Shonda Rhimes Explains Why ‘Bridgerton’ Season 3 Took So Long — and Whether ‘Queen Charlotte’ Might Return

Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix

Dearest gentle reader, have you missed “Bridgerton”? Surely the answer is yes, since the second season dropped in March 2022, more than two years ago.

But at long last, with Part 1 of Season 3 premiering on May 16, the show’s many fans will see the events depicted in Julia Quinn’s novel “Romancing Mister Bridgerton” — a.k.a., the love story between Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton).

Season 3 of “Bridgerton” — from executive producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, and new showrunner, Jess Brownell (who took over from Chris Van Dusen) — represents the show’s first deviation from the order of the books: Quinn’s third novel is “An Offer From a Gentleman,” which focuses on Benedict Bridgerton. During an interview for a Variety Power of Women cover story, Rhimes says that because of the revelation in the Season 1 finale that Penelope is, in fact, the writer behind the Lady Whistledown scandal sheet, the series had to speed up the timeline of the story.

“It was very clear that if we were going to reveal that Penelope was Lady Whistledown at the end of Season 1, we really only had a season when that could work as a secret that she carried — and then we got to see Eloise discover it,” Rhimes says of Colin’s sister, played by Claudia Jessie, who learned of her best friend’s betrayal in the second season’s finale.

Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton, Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington.
Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix

Penelope, especially in Coughlan’s winning portrayal of her, has “really struck a chord,” according to Rhimes. “You root for her no matter what, through all of her sad humiliations — and I think you want her to find happiness, you want her to find love,” she says. “What I also love is that we’re not introducing anybody new — every season we’ve had to bring in the Duke, we bring in Kate. This season, there’s not a new suitor. It’s two people we’ve always known, and we’ve been rooting for them to get together from the beginning.”

Speaking about Penelope, Beers says: “Obviously, all the characters are great, but I’ve loved that character. And I am always into the relationship between Penelope and Eloise. There are lots of layers to this season with characters I think you haven’t really gotten to dig into before.”

Neither Beers nor Rhimes could remember whether the dual strikes delayed Season 3 of “Bridgerton” — “The weird thing is I think we both have strike amnesia,” Beers says — but what is indisputably true is that this third installment has been a long time coming. The production of “Bridgerton” is so involved that it takes a while to make.

“There are a lot of characters, there are a lot of complications and it’s a very complex story to weave,” Beers says. “The writing and the meticulousness of the process obviously takes time. And every single aspect of a show in this period takes more time.”

She continues: “It’s a lot of costumes, it’s a lot of learning to dance, it’s a lot of weaving in old and new. It’s a gigantic kind of military puzzle.”

For Rhimes, Netflix’s methodology contributes to the delay. “They want to write everything, and then they want to shoot everything, which is — it’s very counterintuitive to the way I learned to make television.”

But she’s adjusting. “Now I think that’s just how it is,” Rhimes says. “We’re really working on the idea of if this is the field we live in, then how do we make the field faster? And so we really are thinking about stuff such as permanent sets and lots, and things like that that will really help us speed the process up.”

Beers says: “It’s not a simple feat!”

Courtesy of Laurence Cendrowicz/Netflix

Rhimes is still planning to adapt all eight “Bridgerton” books, so if the math stays the same, Season 8 of the Netflix show will be premiering in 2034 (if we’re alive). “Right,” Rhimes says. “It takes so long, and that’s frustrating to me. To me, we should be able to write and produce shows at the same time, and that’s not necessarily possible at this moment. It should be, but it’s not.”

The “Bridgerton” brain trust is always planning what’s next, and comprises Rhimes; Beers; Brownell; Alison Eakle, the head of content at Rhimes’ company, Shondaland; Tom Verica, the show’s directing producer; and Sara Fischer, Shondaland’s head of production. Rhimes says, “We are the six who have the creative conversations, and figure out what that means for the future.”

“I do have a very specific plan of where we go each season — which one is which,” Rhimes says. “Because you really have to start seeding in the other siblings, and what’s going on with them, to push them to the next season. We’ve really talked about it through, I think, Season 6 or maybe 7.”

“Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story”: Sam Clemmett as Young Brimsley, Freddie Dennis as Reynolds.
Courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix

Of course, Rhimes herself wrote the “Queen Charlotte” prequel — which premiered on Netflix in May 2023 — and some of its original storytelling might inform how “Bridgerton” could unfold as well. “Queen Charlotte” featured the franchise’s first queer storyline, with the romance of royal attendants Brimsley (who is in “Bridgerton,” still tending to his queen) and Reynolds (who is not with King George).

“We talk about it a lot,” Rhimes says about bringing that story into the “Bridgerton” timeline. “And for a while, I was holding it very close, and didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to play it out in a ‘Bridgerton’ season. But now we’ve been talking about what it would look like if we saw a little bit in ‘Bridgerton’s’ present day, with Brimsley and Reynolds, and what that would mean.”

But, she adds, “I think it deprives us of a chance to tell that story the way it should be told, though.” Which, of course, is Rhimes teasing a continuation of “Queen Charlotte.” On that matter, though, she still isn’t sure. “I do have inklings of what another story could be, but I also don’t know,” Rhimes says. “I just want it to be really good if we’re going to tell it.”

Shortly after Season 2 of “Bridgerton” premiered, the news came out that the story of Penelope and Colin would leapfrog Benedict’s turn at the wheel. When pressed about whether “An Offer From a Gentleman” is next in line — or when fans might learn about the central storyline of Season 4 — Rhimes is tight-lipped.

“Last time I made the mistake of mentioning what we were doing the next season, everyone got mad,” she says.

Oh, that was a mistake?

“Well, it wasn’t a mistake to me,” Rhimes says with a laugh. “But everybody else was not so pleased.”

From Variety US