For want of a nail . . .

I was doing research on something else (always the way it works for me 🙂 ) when I came across this October 2020 Hollywood Reporter article on Shonda Rhimes and got sucked in by the title (Shonda Rhimes Is Ready to “Own Her S***”) and started reading.

This article covers a lot of ground, and its main point is that Shonda Rhimes is super happy at Netflix because of the creative freedom she has:

The reason I came to Netflix is because I wanted to be able to make television without anybody bothering me. . . .  And as long as I get to keep making television without anybody bothering me, I’m happy.

However, the section of the article that most captured my attention was the story of the actual catalyst for Rhimes’s departure from the ABC television network. Yes, there had been battles over budget and content for the multiple series she’d produced for them. Yes, Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos had been courting her. But the real straw that broke the camel’s back came in the form of something that should never have been an issue at all: disrespect and a lack of flexibility over a perk that was literally small change in comparison with the huge amount of revenue Rhimes was generating.

From the article:

As part of her ABC relationship, Rhimes had been given an all-inclusive pass to Disneyland — and without a partner, she’d negotiated a second for her nanny. But on this day, she needed one for her sister, too, as she’d be taking Rhimes’ teenage daughter while the nanny chaperoned her younger two. If the passes had been interchangeable, Rhimes would have been happy to give up hers — when would she have time to go to Disneyland anyway?

After some unwanted back-and-forth — “We never do this,” she was told more than once — Rhimes was issued an additional pass. But when her daughters arrived in Anaheim, only one of the passes worked. Rhimes lobbed a call to a high-ranking executive at the company. Surely, he would get this sorted.

Instead, the exec allegedly replied, “Don’t you have enough?”

Rhimes was beside herself. She thanked him for his time, then hung up and called her lawyer: Figure out a way to get her over to Netflix, or she’d find new representatives.

Boom, done. Just like that.

Isn’t it funny how we can agonize over decisions, making pro–con lists, feeling a restless need to change our circumstances yet also feeling trapped inside our “gilded cage” by our “golden handcuffs,” etc.? And then something happens that would ordinarily be quite trivial in the usual course of events—and suddenly we see in a blinding flash of intuition what all of our lists and logical reasoning previously failed to make clear.

Maybe that high-ranking executive was having a bad day. Perhaps Shonda Rhimes and her Disneyland pass was an irritant he just didn’t have time for. Possibly he was annoyed that she was bothering him with something so not-his-job. Given his response to her, it also sounds like he may have been pushing back against her specific Disneyland-pass request within the larger context of those ongoing negotiations regarding her compensation package.

But this was an emergency, and it involved Rhimes’s family. Not just her family, but her family standing at the gate to the Magic Kingdom with a pass that didn’t work.

This ABC executive failed to connect with Rhimes on a human level. He failed to see that this was his chance to be a hero to her and (even better) to help her be a hero to her family. He failed to understand how deeply disrespectful both his lack of help and (even worse) his comment were. Of course, Rhimes could have afforded a ticket to Disneyland. That’s not the point. ABC had given her the passes. They were legitimately hers. Rhimes wasn’t looking for an extra pass. She needed an alternate pass because hers was not interchangeable and could not be used by the sister who was standing in for her (while Rhimes herself was working to earn ABC more revenue).

I assume what happened next was that the sister had to pay to get into Disneyland, had to pay for meals and whatever else is included in an all-inclusive pass. I also assume that Rhimes had to call her sister back and break that news to her.

Imagine how different that story would have gone if that executive had personally called the gate with instructions to honor the pass or hand out a new one. How much harder it would have been for Rhimes to leave ABC, her longtime home where she worked hard, under difficult constraints, but could count on people to have her back and come through when help was needed.

Instead, Rhimes was immediately on the phone to her attorneys telling them to figure out how to get her over to Netflix.

This whole situation reminds me of that old proverb:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Substitute “all-inclusive Disneyland pass” for “nail” and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of the what ABC has potentially lost. According to a June 17 TVLine article, viewers now spend more time watching streaming services than traditional broadcast television. And Rhimes’s smash hit “Bridgerton” has become the most-watched series on Netflix, with news recently that it has been renewed for three more seasons. And “Bridgerton” is only the beginning. According to the October 2020 Hollywood Reporter article, Rhimes has at least 13 other projects in the works.

Maybe Walt Disney Television (which includes ABC) is too big to worry about Shonda Rhimes right now. But if that Disneyland pass was the “nail,” and Shonda Rhimes is the “rider,” will we eventually also see the lost “message,” “battle,” and finally “kingdom”?

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Creativity, Life, Popular culture, Television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to For want of a nail . . .

  1. Hm. Makes me wonder what is going to happen to Gray’s Anatomy since that was her show, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. babsje says:

    Brilliant post about an incomprehensible event, Katherine. Admittedly I haven’t owned a TV since 2004 – but even I can see the foolishness in how Disney handled things… Oh and btw congrats to your hometown bball team. 🏀 Best, Babsje

    Liked by 1 person

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