In Hollywood, there are showrunners; and then there is Shonda Rhimes.
In this post, I’m going to review Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass, summarize the content, share the highlights, give you key tips to get even more out of the experience, and offer my (very few) criticisms.
Shonda Rhimes MasterClass Review in Brief
There are three reasons why you should take Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass:
- You will walk away from Shonda Rhimes’ class with a better grasp on the fundamentals of writing, as well as insight into the business of television writing.
- Rhimes goes into detail about how to break a TV story, write it, and produce it.
- Rhimes’ experience as a showrunner and woman of color in a male-dominated field allows her to offer insight and wisdom from a perspective that is not traditionally seen in Hollywood.
If you’re considering taking Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass, click here to check it out.
“I feel like I’m at the stage in my career, where honestly, I’m interested in building the next group of showrunners and the next group of writers and really make it possible for people to have better careers and know more and learn from any mistakes I’ve already made.”- Shonda Rhimes
What is MasterClass?
MasterClass is an online tutorial series where top writers, actors, athletes, and musicians offer specialized courses in their craft.
For a reasonable fee, MasterClass gives students unprecedented access to the wisdom and insights of an impressive array of teachers.
Who is Shonda Rhimes?
Shonda Rhimes is a Golden Globe Award winning showrunner and executive producer of such series as Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, Private Practice, and Scandal.
In 2014, ABC programmed its entire Thursday night primetime lineup with dramas by Rhimes.
Rhimes has won awards from Writers Guild of America, NAACP, and GLAAD and received two Emmy nominations.
Who Should Take this Course?
My initial thought when taking the class was that it would be geared towards budding television writers who were interested in procedural dramas.
However, Rhimes’ class contains a wealth of information for television writers and feature writers at all levels. And in addition to the fundamentals of writing, Rhimes’ class also offers insight into showrunning and dealing with a studio.
What Makes this Course Different?
Rhimes’ insight into the business feels fresh and current, and she shares revealing personal anecdotes about her time in the industry, her writing process, what it’s like to be a showrunner, as well as advice for up and coming writers.
Many of the resources that come with the course, including Rhimes’ original pitch and story bible that she used to pitch studio executives, as well as early and final drafts of her scripts, are impossible to find online and provide so much insight into the process of writing and selling a TV show that they alone are worth the price of the course.
Shonda Rhimes MasterClass Content
Rhimes’ MasterClass is divided into 30 lessons with over 6 hours of material and comes with a wealth of written resources.
Rhimes’ lessons cover the fundamentals of television writing, including how to study television, systematic idea generation, dialogue, research, pitching, showrunning, editing, as well as case studies where she breaks down the structure of her script with a group of four students.
The MasterClass comes with a 45-page companion workbook in the form of a printable PDF. Although the workbook does suggest splitting the course up over a period of 7 weeks, students can choose to go at their own pace.
In addition to the workbook, students are also given downloadable PDFs of the story bible, original pitch, and pilot of Grey’s Anatomy as well as an early draft, pilot, alternative opening scenes, and Season 3 scripts from Scandal.
Additional Course Features
Rhimes’ MasterClass also features:
- Clips from her shows
- A classroom with four students who ask her insightful questions about her process and with whom she breaks down the structure of one of her pilots.
- Office Hours in which students can record any questions they may have in video format and send them to Rhimes.
- A Student Hub where students can ask each other questions, interact with one another, form writing groups, swap news and information.
What You Learn About Rhimes as a Person
Over the course of the six-hour lecture and classroom sessions, what shines through the most is Rhimes’ contagious passion for the craft of television writing and storytelling.
Rhimes is both charismatic and warm, and by the end of the course, students will walk away with a deeper sense of not just the fundamentals of storytelling, but with a sense of inspiration that comes from realizing just how much of herself Rhimes puts into the lessons.
Rhimes’ Teaching Style
Rhimes’ teaching style is very clear, expressive, and confident.
Part of the reason that Rhimes is so great at teaching is the fact that as a showrunner, part of her job every day is to teach people working under her, and to empower them to grow and lead. And thus, in taking this class, it felt like actually being on her writing staff.
Rhimes starts off her class by encouraging people to be politically and socially aware of what’s going on in the world by reading every day and studying not just popular current television shows, but television shows in the past as well.
“You really need to have an actual knowledge of what’s been on television before and why and what the good stuff was. And that will really give you an education.” —Shonda Rhimes
To Get the Most Out of the Course Ahead of Time
To get the most out of the course ahead of time, I would recommend watching the pilots of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
When I initially started this course, it had been a while since I had seen the pilots, and once Rhimes got to breaking down the structure of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, I felt like I wasn’t getting as much out of the lesson as I should have.
So I paused the course, and went ahead and watched the two pilots before returning to the lesson. You can find the pilot episodes on Netflix or Amazon. For your convenience, the pilot scripts are provided, but I would recommend watching the pilots as well just to get a better sense of how the script and the televised version overlap.
Highlight: Breakdowns of 5-Act Structure
Rhimes devotes 7 lessons to a classroom style seminar where she interacts with four students who ask her questions while she breaks down the structures of both the Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal pilot.
Though Rhimes devotes two lessons to Grey’s Anatomy, she takes her time with the pilot of Scandal, splitting up the analysis of each of the 5 acts into an individual lesson.
