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Full transcript: Shondaland CEO and TV producer Shonda Rhimes on Recode Decode

Rhimes was interviewed onstage by Kara Swisher at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.

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Shonda Rhimes onstage with Kara Swisher at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit
Shonda Rhimes onstage with Kara Swisher
Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, TV producer Shonda Rhimes sat onstage with Kara to talk about her move from ABC to Netflix, the idea of diversity in Hollywood and what she’s doing with her new site, Shondaland.

You can read some of the highlights here, or listen to the entire interview in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network.

Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Or just visit recode.nets/podcasts for more.

Today we’re going to play an interview I did at the 2017 Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit. I spoke to Shonda Rhimes, the superstar TV producer who created “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Earlier this year, she signed a multiyear development deal to make new original series and other things exclusively for Netflix. And she’s also starting another website. Let’s take a listen.

All right, I want to start ... First of all, I have to ask you about Netflix because I’m the geek person from Silicon Valley. Can you give me an idea, just a little bit, of where your thinking is at right now. I know you can’t talk about what you’re gonna make, but let’s talk about why you decided to do it.

Shonda Rhimes: I love the idea that you can put out something, and it can be all over the world in an instant, instead of waiting for platform after platform after platform. I also love the creative freedom that’s available there. There’s no restrictions. There’s no broadcast standards and practices. There’s no, “It has to be this long.” I can make something that’s an hour and a half long. I can make something that’s 15 minutes long.

Right.

There’s no, “We want to see more of this, because that’s what you’ve done before.” It’s an open road.

You felt formulaic in that formula. 42 minutes, that’s it. “Shonda, you have to write that.”

It’s not that I felt formulaic, that is what network television is. A drama is 42 minutes and 19 seconds. A comedy is 22 minutes and whatever. That is what you have to stay in. There’s no way of getting out of that, because that is how it works.

Right. Had you watched people, say Jill Soloway and others, do this? Or had you thought of it for a while? Or did you want a next chapter? Because you were 15 years at ABC. Enormously successful. Could go on and on and do this over and over again. What was the thinking as a creator? I think when people like you do that, it makes a great deal of difference to others.

Well, It wasn’t just as a creator. I have a company, and I wanted to pick my company up and take it someplace else. I took 30 people with me. But it’s also not like we left it behind. I have six shows happening over at ABC. It really was about doing something new, and trying something new.

After being some place for 15 years, I reached a point where — and I really do love what I’m doing. It’s actually very fun. Network television can be very fun. It was that I could solve lots of problems in my sleep. There was nothing new, in terms of the challenges. I thought, when you reach that point where you’re very comfortable, you’re that comfortable, it’s time to try something new.

So, what are scared of in this environment?

I’m not scared of anything.

All right. Right, that’s a wrong one. What do you think about what you can do here? In that, is it a time-based thing? I’m guessing you wake up every morning before, and it’s readings, and this is what you focus on, time. What are you most interested in this genre to do? Is it the time difference? Is it the way you can express it?

I think it’s the doing whatever I want.

Right. Okay.

I mean, truly. I never worried about readings before, and I don’t have to worry about them now. I never worry about that sort of thing. It’s literally, the idea that there’s a totally open road there that Ted has provided, and then an absolutely clear landscape to do whatever I want. They’re very excited to go where I wanna go, and they’re like, “Where do you wanna go?” So that’s wonderful.

So, where do you wanna go?

That is a spoiler.

All right. I think that’s a television term. If you can help me with that, I’d like you to say it.

I don’t wanna say because that is not something ... That’s in the future.

In the future. All right, let’s then talk about narrative storytelling and how it works. What do you think is changed in this era? You have kids. I have teens. They’re watching in different ways. They’re thinking in different ways. Even their brains are shifting into different ways of understanding storytelling. What do you imagine is happening right now in storytelling? Or does it stay ... I just interviewed Ilene Chaiken and she’s like, “It stays the same. A story is a story is a story.”

I think that’s true. I do think a story is a story is a story. I think the delivery and how fast you can get it, is something. My 15-year-old threw open the door the other day to my room and screamed, “‘Freaks and Geeks’ only has one season? Can they make another one?” And I tried to explain to her that it happened a long time ago. She didn’t understand that because it felt very relevant to her. It’s the same kind of story she’s been watching and she loved it.

