's something showrunners like Larry David (now at HBO) and David E. Kelley, producing Netflix's Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon, have also complained about in the past. "At this point in my career, I love the limited series format. I have no interest in doing 100 episodes of anything," Kelley said.

Shondaland's move to Netflix is the result of a shared plan Ted Sarandos and I built based on my vision for myself as a storyteller and for the evolution of my company. -- Shonda Rhimes

Rhimes has developed Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and other popular shows for ABC. "I'm proud to have given a home to what have become some of the most celebrated and talked about shows on television," said ABC Studios President Patrick Moran. Those production have generated billions of dollars in advertising revenue for ABC, however, so her loss will be felt acutely.

Studios have gradually been limiting their movies on Netflix, with Disney being the latest to announce that it's pulling films from the streaming service. (Netflix is reportedly negotiating to keep Marvel and Star Wars movies, though.) To combat that, Netflix has aggressively spent to develop its own feature films and TV series, an effort that has met with more successes (Jessica Jones, Orange is the New Black, BoJack Horseman) than failures (Sense8, The Get Down).

After bringing the Coen brothers aboard for the The Ballad of Buster Scruggs western, scoring Rhimes might be its biggest win yet. "Shonda Rhimes is one of the greatest storytellers in the history of television" said Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Chief Content Officer.