Film & TV

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.
Get All-Access


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.

Excellent class - the realities of the business as well as the creative process!

Fences have an outside and an inside and those build them get to decide

I just recently developed this passion for writing and I had so many ideas. The thing that held me back was lack of knowledge about structure. I learned structure and so much more in this class with Shonda Rhimes! Thanks so much for this amazing opportunity. I'm writing 3 different pilots now!

I learned that I can be a writer. Thank you.


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.

A fellow student

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

Tamara M.

Explaining the difference between an idea and premise was very helpful! I believe it will help me be more concise when I'm explaining to someone what my show is about.

Georgette T.

I love how Shonda helps you organize your thoughts and writing! I have the premise, I have the stories I want to tell (episodes) and this will help me to start and pull it all together in a way that's made for the audience!

Tina O.

There is a journal that calls for my mind It’s not on the paper, phone holds the Rhimes The story it tells, the episodes write I am so excited I can’t sleep at night Characters wrap around the idea I had No say my friends, but I think it’s rad Who knows what the ending finally holds You have to wait til the series is sold The idea is real, connected and true Fitting the plot is now in the news It all comes together with help from you the prince found the princess and put on her shoe

Marcus M.

I had no idea about the legal clearances for names. Interesting aspect of it...

Emil S.

can someone explain more in depth about legal cleareances for character names?

Purity R.

SO HELPFUL. I know this doesn't mean Im technically able to do it, but what i do know is I feel like a kid again LOL Remember spinning around hecka fast till you get dizzy? Im spinning Ma'am. Thank you! - P.R.

Silvia P.

Is not possible to download the refference material. It seems to have an error.