Peak TV has arrived at Shondaland. Shonda Rhimes’ production banner not only has a slate packed with series already on the air (ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” and “Scandal”) but also two new dramas set to debut this spring: legal drama “For the People” and the still-untitled “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff. And then there’s the matter of that deal with Netflix.
But executive producer Betsy Beers tells Variety that it’s just business as usual for them, crediting the showrunners behind each of the series. Here, she discusses how they manage the ever-growing slate, what to expect of the upcoming series finale of “Scandal,” and what’s in store for Shondaland series at Netflix.
How are you balancing all of the series on your slate?
There’s an abundance right now, but everything really is at a different point. “Grey’s” is doing so incredibly well this year. [Showrunner] Krista [Vernoff] is so amazing. To me, this year has been this beautiful love letter to fans. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s intense. I look at “Grey’s” as the kid in college. I feel very confident that everything is going well. Having two that are starting at the same time [“For the People” and the “Grey’s” spinoff] has been interesting but they were staggered. “For the People” was up and driving along when the spinoff was emerging. They’ve worked strangely really well in tandem with each other. “Murder” is great and “Scandal” — I know the stage direction, and I go to table reads and I’m as excited by what’s going to happen as much as everyone else. It’s actually easier than it seems because we have so many teams of great people doing their jobs.
What projects do you anticipate you’ll produce for Netflix?
We’re in the process of working out what we want to be doing. As soon as something we have to talk about, we’ll give you a call. There’s lot of different things we can be doing at Netflix, and we’re still trying to figure that out. It’s potentially different types of storytelling than on network, but at the same point, that’s what great about having all of these shows at ABC. We continue to get to work on these great shows that we love. And hopefully start to push into some other directions.
How does it feel to be wrapping up “Scandal” this year?
I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t think it would be this emotional. Well, I did because I was at the upfronts and experienced a well of massive emotion. I’m usually pretty hale and hearty, and I was a blithering mess. I think I’m sort of in denial about it. I love the show and the cast so much. But at the same point, it’s time. In the back of my head, there’s a logic to it but emotionally it’s going to be a lot to give up. Living with those characters for all those years that cast is just… They’re the best group of people ever. It’s a rough one.
What can you reveal about the finale?
Absolutely nothing! [Laughs.] That there’s going to be a finale. I can confirm that there will definitely be a finale.
How would you describe it: Sad? Surprising? Does it leave the door open for a potential return or spinoff?
I can say nothing about the finale except that I’m sure it will be as magnificent as the entire show.
“Grey’s” is now in its 14th season, and has really bucked the trend of shows getting canceled. What’s the secret behind such a long-running series?
It’s got this great energy and tone. The chemistry with the cast is really good. The show has pushed itself in some slightly more unexpected directions. But it is also in so many ways a callback to the first season of “Grey’s,” which is something I know Krista had said when she came back on board — if you listen to the music, the stories that are being told. For me, I love a big new group of interns. And learning how the new kids are going to be integrated into the story. I’m getting to know them and I’m really enjoying it. And when we come back, the first episode after the break, I just love. I have to say I can hardly wait.
It’s also continued to find new viewers, with new generations discovering it. What do you think draws them in?
It’s fast, there’s tension, it’s exciting but it’s also really funny. That’s the thing that I’ve found this season. There’s a delightful sense of humor to it, and it’s certainly something I think people are enjoying really connecting now with in TV. I’m watching a lot of comedies. I think that for me, too, worlds in which there’s order is very appealing. That’s part of the reason why I’m watching firefighters fight. And what I love about “For the People” is there’s a system, and I’m getting to understand what the system is for both sides. I understand that there are both sides and I’m tolerant of both sides in that world. In “Grey’s,” the similar reality is that it’s a world in which there’s resolution. But I still identify with the characters and I’ve also got these folks that I’ve grown up with. What keeps amazing me is the generations of people who are watching it, everything from a 14-year-old to this 30-, 40-something male doctor I just went to. They all want to keep watching to see what happens next. There’s nothing more of a compliment than when a doctor tells me a show is good.
How has the show managed to weather all of the cast transitions along the way?
Shonda’s been a genius knowing when it’s time for a character to move on. The great thing is there’s always been such a deep bench. The way that little by little by little you start to integrate new characters is a real skill. It’s an alchemy I don’t totally understand. You first meet a new character and you think, oh, it’s a new character. And then little by little, you don’t notice it and you’re really starting to think about the character a lot. Without even knowing it or thinking about it, that person’s become part of the family. It’s happened so many times in the past. I also feel like that core group that has been there since the beginning is like coming home. When I think about Alex and Meredith and what they’ve been through, the kinds of journeys they’ve been, that Cristina and Meredith continue to be friends. They’re never gone. They’re all present, they’re just not with us.
How do you think “For the People” fits into Shondaland? The cast really seems to have embraced their research into the law.
I didn’t realize how much law they’d learned. It was terrifying. I knew a certain amount had been consumed but the idea that they retained it! You could talk to all of them, and you’d be in good hands. It’s like what we used to say on “Grey’s”: “Do you think any of these people could operate on you?” I always felt like [I could trust] Cristina. She sure looks like she knows more than some of the folks I’ve dealt with. And I’m starting to feel like that with this group of young lawyers, you might not be in bad hands.
What about the “Grey’s” spinoff? How do you feel about those firefighters?
They’re a very nice group of firefighters, too! They could slide down a pole. They also all did a certain amount of training. They can all hold their gear. [Series star] Jaina [Lee Ortiz] passed the firefighter test a day after she got the part. Which was kind of awesome. The other actors have also trained to a point of being able to put a fire. [Laughs.]
What defines a Shondaland show for you at this point?
For me, it always boils down to incredibly great kicka– characters. Strong women who have light sides and dark sides and are complicated, who are fiercely loyal. I think for me I really love the workplace families. I love the regular families too but the fact that the workplace becomes a family environment and people rely on each other so much. It’s the complexity of the characters. That the worlds are incredibly rich and fully. That the stories are endless. There’s something about the worlds we’ve tried to embrace in Shondaland where anything can happen.
You’ve also set the standard for inclusive casting.
It is the world as we see it. The frustration is that others don’t see the world that way. That’s the part for us which I think is puzzling. That it’s an issue is puzzling. [The idea] that you get a merit badge for the thing you think you did that was impressive, it shouldn’t be an effort. The beautiful thing about life is that you have all these choices and you learn so much from having voices around you that are different than yours. We feel that way obviously behind the camera and in front of the camera, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having more women in charge is certainly one of the key issues behind the #TimesUp movement in terms of a way to move forward.
Absolutely, in terms of the workplace, having more women in charge. Having more women in charge in general. Having it reflect the number of people in this country who are female. In the workplace would be a phenomenal and wonderful change. I think that will certainly be part and parcel of our culture changing.