In writing for this blog, I must admit that I have a certain amount of prejudice that I try not to let enter my writing. To do so, I basically try to avoid the kinds of television that give me agita. I’ve stayed away from almost every form of reality television, I try to avoid the perils of gossip, I avoid genres that bother me like torture porn and soap operas and mostly I try not to hold grudges. There is so much good television and talented writers at play, why should I bother bashing the ones that are barely competent?
But the fact is that there are some writers whose success one can’t avoid, particularly in broadcast television where a hit leads to a dozen imitations the following season. This is a bad trend particularly because the window for successful shows gets smaller and smaller with each season. It’s reaching the point that writers are being given carte blanche whether or not they deserve it, and whether their series are worthy of it. When the 2014–2015 fall season, ABC, once the source for the most brilliant and original series in TV, effectively surrendered its Thursday night lineup to a writer whose critical and popular success have done more to damage some of the more promising genres that broadcast TV, which still can produce diamonds to someone who seems unattackable no matter how much damage she does to her medium. I speak, of course, of Shonda Rhimes, writer/producers of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and this season’s How to Get Away With Murder.
Attacking or even critiquing Rhimes has always been incredibly difficult. This September The New York Times tried a simple analysis of Rhimes shows, and the types of characters that seem to be at the center of all them — — black women of a certain age who use their energy against a hostile environment. The Times has never been one of Rhimes’ biggest boosters, and they pointed out that the attitude Rhimes leads take is angry. The minute these words were used, the Twitterverse — — a medium that does more to diminish rational thought that anything else, and one that, not coincidentally, Rhimes has managed to use to great effect — — caught fire, saying the Times was a racist paper and had no right to even think these things in print. It particularly hurt to hear Joshua Malina, a great actor who has done much better things, hold this point of view, even if he felt honor bound to defend his patron.
I expect the world will little note nor take heed of what I say here, but my object is to be a television critic. Therefore, I will try to regard Rhimes series, all of which I’ve watched far more than I want to admit,. purely on a meritocracy. I will also admit that trying to hold back Rhimes is the modern equivalent of trying to hold back the tide. The market has spoken. All three of Rhimes’ series average more than ten million viewers a week live, with lord knows how many DVRs and internet viewings. She’s won. So she could hold back her fans by even trying to say their attacking Shonda because she’s a black woman. I know it’s hard to be a successful black showrunner in TV, I know it’s even harder to be a woman showrunner, I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is to be both or to deal with the demands of her work. And I know that with the shortage of good roles for black actors and actresses in general, to attack someone who has provided so many good ones will seem as a shot across the bow. But I’ve been yelling against The Sopranos and Seinfeld and Friends, so it’s not like this can be any harder.