'How to Get Away with Murder' Creator Peter Nowalk Learned From The Best, AKA Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes can do no wrong. The creative force behind Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, and Grey's spin-off Private Practice, Rhimes is not only one of the most successful showrunners ever, but she's also one of the most prominent executives driving the conversation about diversity in TV today. Bonus: her Twitter is also hilarious. So it only makes sense that one of her protégés, How to Get Away with Murder creator Peter Nowalk, would come up with a show worthy of carrying the Shondaland banner. We're just about to hit the two-week mark on Murder, and already Nowalk has proved that he can write interesting, layered characters, compelling dialogue, and shocking twists. He also cast HTGAWM lead Viola Davis as his main protagonist, for which I am eternally grateful. Basically, the guy knows how to attach himself to smart, strong women. Take notes, nearly every other male showrunner. You might learn something.
But we have to now wonder: can Nowalk overtake his mentor and become the new king of ABC's soapy dramas? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Rhimes has an impeccable track record and, while Nowalk has worked with her on both Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, this is his first time being the boss. Rhimes is also an executive producer on How to Get Away with Murder and the show is produced by her company, Shondaland, as well as Nowalk Entertainment. She and Nowalk aren't competing against each other, they're working together. Again, this dude just seems to get it.
Just look at where he's taking us in Episode 2 of Murder:
But why else should we trust Nowalk? Here's what we know beyond the Shondaland seal of approval:
He Values Diversity
Like Rhimes has done several times over, Nowalk also hired a cast and crew that reflect the diversity of the audience watching at home. There's no token minority on Murder, but race also isn't ignored, which is refreshing to see on any show. As he told Variety:
It’s a law school at an elite university; it’s going to be freaking diverse, it’s just a vast world and it makes it more fun to tell stories. Themes I want to play with—and Viola is also very articulate and passionate about them—are race and class, especially in an elite university.
Nowalk, who is openly gay, also addresses sexual identity right from the get-go. The first episode includes two sex scenes: one between two men and the other featuring Davis' character's boyfriend going down on her — which is almost unheard of on network TV (outside of maybe The Good Wife). Thanks for remembering the ladies, Mr. Nowalk.
He Worked His Way Up
No one, not even Rhimes, handed Nowalk his own show on a silver platter. He's been working in the industry for six years, exclusively with Shondaland productions. Um, how do I get that gig? He started as a writer and story editor on Grey's Anatomy in 2008 (his first credited episode, "Dream a Little Dream of Me: Part 2" is the one where Cristina and Owen first meet). He worked his way up to executive story editor the following year, then was made a co-producer the year after that (and then a producer and finally a supervising producer). By 2013 he had joined Scandal's crew as a co-executive producer (he also wrote one episode for the show in the middle of Season 3). Now, he's the executive producer and creator of his own show. Jeez dude, slow down, you're making the rest of us look bad.
Shonda is Still His Mentor... But Now He's Calling The Shots
Rhimes is an executive producer on How to Get Away with Murder and, according to Variety, she goes through all the scripts and plotlines with Nowalk. As he put it in that same interview:
She’s another resource to have, so she’s my mentor but also has been very good about being like, 'it’s yours — do what you want.' We’ve disagreed about things and scenes that we cut out of the pilot and such, and she’s always like, 'good, do your version.' I think that’s been very empowering and unique.
Looks like the future of Shondaland (and Thursday night TV) is in excellent hands.