In early April, when Netflix and Shondaland announced that Regé-Jean Page, everyone’s favorite duke, wouldn’t be returning for the second season of “Bridgerton,” the news caused an explosion of grief on the internet. “Bridgerton,” after all, was a sensation as soon as it hit Netflix on Christmas Day 2020, and a significant number of the show’s fans had fallen in love with Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings (Page) and Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor). How could he be leaving?!?

Rhimes was surprised by the surprise, she said during an interview for Variety’s Show Woman of the Year cover story — she assumed that more people would be familiar with the structure of Julia Quinn’s “Bridgerton” romance series. “Every season we’re telling a different romance story of a different couple,” she said. “There are eight Bridgerton siblings, and as far as I’m concerned, there are eight ‘Bridgerton’ seasons. And maybe more.”

Nevertheless, after “everybody lost their minds” about Page leaving, Rhimes did ask him whether he’d want to return. “Rightfully, he said, ‘I signed up to do this one lovely story, this closed-ended storyline. I’m good!’” Rhimes said. “And I don’t blame him for that. I think that he was really smart to leave the perfection as the perfection.”

After all, that had been the plan all along. Rhimes, who invented couples such as #MerDer (Meredith and Derek) on “Grey’s Anatomy” and #Olitz (Olivia and Fitz) on “Scandal,” wanted to do something different with “Bridgerton.” Along with the show’s creator, Chris Van Dusen, and Betsy Beers, Rhimes’ longtime producing partner, their plan for Simon and Daphne was actual happiness. “For once in television, they were going to get to have their happily ever after versus — well, you know! In network television, you have to come up with 15 years of why a couple has to be apart.”

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Rege-Jean Page, Phoebe Dynevor on “Bridgerton.” ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Bridgerton” was one of the first projects Shondaland developed for Netflix, after Rhimes’ company moved its deal from ABC to the streamer in 2017. “The ‘Bridgerton’ books are witty — they’re witty and they’re funny, and they have sort of a take on feminist romance that I hadn’t really seen before,” Rhimes said. “I could feel the series within them.”

She continued: “If I could see myself in the character of Daphne Bridgerton, then almost anybody could see themselves in those characters. And it felt very universal to me in a way that felt modern.”

As for the phenomenon of the audience falling in love with a couple — well, of course Rhimes understands. “People’s attachment to couples is real — I mean, I know that better than anybody,” she said. Nevertheless, “Bridgerton” is trying to do something different — “I think people’s expectations of storytelling have become very — everyone’s just very trained,” she said.

“We get to do it again the next season,” Rhimes said. “And then we’re going to do it again in Season 3. And we’re going to do it again in Season 4.”

And so on. Production recently completed on the show’s second season, and it will premiere next year. Would Rhimes preview what’s to come?

The spoiler-phobic Rhimes offered a brief forecast about the central couple of Season 2, Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley). “I think there’s a powerful, interesting, romantic couple at the heart of it,” she said. “They’re an incredibly interesting and exciting pair. I like to watch them.”

“Our goal, if we do our job correctly,” Rhimes added, “is you are going to be as invested and excited by that couple as you were by the couple of Season 1.”

There are the women of “Bridgerton” as well, who have become fan favorites. “I love the evolution of Lady Whistledown, and what’s going on with Penelope and with Eloise,” Rhimes said of the characters played by Nicola Coughlan and Claudia Jessie, respectively. “And I’m obsessed with Queen Charlotte.”

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Golda Rosheuvel as Queen Charlotte on “Bridgerton.” Liam Daniel / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection ©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

So obsessed, Rhimes said, that when Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos asked her to write a prequel series about Queen Charlotte, she readily agreed. She calls her “the Beyoncé of the show,” and is currently writing it as her next project for Netflix.

Queen Charlotte, of course, is an actual historical figure — one who doesn’t appear in Quinn’s books. But as portrayed by Golda Rosheuvel, she’s both imperious and fabulous.

So will she be in the spinoff series, Rhimes said: “We’re telling the story of the Queen Charlotte as we’ve imagined her in our world.”

And Rhimes loves being immersed in that world.

“Part of what I’m enjoying about that is it feels almost old fashioned, to be able to write without any pop culture references,” she said. “It’s been very, very oddly freeing. I feel like E.M. Forster or something.”