tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg August 15, 2021 2:00pm-2:30pm EDT
david: this is my kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i have been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, i have often thought, is private equity. [laughter] and then i started interviewing. i learned from doing my interviews how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked him how much he wanted. he said, $250,000. i said, fine. i did not negotiate and did no due diligence. david: i have something i want -- i would like to sell. and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate being
being only the second wealthiest man in the world, is that right? for nearly two decades, one of the most successful people in television has been shonda rhimes. she's been a writer, creator, and producer. she's now taken her considerable skills to netflix. i first got to meet her when she became a member of the board of trustees at the kennedy center. and there, she was an indispensable member in many different ways. she's a great writer, a great person, and now she has taken up the cello. watch out, yo-yo ma. shonda, you shocked the entertainment world a few years ago when you said that you were leaving abc, even though you were mostly their biggest profit source, from the entertainment programs in the evening, and were moving to netflix, which is not a television production company but a streaming television company. so why did you do that? shonda: you know, i really had been looking at what was going on in the industry. you know, television ratings had been sort of slowly lowering. a lot of people were watching things like netflix. i knew what i was watching, and
i knew what was exciting me and where it felt like the really exciting programming was coming from. and i also was looking for a certain kind of freedom. you know, i'd been making a very particular brand of television for abc. you know, "shonda land" on abc was a certain brand of television, which i was very proud of, but i really wanted to spread my wings and do more than that. and this was a real opportunity to do so. david: so you go over to netflix. now when everybody is -- when somebody is famous, and they move, let's say that a baseball player or a football player, they go to a different team or somebody tries something different, people are always saying this person isn't really as good as their reputation, and they're going to flop. and there's a lot of, i would say, in hollywood, maybe there's some people that don't like people that are too successful. and so they're kind of wishing secretly maybe they're gonna flop. but you didn't flop. you had an incredible hit. your first show, "bridgerton," was the most successful opening show of anything on netflix ever. ♪ >> all is fair in love and war. david: so when it went on for
the first time, were you worried that night whether it would actually be a success or did you not panic? shonda: you know what's interesting? i wasn't scared about the success of the show. that's not my job. i always say that. i was happy by then because netflix was already happy. everybody had already really liked the show. everybody was really pleased with it. i wasn't worried about numbers or how it was going to do. one of the things i liked about netflix was everybody told me i didn't have to worry about the numbers, because ratings don't "matter" on netflix. of course they do. but, you know, that was the sort of thought that was had. so i wasn't worried about that. i was much more nervous when we were editing the show, and we're seeing what the product was . i wanted to see what the shows turned out as and how they felt. so once i knew the shows were good and i wanted to watch them, and i felt really good about them and i felt like they could be exciting and addictive, and then it turned out that this day felt the same way, i felt fine. i don't even think i paid
attention that very first day that they came out. david: you also started another show that will be coming on netflix called "inventing annaw. why did you think that was going to be attractive foam fascinated by journalism, and i really loved the journalism that went with uncering the story. but two, anna is a really interesting character to me. she is truly a genius. and i also think if she were a guy and she had pulled it off, people would have just applauded her. but i think because she was a woman, and she had the audacity to believe she would do this, it -- believe that she could do this, it felt like an affront to a lot of people. she was labeled in a lot of ways that i don't think we label men. and i like this idea of this woman with all of this ambition and no place to put it. there was sometng about that that ft really profound to me and felt very now to wherewe
are now. david: when you areriting something, it is a very solitary kind of thing. how do you do writing but you are also doing production and other things? how do you concentrate and have the time alone to write? shonda: you know, there is an aspect of writing that is communal. you know, there is the writers' room, where you and seven or eight other writers, and your job is to sort of help them right through their draft of the show that you have created, which is both amazing and fun and very difficult. what the pandemic did, i think, is make the writers' room process a lot harder. but for me, writing is a very solitary experience, and i'm a very fast writer when i have the space and the time to do so. i feel like i'm much more naturally an introvert. and so being the person who writes and does that stuff is much easier for me than the other parts of it, which are the public parts or producing in -- or the producing, sitting in groups and explaining to
everybody what has to happen parts. but finding the balance has been much easier than i thought. david: during covid, i assume you were working out of home more than your office. shonda: yes. david: so, is it easier to write a show or create a show from home with three young daughters running around? shonda: i found, you know, being at home to be both revelatory in the sense at i'd always felt like there was so much -- there was so much work to be done, that i had to be standing right in front of everybody to be doing. and then i discovered that, no, actually, a, a lot of people got a lot more freedom to do things that i didn't need to be controlling. and b, i got a lot more writing done just being at home. david: are you going to change the way you operate? will you spend more time at home now, or you say, actually, i can't wait to get back to my office? shonda: i definitely think i'm going to spend more time at home, mainly because i get a lot more writing done here. there's not as many interruptions. i discovered how little i am needed on set. you know, i used to joke that if i'm standing on a soundstage, i'm the only person who's not