It’s not that the stories are becoming very different. It’s that she can watch all the episodes at once. It’s that she can watch them on her iPad, when I think she’s supposed to be studying. It’s that she would watch them on her phone if she wanted to. Everything’s available to you now, and that’s what’s different.

Do you like that? Do you, as a creator, like the bingeing?

I love it.

You love? What do you binge on?

I binge pretty much everything. If I’m watching something, I’m bingeing it. I binged “The Good Place” recently. “Handmaid’s Tale.”

You binged “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

I did. I did.

That is tough.

It was tough.

You got a lot of drinking, but go ahead.

I did it. I binged it. It was tough, but I did it because I couldn’t wait to see what was gonna happen, and it was too stressful to not know. Although I did turn it off when I got really freaked out and stressed, then I jump ahead. Pretty much everything I watch I’m bingeing.

And you like thinking of creating in that zone?

It’s not that I like thinking of creating in that zone. I discovered we were already in that zone because every 12-year-old I know has seen 300 episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” in a row. I was like, “They’re already bingeing this stuff.” It’s like getting to read a really good book and not having to wait for the end to come.

All right. When you’re thinking about creating in this environment, you have a team around you. You’ve got one of those names that is just a single name. Like Shonda, essentially, and you called your site Shonda. You do. Don’t make a face. It’s true.

It’s not like Cher. It’s not.

No, it’s not Cher yet but it’s going that avenue.

There’s no sequence.

That’s true. People think of you as a singular creator. Talk a little bit about the idea of team, because we talked about it earlier is, how do you create a team now in this environment when you’re creating in an entertainment context?

Yeah. It’s very interesting as people think, maybe not in the industry, but people really do seem to believe that you do everything yourself. There’s no way I could do everything myself. I would be dead. That’s impossible. But it is about, I pulled together a wonderful head of production, and a wonderful head of P.R. and marketing, and Betsy Beers is my producing partner for the television shows in our great development department.

And then it’s about, we raise our writers. Pete Nowalk, who created “How to Get Away With Murder,” started out as a baby writer. Paul Davies, who’s created our new show, “For the People,” started out as a baby writer on “Scandal.” Krista Vernoff, who is running the show now on “Grey’s Anatomy,” started out as a baby writer on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

You love the expression “baby writer.”

Well, they’re brand-new writers, they’ve never been anywhere. And so these people are in-house people that have come up through there. Some of them have worked for us for — the entire length of the show is 12 years — and aren’t interested in going anywhere else because there’s a way that we do things that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the way the outside world does things, I guess. I don’t know. I’ve never worked on anybody else’s shows, but it is a nice way of doing things. Giving people a home and then giving them a chance to make their own stuff is very important to me.

Do you have to manage that differently now? Have you changed in the way you think about it?

I’ve only changed in the sense that I know how important it is to make sure that when you put stuff out there, it has your name on it. If it does not work, everybody blames you. If it does work, everybody says, you get the credit. And so to me, it’s about making sure that somebody else gets the credit they deserve, and making sure that it’s good because no matter what, they’re still gonna blame me.

What kind of mentality are you looking for in writers and creators? All kinds, not just writers, with designers ... There’s so much that goes into it.

I like people with their own opinions, and I like people who argue with me. It’s very exhausting to be in a room full of people who just nod and smile.

Right .

Or agree with you whatever you say. It’s important to have people who are absolutely willing to say you’re wrong or who have a totally different perspective than you do on everything. Fresh ideas are hard to come by, and good ones are even harder. And so to me, if you can have a fresh idea, if you can have a totally different perspective on something, that is interesting to me.

How do you manifest that? Because I deal with a lot of people who get essentially licked up and down all day and they enjoy it.

That’s a whole other problem, yeah.

The only reason I know this is because they’re like always, “Kara, you’re so mean.” And I’m like, “Really, I’m not.”

Yeah.

You just get licked up and down all day, so you would assume anyone that questions you ... How do you do that as a manager? Sorry, that was an aside.

I think really, because it’s the environment we look for, I don’t hire anybody who in an interview can’t tell me what they think is wrong with the shows, or wrong with how we’re doing things. If you can’t tell me in an interview what you think is wrong — and I know that that’s not an easy thing to do. But if you can’t tell me there, then you’re not even going to get to the second phase of things.

Do you feel like you have to hire people that understand the digital storytelling way? Or the way stories are being told? Because there is a traditional mentality of writing or creating.

