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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