For visual learners and to reinforce the classroom feel, Rhimes even has a student go up to the whiteboard and take notes on what’s she saying so that we have a visual chart to follow along with.
One of the greatest aspects of this classroom style seminar is that the students aren’t just passively engaging in learning, but are actively pointing out things that they noticed, and constantly questioning Rhimes about her writing process, pushing her to reveal stories about why she chose to write certain scenes or characters the way she did.
On Pitching, Running a Writer’s Room, and Showrunning
One of the most valuable parts of the course occurs when Rhimes talks about all the aspects of production that go on behind the scenes.
While writing is a huge aspect of what Rhimes teaches, Rhimes also delves into pitching, showrunning, TV Production, and what it’s like to run a writer’s room.
First-time television writers might find Rhimes’ breakdown of writers’ room faux pas to be especially helpful, while writers hoping to break into the industry might draw value from the fact that Rhimes also talks about what she’s looking for in new writers and their scripts.
“There’s a heart in the center of every story you’re telling that has to be true, or else I don’t know why you’re writing.” -Shonda Rhimes
Highlights of the Course
Perspective as a Showrunner
Rhimes’ perspective as a showrunner is a definite highlight in this course. Rhimes presents a realistic look on what it’s like to strike a balance between working with a studio and keeping a show on track, and balancing both artistic expression with commercial interests.
Perspective as a Woman of Color
Early on in the course, Rhimes offers tips on how to write strong female characters, challenging writers to move beyond reductive stereotypes and breathe more life into their characters regardless of gender. Though she doesn’t talk about the issue of race very much throughout this course, Rhimes does encourage minorities and people of color that they do belong in Hollywood.
Pitches, Story Bibles, and Workbooks
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the numerous pitches, story bibles and workbooks that Rhimes offers are extremely valuable and definitely a highlight. It’s interesting to observe the differences between the script and the screen, and perhaps just as important as all the material that makes it into the final cut of the script is all the material that gets refined over the course of the subsequent drafts. Rhimes makes these materials available so that you can dissect and learn from the evolution.
What’s great about this class is that Rhimes makes you feel like television writing is something that you can accomplish. Rhimes goes over what she looks for in a television writer as well as talks about the simple distinction between what separates writers from everyone else.
“Here’s the awesome thing about being a writer. In this town, it’s the only job you can do that nobody has to hire you for, meaning it’s the only job you can show that you can do without getting a job for.” – Shonda Rhimes
Viewers will walk away with a realistic look at what it takes to succeed in Hollywood and the notion that if they use the steps presented in the course, it is possible.
Criticisms of the Course
As much as I loved this course, I had a couple areas of concern:
- Student Forum is Sparse
Though MasterClass has improved their process of managing the community somewhat, the internal community forum known as “The Hub” still feels inconsistent and relatively difficult to navigate. Student engagement on the forum is also rather sporadic and can feel unwieldy and distracting. I’m sure this section will expand as more people work through the course, but I mostly ignored “The Hub” and focused on the video lessons and printed materials.
- Work/Life Balance
Towards the end of the course, Rhimes talks about the idea of work/life balance especially in regards to women, and the idea that it doesn’t exist. My perspective is that balance is important to succeed at anything, though it’s fair to say that the job of TV showrunner is extremely demanding, and when you’re running multiple shows at the same time, Rhimes’s POV on this is understandable.
Is the Course Worth it?
Consider the fact that tuition at USC is roughly $24,000 per semester, and that lifetime access to Rhimes’ MasterClass is $90….
Rhimes’ class offers an experience that simply can’t be found anywhere else. The combination of 6 hours of uninterrupted time with one of Hollywood’s most dominant showrunners along with her private story bibles, alternative openings, drafts, notes, workbook, and scripts is something that would normally cost thousands of dollars.
Just like Aaron Sorkin in his MasterClass, Rhimes doesn’t offer any magic shortcuts. However, she does offer the exact systematic processes that she uses and have helped her get to where she is today, and presented them in a clear concise manner.
By implementing the steps outlined in this class, and taking to heart the advice that Rhimes gives, you will be well ahead of the rest of the competition.
Questions About Shonda Rhimes’ MasterClass
Will This Guarantee Me A Job In Hollywood?
No, but I can tell you that as a former executive, if you do apply the fundamentals learned in this course to your own writing, your scripts will be better than 90% of the scripts that land on an agent’s desk.
Will I Become A Better Writer After This Course?
Yes. Even if you just watch the course, you’ll learn many practical tips about writing. And if you do the exercises and apply the lessons, you will definitely improve your craft.
Will Shonda Rhimes Read My Film Or TV Pitches?
With multiple shows currently in the air, Rhimes is an extremely busy person and most likely won’t accept unsolicited pitches. However, you would be able to ask fellow students to read your work.
Am I Being Paid To Recommend This Course?
Yes. If you use this link to purchase the course, at no cost to you, I will be paid a small commission. I did not receive free access to the course, but paid for it myself. I would not have signed up to become an affiliate or written this Shonda Rhimes MasterClass review if I didn’t personally believe in the value of this course.
Is There a Money-Back Guarantee?
Yes. MasterClass provides a 30-day money back guarantee.