I don’t think that people are thinking like that in terms of storytelling. I think that storytelling has evolved so much that the generation of writers that come into my offices, they already think in a much faster, much different way. It’s not, and I don’t necessarily call it a digital way or non-digital way. They just have a shorter, faster attention span or something that goes to how they tell a story.

In that it has to be quicker? Or not necessarily?

I don’t know. On “Scandal,” we took things at a breakneck pace. That was it great, and we loved it. But I don’t necessarily think that all story has to be told that way. There’s a lot of great story that’s happening on streaming that is told in a very slow pace that it’s beautiful. So it’s just about frankly opening your mind to what ... Network television has rules that feel like they’ve been embedded in things. You have to have act rates. They have to feel like this, and at this moment this has to happen. To me it’s just about people who aren’t interested in the rules.

We’re gonna take a quick break now from a word from our sponsors. We’ll be back in a minute with Shonda Rhimes.

[ad]

Now back to my interview with Shonda Rhimes, at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.

How do you look at all these tech companies? Now Netflix is the most normal of the tech companies, but a couple years ago they heard Time Warner was calling it, “It’s like going to Lithuania,” I forget which country. It was insulting. But there was a lot of disdain for the concept of tech companies getting into this. I assume they all wanted you to sign with them, or do different deals and things like that. Did you talk to others?

I knew what I was looking for when I started, and I went to what I was looking for.

So you sought them out in that way? Or did you ...

It was mutual, but I knew exactly what I was looking for. I knew what I wanted, and I knew where I was going when I started.

What do you think of all the others pursuing that? Do you imagine them being like the modern studios of the future? Or ...

I don’t even begin to guess because honestly, 10 years ago nobody thought this was gonna happen, and five years ago nobody thought I was gonna be this big. Nobody would have imagined Amazon winning an Emmy. All of those things feel like things that everybody said were impossible, and people are always saying things are impossible. I don’t buy it.

Okay. I’m gonna guess the next question is economics. I feel like it has to change for creators, that you create all the value and most of these networks as ... Well, you get distribution in syndication and you get paid incredibly well. People are like your owners and therefore, they get paid like owners, kind of thing. Are you owning your content in this deal? Or just Netflix? Or should you own your content?

I’m not gonna talk about the specifics of my contract, but I do think that it’s important to have a stake in what you make. I think that that’s been a problem since the beginning of time. The way things go, and the way things have been happening ... I also think that it’s like the music business. The value is taken out the minute the distribution change, change and people don’t remember that they need to plant a flag and say, “This is what we want out of things,” early enough, because they dismiss whether or not the industry that, as it changes, is valuable. People say that’s never gonna be of any value, so they don’t put in the contracts, the writers, the contracts or whatever.

Right, right. Do you want to own your ... I’m thinking of it as IP. I hate to call your creativity IP, but that’s what it is.

I think that that is a very valuable thing for a writer to do, a producer to do.

The reason I’m thinking about it is because I interviewed Jill Soloway about “Transparent,” and she was working on her next contract, and I said, “You should get a piece of the paper towels.” She was like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Well, their market value went up because of ‘Transparent.’ Prime went up because ... they’re selling more paper towels because of ‘Transparent.’ You should get the paper towel money. Some of that piece of paper towel money.” She never thought about it like that, and then she’s like, “I need a piece of the paper towels.” And I say, “Of course you do.” I’m sure I caused a lot of problems up in Amazon, but I don’t care.

But the question is, I think of you as an entrepreneur, that’s why I’m wondering, is that how enough Hollywood people think of themselves, as entrepreneurial?

No. I definitely think of myself as more of a businesswoman now. I’ve had to simply because I’ve had to learn what’s important and what’s not, in terms of not getting screwed financially. There’s a lot of people in this town who don’t know what the value of their work is. I think that there’s a lot of people who get screwed over easily by not knowing. And so for me, it was about figuring out what was important to me, how to grow. It’s very obvious, Disney has made two billion dollars basically — as far as I’m concerned, I think that’s the right number — on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Two billion dollars.

Do you have one?

No.

Some jackass in Silicon Valley has one.

It’s the first television show I ever made, so imagine the deal on the first television show you ever made. But it was important to me to plant a flag, and get a stake, and build that up, and learn really quickly.