working, because i'm either writing or editing someone, where they're shooting, i'm the only person not doing a job. so, to me, i think there's a lot more that can be done if i'm at home now, which i never would have believed before. it's that feeling of you're so necessary everywhere and discovering that you're not that necessary everywhere, but that the places where you can be necessary, you can really make a difference if you focus on those. david: the events that led to the murder of george floyd, how did you respond to that? shonda: i felt nothing but rage and frustration. but i also felt real dismay that a lot of people used that event to finally discover that racism existed. ♪
david: let's talk about your background. shonda: mmm-hmm. david: you grew up in a suburb of chicago. you're the youngest of six children, is that right? shonda: correct. david: so when you are the youngest of six, i guess you get a lot of hand-me-down clothes. and do your parents really pay attention to the youngest of six? by that time, they are kind of done, are they? gone? shonda: what is interesting is i didn't get a lot of hand-me-down clothes, and my parents were very focused on us, which was delightful for me. my parents were educators. so i think, for them, they were very, very intensely focused on making sure that we had what we needed. i always said, like, if we were poor, i did not know it because my mother made all of our clothes, and they were all fantastic-looking. there was a lot of focus placed on us. my mother stayed at home with us, which was a big sacrifice for somebody as intelligent as she was, for somebody is interested -- somebody as
interested in being at work as she was. she really made sure we were well-placed in the world and ready to go out into the world and be who we were supposed to be. david: so you grew up and you went to a college. how did you happen to pick dartmouth because it is fairly isolated, much different in -- much different than chicago. shonda: it is interesting. i went on a college tour, and dartmouth was one of the places that we visited. and honestly, i fell in love with the place when we go there. it was beautiful, it was in the middle of nowhere, it felt very much to me like what college was supposed to be. everyone was really friendly and had something great to say about it. and very different from a lot of the other colleges i went to, it was surprisingly diverse at the time. i think they had, you know, what might not seem like a big number now, but i think 18% of the students were students of color, or something like that. and it felt very welcoming. and i thought, this is the place for me. and i absolutely loved my time there. david: when you graduated you said, ok, now i am going to go into something important like private equity or investment banking? or not? shonda: [laughs] i was really lost for a little while when i got out of college,
because i really wanted to be a writer. i wanted to be toni morrison when i grew up but i didn't know how to do that. and i also, you know, my parents had sacrificed a lot financially for me to go to this school, and i did not want to be a disappointment. so i got a job in advertising for a little bit. and then i read an article that said it was harder to get into usc film school than it was to get into harvard law school. and i thought, well, my parents can't fault that, because it is graduate school and difficult to get into, so i applied to usc film school, i got in, and i went. and i told my parents, well, i could teach. my parents, as professors said, she is right, she could teach. so it felt like something real for them. david: so you got a masters degree at usc, and then you were sort of writing on the side a bit during the daytime, or the evenings, or how were you doing that? shonda: yeah, i got a job at a place that helped the mentally ill homeless find job skills and places to live.
i was like an administrative assistant. and at night i would write my scripts. and i had an agent or a lawyer at the time. you know, everybody got one out of film school kind of hoping that something would happen for them. and i ended up selling a script, and that script basically changed my life. david: had that script not sold, you might still be in advertising? or what do you think you would be doing? shonda: i remember when, like, a month before that script sold, i had applied for the postbaccalaureate year that prepared you for medical school, and -- medical school at bryn mawr, and i was going to do that, and i was going to go to medical school, because i thought, i can't start this way -- i cannot starve this way anymore. this is not for me. i am going to go be a doctor. luckily, i did not do that. david: so, the medical profession's loss is the creative writing community's gain, right? because you are not a doctor, but it worked out ok. shonda: i hope that maybe the writing about doctors inspired a lot of young women to be doctors. so hopefully it was also the medical profession's gain.
that is how i like to think of it. david: most people who have been successful in hollywood as producers or writers have been white men. norman lear, aaron spelling are two classic examples. when you came along, you were not a man and you were not white. so was there a lot of discrimination against you that you felt palpably at the time, or was it very subtle? shonda: i find that to be a difficult question to answer, and i say that because i do not know what it feels like to be a white man, so i don't know how people were treating white men at the time. i only know how i have always been treated. and i was, you know, raised very clearly by my parents to be a person who did not look at things as obstacles. i looked at things as hills to climb. and when anyone treated me in a way that was not 100% respectful, i was taught that that was always their problem, and that they needed to be put in their place and that i should move forward.
