At ABC upfront, it's all Shonda, all the time

At ABC upfront, it's all Shonda, all the time
Shonda Rhimes attends the ABC upfront presentation at Avery Fisher Hall at New York's Lincoln Center. (Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images)

In his opening remarks at ABC's upfront presentation at Avery Fisher Hall, Disney-ABC Television Group President Ben Sherwood noted that "we really should give credit to the person paying for this shindig."

He paused for a beat, then continued: "Shonda Rhimes, where are you?"

Though there was plenty of big-name talent on hand at the event, Rhimes, the executive producer behind ABC's Thursday night female-centered dramas  "Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder,"  was the unofficial star of the network's programming showcase. 

Exhibit A: As ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee prepared to walk through the network's fall lineup, a scheduling grid covered in notes reading "hold for Shonda" appeared on a giant screen behind him.

Exhibit B: Lee boasted that the so-called "TGIT" lineup "literally drive[s] up sales of red wine and popcorn" on Thursdays, a reference any "Scandal" fan would instantly understand.

Exhibit C: Ellen Pompeo, star of the long-running "Grey's Anatomy," came onstage to introduce an impressively curated highlight reel of pop culture references to Shimes-produced shows, by such programs as "The Simpsons," "Saturday Night Live," The Mindy Project" and "Cougar Town."  It was a smart way to show just how thoroughly Rhimes' body of work has captured the zeitgeist.

Exhibit D: "My contract states that I have to announce a new Shondaland show every year," Lee joked as he set up a trailer for "The Catch." In the midseason suspense drama, a glammed-up Mireille Enos leaves behind those itchy sweaters from "The Killing" to play a fraud investigator taken in by a con man.

Exhibit E: Shondaland heroines Viola Davis and Kerry Washington bookended the presentation, which had a "How to" theme borrowed from the hit legal drama. There was even a performance by Montell Jordan -- yes, from the '90s -- of his song "This Is How We Do It," again inspired by "How to Get Away With Murder."

Exhibit F: The success of Rhimes' shows, with their colorblind casting and multiethnic ensembles, no doubt gave ABC the confidence to pursue more diverse programming -- a theme that was hammered home repeatedly on Tuesday.

"We've done very well since acknowledging that minorities exist," joked Jimmy Kimmel in his annual stand-up set. "We are so diverse that when CBS drives by us, they lock their doors."

ABC is continuing on this path in the 2015-16 season, with "Quantico," a drama starring Indian actress Priyanka Chopra as an FBI trainee; an African American version of "Uncle Buck" with comedian Mike Epps; and "Dr. Ken," a family sitcom with Korean American actor Ken Jeong.

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