What a $154 Disneyland Ticket Snub Showed the Most Powerful Woman in Television

‘Don’t you have enough?’ an ABC executive asked the legendary writer-producer-showrunner Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes.
Shonda Rhimes attends the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo: Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

It might sound petty.

The legendary writer-producer-showrunner Shonda Rhimes was making tens of millions, and her prime-time shows — Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder — were blockbuster successes, reviving the fortunes of her parent network, ABC. Sure, Rhimes was tiring of the constant battles with her employer, according to a new interview in The Hollywood Reporter. But it was a small snub from an executive over a $154 Disneyland day pass that was the last straw.

As Lacey Rose writes in THR, Rhimes was entitled to two Disneyland passes as a perk of her employment. She had asked for an additional pass for her sister, who wanted to take her children and their nanny to the park for a day while Rhimes was working:

After some unwanted back-and-forth — “We never do this,” she was told more than once — Rhimes was issued an additional pass. But when her daughters arrived in Anaheim, only one of the passes worked. Rhimes lobbed a call to a high-ranking executive at the company. Surely, he would get this sorted.

Instead, the exec allegedly replied, “Don’t you have enough?”

Rhimes was beside herself. She thanked him for his time, then hung up and called her lawyer: Figure out a way to get her over to Netflix, or she’d find new representatives.

The rest, as they say, is history: Rhimes inked a paradigm-shifting $150-million deal with Netflix, changing the TV landscape forever.

So why the fuss over an amusement park ticket that Rhimes could have easily afforded? It was far more than a meaningless tantrum. Despite her well-earned exalted status at ABC, the microaggression that Rhimes experienced showed her exactly where she stood in the company she had helped revive. That’s vital information.

The incident brings to mind the famous “no brown M&Ms” clause on the rider for Van Halen’s 1982 world tour, which specified that the band wanted a bowl of the candy in their dressing rooms — with all the brown M&Ms meticulously removed. Often used as an example of rock star excess (especially after the band reportedly trashed a concert hall after finding brown M&Ms in the bowl), the clause actually served an essential safety purpose: In a massive, technically complex traveling extravaganza like a Van Halen concert, every detail mattered. To rely upon a venue’s rigging, electrical work, and safety measures, the band needed to trust its staff to sweat the small stuff. As frontman David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography (via Snopes):

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl… well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

A Disneyland ticket snub might not create a pyrotechnics mishap, but it’s similarly indicative of a much bigger problem. As a Black woman in an overwhelmingly White industry, Rhimes knew exactly how to read the exec’s small gesture of disrespect — as a microaggression. And thankfully, it was just the push she needed.

Editorial director at Medium, mom, gardener, cook. Formerly at Quartz.

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