so i am sure i experienced a lot of things that were not probably what other people experienced. i just chose not to be defeated by them or even bothered by them. some of them i probably didn't even bother to notice. david: today, given how prominent you are in the entertainment world, do you feel discrimination at any point now, or you don't feel any discrimination? shonda: no. i mean, i'm still -- there's an insularity that comes with, you know, being in a certain position in hollywood. but that doesn't change the fact that, you know, if somebody doesn't know who you are, they still see you as, you know, just another person of color. you know, a person of color. the racism in this country is the racism in this country, unfortunately. david: so the events that led to the murder of george floyd obviously affected our country dramatically and certainly the african-american community particularly. how did you respond to that? you're a prominent african-american figure in the country. did you feel you had some obligation to speak out or do more? how did it change your life, would you say?
shonda: i mean, i still -- i think the events -- well, i think that the entire george floyd situation did a couple of things. one, obviously, like anybody else, i felt nothing but rage and frustration. but i also felt real dismay that a lot of people used that event to finally discover that racism existed. that was that was disturbing to me that it took that, something that horrific, for people to go like, "oh, wait, there's inequality?" that was a little upsetting for me. i don't necessarily know that i felt like i had a particular obligation to do anything more than any other person did. you know, a lot of people were marching. a lot of people were protesting. i think the beauty of what happened with george floyd was how many average citizens stood up and did something. i think that's -- the power of that moment hopefully will
continue to be the power of that moment. but i also feel like, whenever i'm asked this question, i never quite know how to walk the line between saying like, well, here's what i did, and here's what i think is important. and, because i feel like it might let people off the hook a little bit, because it also suggests that racism is the problem of people of color. and really, i feel like i always want to say, well, it's not what i did to work on the george floyd problem. it's not what i did to work on racism. you know, racism is a white people's problem, and what are white people doing to solve it? so, to me, like, that's the big question that should be asked. ♪ david: public companies often focus on shareholders. increasingly they are worried about other stakeholders,
employees and so forth. your own company, do you focus it on having some social responsibility as well? shonda: you know, it is interesting, we have been struggling with that concept right now, because we don't sell activism, we sell entertainment. and, you know, if we wake somebody up to the idea that they have a civic responsibility, or there is a social justice issue they can be involved in or there is a feminist issue that they can be involved in, that's a wonderful side effect. but i also know that, given just who we are as a company and the kind of stories we tell and the kind of work that we do, there's other aspects of us that feel important to how we as a company engage with the area around us. so, i feel like it is important, for instance, to create worlds in which we are making pathways for other people of color to have opportunity in this industry. and figuring out the -- figuring out other philanthropic ways that make sense for us as a company, that feel right for who we are. david: so you think your company should perhaps have a role in commenting on climate change or racial discrimination? shonda: if it is something that
works for us, but i spend my energy and my money and my time on companies that share the values that i share. and i am not interested in spending my money and time on companies that don't share those values. and i mean by actively don't share those values. i don't necessarily know how i feel about companies that remain neutral at this point. i have really been thinking about that because i do think people have the right to remain politically neutral. the ones that are going in the opposite directions, actively destroying the climate or actively working against women's right things to choose, things that i find worrisome, thingsat. ♪ david: so let's talk about
"shonda land." you have built quite an entertainment complex. let's go through how you were able to do all that. let's talk about, for example, you have a podcast as well now that you are doing with iheart media, is that right? shonda: yeah. "shonda land audio." the great thing is i am really lucky i have amazing people who work with me at shonda land. sandi bailey, who runs our digital division, came to me and says i think we could have a podcast division, and it could be really powerful. she has come up with some really great shows. and part of the beauty of it is we can take somebody like katie lowes, who started on scandal, and showcase her with a podcast called "katie's crib," which is about parenting, which has become one of the most popular podcasts on itunes and iheart and places where people listen
to podcasts. we can do a podcast with someone like laverne cox, who is also in "inventing anna." we can take a show like "bridgerton" and create a podcast about it. that is doing really well. also do behind-the-scenes video footage, take that and put it on our website, shondaland.com. and sort of have a nice synergy going. and that's been really important to me, to really create a world in which the aspects of our shows and all the aspects -- i call them the people in our shondaland family can find a place to be creative and exist in one spot. david: now, you have a partnership as well with dove, and that is designed to, i think, among other things, a partnership designed to let people know more about the way their hair might be worn. can you explain your views on hair, particularly for african-american women and children? shonda: well, you know, the partnership with dove has been long-standing. and one of the things i have always loved about dove is they have been really positive and assertive about the idea that real beauty is defined in all forms. you know, every skin, every body, every kind of woman is their own definition of beauty.