Can you give me why you think that is? Because I have theories of why it is, because I do think a lot of people in Hollywood, as highly paid as they are, they get the plane. They send the plane for them. They send the nice flowers after the Emmys, and they end up not owning. That’s the idea of not ... You created a lot more value than you’ve been paid for.

Yeah. There’s a lot of value in what you do. Honestly, there was a moment in time when I think I had the flu, or I was ... I think it was the flu. I was on jury. I was in line for jury duty. There was a true concern that an entire night of television would not go on the air. Now think about that. I had the flu or it was jury duty, and the television wouldn’t go on the air because I wasn’t gonna finish the cut, or I wasn’t gonna figure this out. Things weren’t gonna happen in time. It was not that time. It was like, we’re gonna be late for things.

I sat back and thought, “Well, I’m definitely more valuable than I think I am, than I’ve been thinking, and I really need to rethink this and give it some real thought.”

Right, right. I have an exercise where I essentially kill off everyone in a room, and figure out who’s left and that’s the person I focus on. And it’s usually just me.

I’m gonna try that.

You should, because you’ll always just be ... It will be just you. Let’s talk about that idea of getting the way the Hollywood power structure is. You just interviewed Michelle Obama.

Yes. Yes, I did.

How’d it go?

She really was quite ... She’s very candid.

She’s very candid.

And fun to talk to. Yes.

What did you think about that?

I enjoyed it. I really liked talking to her because she does say what she thinks. She’s very clear about where she is in terms of what she’s thinking about what’s going on. And, she doesn’t play games.

No, not at all. But one of the things she said that I thought was very — I watched the whole thing — was the part about having a voice and standing up, or get out of the seat and hit it. Let’s talk about those seats. Earlier, Ava DuVernay was talking about not liking the word diversity because she just doesn’t know what that means, but she does know what the term not being included is, so inclusion. Something like that. How do you imagine ... Because one of the things that — I think we talked about this earlier. Every year, Hollywood is shocked, shocked, shocked, that shows with African-Americans/gays/transgender is interesting to people. You know what I mean? Like, “Oh my God.”

More stunned to discover ...

More stunned to discover this is ... On one level I think, can it be racism or are they just stupid? Both. Both can apply. It often goes together. In fact, it always goes together. But what do you imagine? You’ve created shows with all kinds of different people as stars, as the focus, and different things like that. Why is that?

It’s always gonna be that way. If you think about the fact that every time a female-driven movie comes out and it does well, there is just shock that people want to see a movie about women and they were funny. Or people want to see a female movie ... and it was an action movie and people went to see it. And oh my God, black people are on television and people are watching. It’s amazing how often that happens. I really do think you should be asking the people for whom it happens because it’s impossible for me to tell you what is going on in their minds.

Do you imagine changing that?

Do I imagine changing the fact that they don’t seem to like that for them it’s “Groundhog Day” every day?

Yeah, yeah. That is a nice, polite way of putting it. I would just say they’re assholes, but go ahead. Moving along.

You may say that.

Okay.

I really don’t know how you fix it for them. I don’t. It’s an obvious fact to me that the world looks like the world looks, which is certainly not ... I don’t walk out in the world and see just a sea of white men. That is not how the world looks to me and it’s certainly not interesting. But they do somehow, or they believe they do. That is how they work. Maybe it’s just a bunch of all white journalists or something.

So how do you imagine changing it? Or do you not care to change it, just create your own things?

Yeah. I think the only way you change it is by continuing to create content that makes what they’re saying sound stupid.

Is there anything else to improve? It’s just a big deal right now. In Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of stories on this issue.

Well, in Silicon Valley there is a problem.

Yes. Yes, there is.

It’s very different than here. I mean, there’s a problem here but there’s a really big problem in Silicon Valley, I think. There’s work to be done, and there’s work to be done here, obviously. But that just comes from giving people more opportunities and from people recognizing the problem, which is probably why a lot of journalists spend time writing about it because they know that every time they do, maybe somebody gets an opportunity.

Opportunity. Do you do anything different to make that happen?

Does a black woman do anything different to make sure that there’s inclusion?

I don’t think you should have to.

No, I say it like that because I don’t sit around having to think deeply, like are we including people, because that doesn’t have anything to do ... I don’t sit around thinking, “I better get a lot of white people, or I better get a lot of people of color, or I better get a lot ...” My world doesn’t work that way, because I’m a person who’s included. Generally, a person who looks like me would not be included.

