(CNN) — Shonda Rhimes made headlines in August, when the creator of “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” announced that she would be leaving longtime home ABC for a new producing deal at Netflix. But watching her two new series for the network, “For the People” and the “Grey’s” spinoff “Station 19,” this might be one of those situations where a divorce benefits both sides.
Rhimes’ success gave her enormous clout at ABC, so much so that the network appeared willing to give the go-ahead to almost anything offered by her production shingle. The last two shows, however — the misguided caper “The Catch” and the Shakespeare-inspired “Still Star-Crossed” — both failed, and whatever the commercial prospects of this latest pair, creatively, they both feel like tired versions of Shondaland Lite.
Inevitably, the spotlight in each show centers on an attractive, diverse group of young people in a high-stakes workplace setting.
“For the People” focuses on lawyers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, charting their intersecting lives as they practice opposing sides of the law. Known as “the Mother Court,” it’s a big stage for these ambitious newbies, in an “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” sort of way.
Britt Robertson is perhaps the highest-profile member of the junior contingent, with Ben Shenkman, Hope Davis, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Anna Deavere Smith as the grownups.
As for “Station 19,” the hook is that the show takes place at a Seattle fire station in Seattle that will interact with the hospital the “Grey’s” continent populates, sort of like NBC’s “Chicago” shows. “Grey’s” alum Jason George provides an additional tie-in, playing the same character, who has given up medicine for firefighting, which is one of those career moves that seems born more out of TV convenience than logic.
The new shows feature the customary mix of crisp, rat-a-tat dialogue and workplace romance, or at least, sexual tension and chemistry. In “Station 19,” firefighter Andy Herrera (“Rosewood’s” Jaina Lee Ortiz) is carrying on a secret relationship with one of her coworkers (Grey Damon), including an at-work encounter in the premiere that invites jokes about heating up the firehouse. (Things get a little more complicated when Andy receives an unexpected promotion.)
If the beats sound familiar to fans of ABC’s existing “TGIT” lineup, they should. That’s because there’s a repetitiveness to all of this, one that appears to be yielding diminishing returns.
Working for Netflix will provide Rhimes a different environment, one that won’t be governed by the same ratings pressures or network content standards.
ABC, meanwhile, with “Scandal” barreling toward its series finale and “How to Get Away With Murder” having gotten away with ridiculous plot twists long enough, can hopefully break out of the mold the network has occupied, where even its non-Rhimes-produced dramas often feel as if they’re trying to replicate the appeal of those series.
Rhimes and ABC have enjoyed a terrific run together, but history shows that most producers don’t have a bottomless reservoir of hits in them, especially in the same locale. While the two will remain in business together as long as any of her shows survive there, think of that as keeping things civil for the sake of the children, while both parties can broaden their horizons and move on, hopefully, to new and different relationships.
“For the People” and “Station 19” premiere March 13 and March 22, respectively, on ABC.
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