Shonda Rhimes and Oprah
I arrived on the set of Grey's Anatomy after a major TV cram session. It's rare that I even pick up the remote, but I'd just spent a week watching every single episode of Grey's first two seasons, plus this fall's opening shows. Now I understand why, in September, it leaped to number one in the prime-time ratings. I came to adore Dr. Meredith Grey (played by actress Ellen Pompeo) and her best friend, Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh). And I knew exactly how a gang of ambitious, sexy interns and doctors (including neurosurgeon Dr. McDreamy, played by Patrick Dempsey) kept more than 35 million people riveted after last year's Super Bowl. Grey's Anatomy is the brainchild of 36-year-old Shonda Rhimes, who was also the creative force behind the movie The Princess Diaries 2 and the HBO special Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry. The youngest of six kids, Shonda grew up in a middle-class Chicago suburb. Her father is a university administrator, and her mother was a homemaker who earned a doctorate after the children were grown.

In high school, Shonda worked as a hospital candy striper, then went to Dartmouth, where she majored in English literature. After earning an MFA at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, she supported herself as the research director of the documentary Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream. In 1996 she sold her first script (for a movie that was never made). But in 1998, she was hired to write the Dorothy Dandridge script, and she was on her way.

When I met Shonda at "Seattle Grace Hospital," I was entering the world she'd dreamed up three years earlier while she was living in her pj's with the daughter she'd adopted as a single mother.

Start reading Oprah's interview with Shonda Rhimes

This interview appeared in the December 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.