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Arts & Entertainment

Developing the Concept

Shonda Rhimes

Lesson time 12:21 min

Show titles, story bibles, tone, structure - Shonda walks you through how to take your idea and turn it into a fully-fleshed out concept.

Shonda Rhimes
Teaches Writing for Television
In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.
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Here's the difference between an idea and a premise. An idea is, what if I wrote a show about gangsters? A premise is, really, filling that out. It's, what if I wrote a show about modern day gangsters who lived in New Jersey, and that gangster went to see a therapist on a weekly basis, because they had problems? The Sopranos. That's the difference between an idea and a premise. And, I think that makes it really clear, because the more specific the idea is, the more it becomes a premise. That's a good way to think about it. Really, you're taking an idea, you're sort of honing in on it. You're thinking, I want to do a show about surgeons. I want to do a show about surgical interns. I want to do a show about female surgical interns, and how hard it is to be them. I'd love to do a show about female friendship while they're surgical interns. They need to be competitive. A woman whose mother was a famous surgeon, and what's that like to have that as your history, and then you're struggling to live up to something. The more specific you become as you think about who the characters are, and what the world is, the better it can be. Anybody can say, I want to do a medical show, but you have to do a medical show that's about something very specific, in order to make it an original idea. I want to do a show about astronauts, yes, but that's not the same as wanting to do a show about a very specific piece of that. Think about journalism. Who, what, why, when, where, and how? If you can't answer those questions, you don't have anything to talk about yet. You really need to be able to say the who, and the what, and the why, and the when, and the where, and the how. And, as well, what are the central conflicts? What do the characters need? What do they want? What are they searching for? You should be able to tell somebody your premise in a couple of sentences, and have it be able to be clearly stated, so that they can understand it. I want to do a show about competitive surgical interns, at the center of which is Meredith Gray, a woman who is hiding the fact that her mother has Alzheimer's. You really want to be able to be concise, so that when you're telling your story, you know what you're talking about. If you don't know what you're talking about, no one else will, either. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think when you're developing a story-- I don't necessarily think of it as, there needs to be this character, this structure, it has to be this genre. I don't think of it that specifically. I mostly-- and I think that it's more organic this way-- I mostly try to think, who am I telling a story about, and what story am I telling? I look at it that way, and I really try to make sure I can tell a story. I don't know if that's helpful, but, for me, everything is about the journey of the character. Who is this person? What journey are th...

Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I feel so excited about my idea, and am thinking about it in a completely different way. The next steps - all the way to having the first season written - seem totally clear, and very possible. I'm so proud of myself for seeing this opportunity and taking it! Thanks, Shonda!

First and foremost, I've learned a lot about myself, who I am, what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong. I appreciate learning from someone who looks like me (Black and a woman) who tells me "If I can do it - you can do it!" Thank you for the class.

The best writing one. Clear, precise, concrete. In one word : useful.

Fantastic! As someone who is constantly watching television thinking that's not how I would write it, Shonda did a wonderful job giving her advice!!


Ossi N.

Hi! I don't understand why does Shonda defines "Skandal" as a fully serialized show? anyone?

A fellow student

The thing about the fence is very interesting, as well as the fact that broadcasters (I'm an Italian Creative Producer) often are scared of what they didn't see and test previously. So here's a dilemma: TV networks need fresh ideas but maybe not too fresh. And when you pitch you must be very careful: do tease them but don't scare them. This is my experience in my country.

James R.

I enjoyed this. I'm more interested in film that TV but I believe there is a lot to take away from this in any form of writing. Soon as I heard "you should be able to state your premise in a couple of sentances, clearly stated" I stopped and wrote down one for something I'm working on and only took a couple of minutes

Maya H.

I enjoyed this lesson for multiple reasons. The first was seeing the similarities between Ms. Rhimes and I. For example, with all of my short stories and poetry, I have always selected a title after the work is done. Also, learning that she enjoyed medical shows, was interesting to hear, because I too, love to watch medical shows especially "Untold Stories of the E.R." I am grateful for learning about the story Bible format to really break down shows piece by piece. I feel that, this was an extremely valuable piece of information to have.


I love the lesson but can't find the Gray's Anatomy bible? Is that still available?


Isn´t it better to start with a topic you are familiar with than squinting at the market? Julia, Vienna

Faisal S.

What a fantastic story-teller. Cuts to the chase and etches critical points into your mental notebook. She's brilliant. I wish I can meet her and work with her soon. Amen!

Bucky B.

Does anyone know how to contact the teacher during office hours or reach them in general?

Michael K.

It seems specificity of character and story is endless, and for that matter exciting b/c it implies we as writers can always make the idea more and more specific, original and unique to our voice.


Is it recommended to do the tasks that are given in the pdf files before moving to the next video?