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Netflix Signs Shonda Rhimes in Counterpunch to ABC and Disney

  • The prolific television hitmaker Shonda Rhimes has signed an exclusive overall deal with Netflix, the streaming giant announced.
  • Rhimes is the creator of shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," and "How To Get Away With Murder" — all hits for ABC.
  • Shonda will head over to Netflix in what the streaming service said was a multiyear deal.
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Glamour

In a huge blow to ABC and Disney, the prolific television hitmaker Shonda Rhimes has signed an exclusive overall deal with Netflix, the streaming giant announced early Monday morning.

Ms. Rhimes, the creator of shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," and "How To Get Away With Murder" — all hits for ABC — will bring Shondaland over to Netflix in what the streaming service said was a multiyear deal.

Those series and ones currently in development will remain on ABC, though Netflix already has the streaming rights for the back library for shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal."

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Netflix's move amounts to a major counterpunch to Disney's announcement last week that it was starting a pair of its own streaming services, including one that would force the removal of several Disney and Pixar movies from Netflix in the next two years.

Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, said in a statement, "I've gotten the chance to know Shonda and she's a true Netflixer at heart — she loves TV and films, she cares passionately about her work, and she delivers for her audience."

Ms. Rhimes said in her own statement, "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. Ted provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He 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."

Ms. Rhimes has been with ABC for more than a decade and has long been one of the biggest names at the network. She has been a reliable generator of hits, including building an entire Thursday night lineup that ABC's marketing department has dubbed #TGIT.

Though it has been a ratings force, ABC's Thursday night lineup has showed some signs of wear and tear recently. "Grey's Anatomy," which will begin season 14 in September, remains a big hit with sturdy ratings, but both "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder" have seen their ratings nose-dive in the last two years. One of Ms. Rhimes's newer shows, "The Catch," was canceled this year.

ABC announced this year that "Scandal" will end after this coming season, something that the network tried to turn into a marketing bonanza at its annual advertiser pitch in May.

Ms. Rhimes's development slate at ABC will not suddenly vaporize. In addition to keeping its Thursday night lineup for the coming season, ABC still has a midseason show that is expected from Ms. Rhimes, titled "For The People," and a "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff that is in preproduction, among some other projects in development.

Nevertheless, losing her is enormous for ABC and its corporate parent, Disney. The network finished in last place among the advertiser-coveted demographic for a second straight season, and though it is doing fine with comedies, it badly needs a hit drama. In the coming season, the network has been pinning its hopes on revivals like "American Idol" and "Roseanne" to help improve its standing in the ratings.

In a statement, ABC's entertainment president, Channing Dungey, said, "I'm proud to have given a home to what have become some of the most celebrated and talked about shows on television. With the launch of a new season upon us, fans can rest assured that TGIT remains intact and will be as buzzed about as ever."

For Netflix, this is more of the same.

The streaming service has been on an unprecedented spending spree, spreading billions on acquiring big-name talent.

In addition to cornering the market on stand-up comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, just last week the streaming service said it was bringing in the Coen Brothers for a new limited series and David Letterman for a new TV show.

The latest moves come just as digital rivals like Apple and Facebook have taken steps that suggest they are prepared to become serious players in the scripted and unscripted television game.