My world doesn’t function on the matter of me having to think carefully about making sure people are included. People get included because people get included. People of color are in my office. People who are gay or straight are in my office. People of all sexual persuasions are in my office. People of all genders are in my office. It doesn’t come up in that same way because I’m not not including people.

Right. I got that. When you think about that idea of —I agree with you, like when “Wonder Woman” happened, it was like, “I cannot believe this.” And it was a good movie, right?

Yeah.

I think it was just a good movie. Still, making them does make a difference, or do you not think that?

No, I do think making them makes a difference. I also just think there’s a problem with the idea that a movie is a movie if it stars a white guy. But if it stars a woman, it’s a female-driven movie. And if it stars a black person, it’s a black film. There’s something inherently ignorant about that.

We’re gonna take another quick ad break now. We’ll be back in a minute with Shonda Rhimes.

[ad]

Now back to my interview with Shonda Rhimes at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.

Well, let’s get to something else Michelle Obama said, and I want you to talk about Shondaland, and what you’re trying to do with that.

She talked about standards, which I have to say, one of the things, I’ve been really against boards up in Silicon Valley. They’re all white men, essentially. When you go to push them, like, why don’t they have more women on these boards, especially since 50 percent of the people who use the internet [are female]. It’s a very diverse internet, people using the internet.

They always pull out the word “standards.” “Well, we have standards.” And I’m was like, “Well, you didn’t have standards when you hired those 10 idiot men who drove the company into a wall.” So how is it that standards are missing, where the word “standard” is only brought up with women or people of color, or age, or something like that. There’s always that word that comes up. So talk about that concept of standards. What does that mean?

That is a very large topic. I do think that there are standards that people should meet, and I do know that they’ve done all kinds of studies that every time they’re looking for people to meet standards, people of color and women in general most often meet those standards in the hiring practices mainly because they have to, on a higher level, to even be in the room. It’s not really about standards. It’s about hiring the guy who you feel most comfortable with, who looks like you.

Right. I knew they were talking about moving the standard bar back ...

Yeah. What she was saying, she was really talking about public opinion.

Right, that it moves up, you have to meet a ...

That every time she would hit a bar that she felt was like, this is how people are supposed to behave, that bar would move.

Right, right. Absolutely. All right. The reason we’re talking about this, because you talked also about voice. It’s important to have a voice. Explain what you’re doing with Shondaland. Is that a way to reach out to your audiences and have your own relationship with them? What is happening there?

I started the website shondaland.com, which is really just a place to have articles and videos and a lot of really interesting writing going on that is a conversation. It’s not a lifestyle site, we don’t give you lifestyle on the site. We give you life, because I’m not interested in a lifestyle site. There’s not gonna be a lot of beauty tips, and no one’s gonna tell you what color lipstick to wear. It’s articles about what to do about immigration, and if you’re feeling interested about almost anything that you can talk about that is important to you is discussed on the site, which has been great.

I did an interview with Billie Jean King. I’m doing an interview with Michelle Obama at some point, like there will be interesting things going on. What I love about it is that it is a place not just for fans of the shows, but for any of the people who live in the universe of thinking about things in a much more inclusive way to enjoy themselves, to read, to have a conversation.

Is it just a hobby? There are a lot of people have started, I mean, Lena Dunham did one. What’s the goal for you?

It’s been interesting, you know. As a business owner, people keep asking me, what’s the goal? What’s the goal? What’s the goal? When Hearst picked it up and started to distribute among their things, then people felt like, “That must have been the goal.” There is no goal in that sense. The goal is to give people a voice. The goal is to have a voice that’s out there that feels relevant, and different, and available, really.

And then where do you wanna go with something like that?

Right now, I wanna see where we go. I think it will be interesting. There is a place for small bits of content on it in terms of video content, but I don’t know that that’s ... What is interesting to me as the written word, which doesn’t really have a place to exist very much anymore as we move forward.

Right. How do you get people into that? Again, you have a 15-year-old, you have young kids. How do you imagine getting them interested in that?

I think I’m fortunate in that I have an audience of followers that is 12 to 75, and they are interested in what we have to say. I like to take advantage of that in a good way and use it to draw them in. It really is about talking to all of them. The thing that’s happening right now is, we’re having these cultural conversations, but the conversations are happening. People are over here, or people over here and that’s it. I don’t think our audiences are that way. It’s very interesting. We have grandmothers who are deep dark Republicans, and we have teenagers who are incredibly liberal, and they’re all in the same site. They’re all reading this stuff. Some of them don’t like it. Some of them love it. Some of them have things to say, but they’re all there.

