Rhimes was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Vera P. (Cain), a university administrator, and Ilee Rhimes, Jr., a college professor. Her mother attended college while raising six children and earned a PhD in educational administration in 1991; her father, who holds an MBA, was the chief information officer at the University of Southern California until 2013.
Rhimes lived in Park Forest South (now University Park, Illinois), with two older brothers and three older sisters. She has said she exhibited an early affinity for storytelling and that her time spent as a hospital volunteer while in high school sparked an interest in hospital environments.
Rhimes attended Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, before enrolling at Dartmouth College, where she majored in English and film studies and earned her bachelor's degree in 1991. At Dartmouth, she joined the Black Underground Theater Association and divided her time between directing and performing in student productions, and fiction.
She wrote for the college newspaper. After college, she relocated to San Francisco with an older sibling and worked in advertising at McCann Erickson. She subsequently relocated to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California, to study screenwriting. While at USC she was hired by Debra Martin Chase as an intern. Rhimes credits her early success, in part, to mentors like a prominent African-American producer, who hired her as an intern at Denzel Washington's production company, Mundy Lane Entertainment. Chase would later serve as a mentor to Rhimes and they would work together on The Princess Diaries 2. Rhimes was ranked at the top of her class and earned the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship. She obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
After graduation, Rhimes found herself an unemployed scriptwriter in Hollywood. To make ends meet, Rhimes worked at a variety of day jobs, including an office administrator, and then a counselor at a job center that taught mentally ill and homeless people job skills. During this period, Rhimes worked as research director on the 1995 Peabody Award-winning documentary, Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream (1995). In 1998 Rhimes made a short film, Blossoms and Veils, starring Jada Pinkett-Smith and Jeffrey Wright, which is her only credit as a director. A feature script Rhimes wrote was purchased by New Line Cinema. This was soon followed by an assignment to co-write the acclaimed 1999 HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. It earned numerous awards for its star, Halle Berry.
In 2001, Rhimes wrote Crossroads, the debut film of pop singer Britney Spears. Despite being panned by critics, the film grossed over $60 million worldwide. She then moved on to Disney’s sequel to its popular 2001 movie The Princess Diaries. Though 2004's The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004) did not score at the box office like its predecessor, Rhimes later said that she treasured the experience if for nothing else – the opportunity to work with its star, Julie Andrews. In 2003, Rhimes wrote her first pilot, about young female globe-trotting war correspondents, for ABC, but the network turned it down.
Rhimes is the creator and currently executive producer and head writer of Grey's Anatomy. The series debuted as a midseason replacement on March 27, 2005. The series focuses on the surgical staff at the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital (later to be named Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital), in Seattle, Washington. The series features an ensemble cast with Ellen Pompeo serving as titular character Meredith Grey, who provides narration for a majority of the series' episodes. On May 16, 2006, ABC announced plans to relocate Grey's Anatomy from Sunday evenings to Thursdays to anchor the network's Thursday evening programming, by airing Thursdays at 9 p.m.
In 2007, Rhimes created and produced the Grey's Anatomy spin-off series Private Practice, which debuted September 26, 2007, on ABC. The show chronicled the life of Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) as she left Seattle Grace Hospital for Los Angeles to join a private practice. The series featured an ensemble cast, including Tim Daly, Amy Brenneman, Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs among others. The first season was shortened because of a writers' strike and consists of only nine episodes. In May 2012, ABC picked up Private Practice for the 2012-13 television season with 13 episodes. The series finale was aired January 22, 2013.
In 2010, Rhimes created a new pilot for ABC called Inside the Box, a female-centric ensemble drama set in a Washington, D.C. network news bureau. The lead character was Catherine, an ambitious female news producer who, with her colleagues, pursued "the story" at all costs while juggling their personal animosities and crises of conscience. It was not picked up by the network.
In 2011, Rhimes served as executive producer for the medical drama, Off the Map, which was created by Grey's Anatomy writer, Jenna Bans. It focused on a group of doctors who practice medicine at a remote clinic in the Amazon. The series was officially cancelled by the ABC network on May 13, 2011.
In May 2011, ABC ordered Rhimes's pilot script Scandal to series. Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope, a political crisis management expert who is partially based on former Bush administration press aide Judy Smith. The series debut aired on April 5, 2012.
In 2012, she developed the period drama Gilded Lilys, which was not picked up to series.
In December 2013, ABC ordered a pilot for a new Rhimes series, How to Get Away with Murder. Actress Viola Davis joined the cast as the lead character in February 2014. It was officially picked up to series on May 8, 2014.
In March 2016, ABC premiered The Catch, a comedy-drama led by Rhimes based on a treatment by Kate Atkinson, and starring Mireille Enos and Peter Krause. Later that month, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Grey's Anatomy were respectively picked up for their sixth, third and thirteenth seasons. The following year, it was announced that Scandal would conclude after its upcoming seventh season, while The Catch was cancelled after its second.
On August 14, 2017, Netflix announced that it had entered into an exclusive multi-year development deal with Rhimes, under which all of her future productions will be Netflix Original series; the service already held U.S. streaming rights to past episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. Chief content officer Ted Sarandos described Rhimes as being a "true Netflixer at heart", since "she loves TV and films, she cares passionately about her work, and she delivers for her audience". Of the deal, Rhimes explained that "[Sarandos] understood what I was looking for — the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix's singular sense of innovation. The future of Shondaland at Netflix has limitless possibilities." The deal was considered to be a coup for Netflix due to her prominence at ABC; it was also considered to be a counter towards a move by ABC's parent company, Disney, to reduce the availability of their content on Netflix in favor of a planned subscription streaming service of their own.
ShondaLand is the name of Rhimes's production company. ShondaLand and its logo also refer to the shows Rhimes has created and to Rhimes herself. Shows included in ShondaLand are:Grey's Anatomy (2005–present)
Private Practice (2007–2013)
Off the Map (2011)
How to Get Away with Murder (2014–present)
The Catch (2016–2017)
Still Star-Crossed (2017)
For the People (2017)
Rhimes adopted her first daughter in June 2002 and adopted another girl in February 2012. In September 2013, Rhimes welcomed her third daughter via gestational surrogacy.
In 2014, Rhimes gave a commencement address at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, and received an honorary doctorate.
In September 2015, Rhimes revealed she had lost 117 pounds via exercise and dieting. She is an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Shonda Rhimes has won a Golden Globe award and was nominated for three Emmy Awards. She has also won awards from the Writer's Guild of America, Producer's Guild of America, and Director's Guild of America. Below is a more complete list.