By Alicia Rancilio
Shonda Rhimes was on vacation when she stumbled upon the first book in the Regency-era “Bridgerton” book series, “The Duke & I,” by Julia Quinn and quickly was all in.
“I immediately went out and bought all the rest of her books,” said Rhimes in a recent interview. “Her way of her with words is delightful. I thought, ‘These are characters I’d want to know.’ They had a universal feeling to them and I thought they’d make amazing television.”
Rhimes passed the books on to Chris Van Dusen, who was equally kissed.
“I took them home and fell in love with them from the very first moment I read them,” he said. Van Dusen went on to create, executive produce and serve as showrunner of the series for Netflix.
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“Bridgerton ” was the first of Rhimes’ series to debut on Netflix under her deal with the streamer and chief content officer Ted Sarandos, and it set a high bar. Debuting on Christmas Day 2020, the show, starring Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor in season one, was a hit.
“I got an email from Ted Sarandos saying ‘Great job,’ which I thought meant great job. And then maybe a week or so in, we started to get the numbers and I really understood what great job meant,” said Rhimes. “I was just excited to have a show at Netflix.”
For Quinn, life was pretty good before Rhimes and Van Dusen came calling in 2017, but it’s only improved since. She was making a “nice living” as a historical romance writer with a following. The show, she says, changed everything to “bonkers.”
“I can’t think of a better word. I was going with surreal for a while, but now we’ve gone from surreal to just bonkers. Every day it seems something new and amazing happens in the ‘Bridgerton’ world.”
Quinn also serves as a consultant on the series and jokes it’s the “easiest” job ever. “I do see the scripts and I’m all, ‘This is great! Nothin’ to say!’”
Season two of “Bridgerton,” adapted from book two, “The Viscount Who Loved Me,” is now playing on Netflix. The new episodes follow Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey,) the family’s oldest child, who enters into the social season attempt on finding a bride. Page, whose career has blown up thanks to the series, did not return for season two. Dynevor does appear in a supporting role.
Each book in the series focuses on a different Bridgerton family member and the show’s seasons are following suit. There are eight books in the series, plus a book of epilogues with a short story called “The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After.” A limited prequel TV series, written by Rhimes, is also in development about the origin story of characters Queen Charlotte, Lady Danbury and Lady Violet Bridgerton.
Quinn is enjoying a renewed interest in the “Bridgerton” books.
“Romance writing is like a balloon. Eventually you stretch the balloon as far as you can go, and it’s really hard to get people to come around and go into the balloon. And people outside the balloon have never heard of you, which is totally fine. ‘Bridgerton’ just popped the balloon,” said Quinn.
“Suddenly all sorts of people who never picked up a romance novel or historical romance novel were reading them. In April 2021, all eight books were on the New York Times best seller list at eleven.”
Quinn also discussed why she structured her series the way she did and what else is coming up.
Q: The success of the series took a lot of people by surprise. What did you think?
I was confident we were going to have, at the very least, a respectable showing. If for no other reason there are millions of romance readers who were dying for something like this. I didn’t even know it could be this big.
Q: How did the popularity of the show affect book sales?
My publisher printed up a whole bunch of the new books with Regé and Phoebe on the cover, and they sold out instantly and then every title was sold out. It was just frantic. It got to the point where every resource at the company was turned towards trying to get these books reprinted. Thank goodness for e-books. We can anticipate there’d be some demand, but nobody thought it was going to do what it did and the last thing I would want to do is print up all those books and waste all that paper if nobody was going to buy them. I felt like every other day I was getting emails from my publishing house with the printing schedule, because for publishers right now, all the printers consolidated and it’s really hard. You have to reserve your slot at the printers, and it’s really difficult. But, yeah, the books have just exploded and not just in the United States. It’s a worldwide thing.
Q. How did you decide to create a series about a large family where each book follows a different member?
Romance series are really more a collection of spin-offs than they are sequels. So it was nothing new. It is new to television, though. And, you know, it was something that a lot of the viewers didn’t understand. When they found out that Regé was leaving, everyone’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, the show is going to fall apart without him.’ And of course, all the romance readers are saying, ‘Well, you know, we’d all love to have him continue as a secondary character’ — which he is a secondary character in the next book — but it’s a very minor part. The romance readers were saying, ‘Guys, that’s not how it works. We always knew we’d have two different leads next time.’
Q. What’s your next book?
The graphic novel “Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron” comes out in May.