Those same people who’ll write me and say, “I’m never watching your show again. And like I said last week, I won’t be watching it again next week ...” You know.

Do you call them?

No.

You should do that.

I’m not gonna call anybody.

You should go, “Hi, this is Shonda.” Why not?

I like that they have the right to have an opinion. I like that they have the right to say, like, “I hate you,” and, “I hate your show,” and, “How dare do you do that.” And then they come back.

So you’re a nice mogul. I wouldn’t be one. But I would call them and just mess with them all the time.

There’s room for everybody.

I know. That’s true, It’s true. When you’re talking about that idea of voices for everyone, one of the problems on these platforms, and presuming that you’re building a platform, correct? Is that what you call it?

Yes. Yes.

You’re now a platform company, Shonda is. You have to monitor. You have to run it. There’s all these problems now with Facebook, and other places, and what happens to their platforms, and who’s controlling them, separate ... I don’t assume you’re gonna have any issues with Russian ads, but when you think about that divisiveness, they have created that. Social media, as I said yesterday, has become highly weaponized. How do you then bridge that? If you’re talking about, there’s a grandmother who says she’s not gonna watch your show again but then she does ...

We have yet to open it up to the comments. We’ve had a lot of talks about this. We’ve only been going since September 18th. We’ve yet to open up all of our comments on our discussion parts, because we’ve really been talking about how to do that, and how to do it well and responsibly because it is getting worse out there, I think. And especially when it feels like there’s gonna be a change in how that’s talked about and looked at. Congress is looking at how it’s all working. I wanna see how that plays out.

What do you imagine would bring that divisiveness of people? Do all watch your show of different kind? You can talk about that. How do you look at how these different culture conversations that are going on and splitting really dramatically? I mean, I think ...

Well, I’m using everybody else’s social platforms right now to look at that. It’s very interesting to see what’s been going on on Twitter and what’s going on on Facebook and what’s going on everywhere with the conversations that are going on about those things.

Tell me about Twitter. You’re quite good at Twitter. You’re quite good at the Twitter.

I don’t know if you can be good at Twitter.

You are, you are. I’m sorry to tell you, you are, but some are terrible at Twitter. Some are good and terrible at the same time, like Donald Trump. He’s quite good at it in a bad way, but he’s good at it. How do you think of that? How do you think of Twitter? What do you use it for?

I think I used to use it more as a way of talking to the people who watch the shows. That was when I discovered that a lot of the people on Twitter were 14 years old, because I would be highly insulted by some of the things that were said, and I would get very angry, and very up in arms about things.

What got you real mad?

Well, just the way they would speak about people, and I would be like, “Don’t you think that in seven years a character would change?” And I would get very deeply offended. And then ...

And then you realize you’re arguing with the Russian boss, right?

No. Then one day, somebody said, “You can’t talk to me like that. I’m only 12.” And I thought ... We were having this big conversation and I said, “How many of you guys are under 15?” And they all were. I was stunned. I was like, “This is what’s going on here.” Because I have this theory that people were shut-ins or something, and they all had plenty of time on their hands. They were 12-year-olds. They were kids, which gave me a real insight into what we were doing basically, which is shaping their minds and shaping their thought patterns, and what was okay and what wasn’t.

That’s awesome when you’re sending people off to medical school and they’re telling you they became doctors because of you. But it’s not awesome when they’re saying they’re gonna kill themselves if Callie and Arizona break up, because you made them know that they were gay and it was okay. It’s a problem. So there’s a giant responsibility there, but it does feel useful in the sense that you can get articles out. You can get helpful information out. I push a lot of information out that’s just about what’s going on in the world. I’m trying to get people to think politically. I push a lot of rage out about Donald Trump.

I’ve noticed that.

It’s very hard not to. For a while I really used it so that, if I had something to say and I had something I wanna think about, I did not have to put out a press release, or go have a long conversation in an interview, which may or not may not have been helpful but it did make me feel better.

Right. What do you imagine that evolving into? You use Facebook differently? Or the same, or ...

Facebook has been very interesting because there’s a lot of ability to do video, to have a conversation with your fans. I’ve done live Q&As and things like that. I haven’t decided if they’re all going to become more useful or far less useful. There is a feeling for a lot of people that pulling away from all of those is much more comforting than it is to be on them. I spend a lot less time on social media than I used to.