and they have been, you know, instrumental in working on the crown act, which is a law that has been passed in -- i cannot remember how many states by this point -- that says you cannot be discriminated against because of the way you wear your hair. that has been a real issue for a lot of people of color. you know, you hear the stories about the basketball kid who has to get his dreads cut off before he can play or somebody getting fired for how you wear your hair at work. we try hard to sort of police the way people look, because it does not look like, you know, the way somebody feels that they should look, and that is a real bias in this country. and so so the idea that we could create something called the crown act allows people to embrace who they are culturally, and wear their hair the way they need to wear their hair or be who they need to be, versus trying to achieve some standard that is based on sort of white, you know, european-centric idea
-- on sort of a white, you know, european-centric idea of what people are supposed to look like. david: so, you wrote a book as well, "the year of yes," and that was reflecting the fact that one of your sisters told you you always said no. so you decided that one year you would say yes to speaking engagements, graduation, commencement speeches, and so forth. so what made you decide to say yes that one year, and are you happy you did so? shonda: you know, she did. she said, one thanksgiving, she said, "you never say yes to anything." i had been detailing all these invitations i had gotten. and that year, you know, i was on the board of the kennedy center, and i went to the kennedy center honors, and i was told -- not asked, told -- that i was going to sit in the box with president obama and mrs. obama for the honors. and i did and i had a wonderful time. and i didn't know them at the time, and i had a wonderful time. it was a lovely evening. but i realized on the way home
that if somebody had asked me if i wanted to sit in the box with them, i would have said no. and i would have said no because i would have been too nervous, too afraid. i would have thought, why do -- why would they want to sit with me? it was that thing of not having any of the confidence or the nerves to do so. i would have absolutely turned it down, because it would have been too stressful to come up with the notion that i could possibly say yes. and that really sort of stunned me, that i would have missed such an amazing experience and an amazing opportunity just because i was too nervous to do something. and so i decided, yeah, i would try and spend a year saying yes to everything that scared me. and the very first thing i was asked to do after that was given -- was to give an commencement -- was to give a commencement speech at dartmouth in front of 10,000 people. as a very successful woman and single mother of three, i am constantly asked the question -- how do you do it all? for once, i'm going to answer that question with 100% honesty here for you now, because somebody has to tell you the truth. shonda, how do you do it all? the answer is this. i don't. david: you pointed out in your
book you also adopted three young girls. is that more challenging than writing scripts or producing shows, or is it much easier? shonda: [laughs] i always used to say, like, i i have three daughters and 47 actors, or something like that, when i had three shows. but no, i mean, i feel like having children is far more difficult and far more fulfilling than any script, any job, any show. it's also far more fun. but i also think that the older you get and the more practice you get at it, the more fulfilling and easy it becomes. you know, with your first child, you are always afraid, as my mother always said, your first child, you are always afraid you are going to kill the baby. with your last child, you can toss the baby down the stairs and think, like, she just bounces. she'll be fine. you know, that in that way that my mother always used to say. but really, like, children are such doors to reality, they keep you grounded, and they really keep you focused on the present. and that's the best thing ever. david: so, when you're raising children in hollywood, which i
haven't done, but i know when you're raising children, and you are wealthy and you are famous, it can be a challenge. so how do you keep your children grounded? because they just go out and say, "my mother is this famous person," or how do you avoid that? shonda: well, for the longest time, my oldest daughter thought i ran a hospital. i mean, she really did. look, i sort of kept her insulated from the idea that i had any job that anybody knew about at all. and my youngest daughters now, you know, it's a little bit harder at this point, but i try really hard to just raise my kids the same way i was raised, with the same values that i was raised with. i'm from the midwest. i still believe that you clip coupons and you don't throw things away. so you know, this is a town in which that's not really a thing that's valued. but i try to stick to the way i grew up and i feel kind of lucky that i'm surrounded by some people who also feel that way. david: what do you do for rest and relaxation? i assume you must get a little bit of it, even though you are so busy. shonda: ok, so i recently bought a cello.
probably because i saw yo-yo ma play the cello and got really inspired by his whole bach series of him traveling around, and i have been obsessed for a long time. for years i have been saying, "i am going to learn how to play the cello. i am going to learn how to play the cello." and i have been saying that for, like, 15 years. so i finally went out and got myself a really nice cello and i started taking cello lessons. and that's my new way of relaxing. and it is wildly -- i mean, i am terrible at it right now -- but it is wildly relaxing trying to -- relaxing to try something new that way. david: why don't you come to the kennedy center and play a duet with yo-yo ma? you could arrange that. shonda: [laughs] i think that poor yo-yo, he would be very horrified by what was coming out of my cello. david: what new worlds are there for you to conquer in the entertainment world? you are at the top of the profession. i cannot imagine how you could be more successful. is there something else you aspire to do that you have not done yet? shonda: you know, i am really enjoying my life at netflix