I know that people think it’s far more important and yet, I don’t think it is. Everybody reports what’s on social media that’s important, so in a weird way, you don’t have to follow it as closely as you did before when you had to be there to see what was happening in the instant. Now, I can find out what Donald Trump said on Twitter just by walking around. It’s everywhere. So it’s not as urgent to be in the know and on the sites.

I’m gonna end by talking a little bit about how you feel about the current environment. Have you ever thought about running for office? They asked Bob Myers, I’m gonna ask you.

No.

Why?

Because you can’t write while running for office.

No, I know that. But then you do that job.

No.

No? Because ...

Because you can’t write while being in office.

Well, you could almost do anything now. I think the rules are all off on the president thing.

It’s just not interesting to me.

Right, right.

The rules are off. It is a job that I would take very, very seriously and therefore, I’m a Type A person, I would work really hard to do it really well. They all age super fast. I feel like you get to be president, they show you the vampires in the basement and that’s it for you.

That sounds like a great Shonda Rhimes show: Vampires in the basement of the White House.

Maybe.

Okay.

But that respect isn’t being given to the office right now, and so to me it’s not a place ... I would take it too seriously.

Do you feel yourself more political? Because you are. I was reading some of your Twitters and ...

I don’t know that I’m more political. I think that I’m as political as I’ve always been. I don’t think that’s more or less political, and frankly I don’t think a lot of the things that I have to talk about are political. I don’t think it’s political to be a morally decent, ethical person. That’s not political.

You know, it actually, that you have to say it these days, it is political.

No.

I wanna finish off by talking a little bit more about the concept of what ... I know you can’t talk specifically about what you’re doing, but what do you like that’s out there? The new stuff especially. I know in the new medias there’s things you see every day. We just got another two minutes. What do you see that you really like, that you go like, “Huh, cool”?

In terms of storytelling?

Books or TV or movies ... Anything that you’re like, “I would like to ... That was interesting.”

I’m a big fan of what’s coming up with the newer storytellers that are out there. I’m a big fan of “Atlanta.” I’m a big fan of “Insecure.” I’m a big fan of things that feel fresh.

Interestingly enough, there’s a lot of plays that I’m interested in seeing, and watching, and knowing about that feel much more relevant than anything because they’re just fresh voices. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to really get invested in the arts community in LA because it feels like the arts are being devastated by what’s going on in Washington. That feels like an important place. That feels like where a lot of our storytelling comes from in the first place. So it’s things like that.

That you’re looking at?

Yeah, that I’m looking at and being inspired by.

Let’s just ... I ask this of everyone I interview. Sometimes I ask, what would you like Silicon Valley to invent, but I don’t feel like that’s a good one here, although if you have something, please go ahead. But you’re an entrepreneur and I always ask them, what’s something that you failed at that ... You don’t have to have a learning lesson in it or anything else, but something that you did that was like, “Ugh, I did that.” And you either repaired it or that is just the way it was. You are an entrepreneur in ...

I am an entrepreneur. What is something that I failed at? I’m not pausing, because it’s sounds ridiculous that I’m pausing, but I’m very fortunate in that I have gone on a path that’s very different than most people’s. I think in terms of trying to put together our first set of shows that weren’t written by me, we made a lot of mistakes and that’s because I think power is not power if you don’t know you have it. I don’t think I realized how much power we had in the beginning when we were building the beginning of Shondaland and adding new shows that weren’t written by me, and me understanding how much power I had to protect the other artists that we were working with. I learned from that really quickly. It was a really powerful lesson to discover where my power was lying and what I could do with it.

If you were ... I don’t know how old you are. If you were 22 years old right now, what would you do?

Exactly what I’ve done.

Exactly what you’ve done.

Yeah. I mean, I don’t know how to look at it any other way. I like to write. I like to tell stories. I love the idea that I have learned to build businesses. I’d probably be in a cabin somewhere writing novels, if I didn’t have this entrepreneurial spirit, but I do. I think I would do exactly what I’ve done and maybe have done it faster, so that there could be more of us.

I think you’re doing okay, but ...

But also, it’s the more writers out there who feel like more women writers, women of color, who feel like they have a voice.

All right. On that, Shonda Rhimes.

Thank you.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.