'Grey's Anatomy's' Shonda Rhimes on Possible Spinoff, Creative PTSD and Katherine Heigl Aftermath (Q&A)
This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
After nine seasons and 200 episodes, Grey's Anatomy is showing no signs of slowing down. Season nine of the Shonda Rhimes medical series averaged a 4.1 rating among the key adults 18-to-49 demo, making it ABC's top scripted drama in the advertiser-coveted metric. The Ellen Pompeo- and Patrick Dempsey-led ensemble also ranked as the 10th-most-watched program overall in the demo and second-highest-rated overall, trailing only Fox's The Following.
As the show unspools its 10th season, with episode 200 airing Oct. 10 at 9 p.m., creator Rhimes will be tasked with writing out one of the show's most beloved characters, when Sandra Oh, who plays Cristina Yang, exits after the season finale. The producer behind ABC's hit Scandal also will be weighing uncertain futures for her two lead characters as Pompeo's and Dempsey's contracts are set to expire.
Rhimes, 43, a mother of three, tells THR about the challenges of rebooting Grey's every year, the importance of a cast who wants to be there and whether she'd do a second spinoff.
It's unclear whether Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo will return after season 10. Should they opt to leave, how much longer will Grey's run?
I'll figure it out when we get there, but I'm not even thinking about "should they opt to continue on." Sandra isn't even gone yet. We still have an entire season to do.
Do you already know how this season ends?
This year, we're doing a split season -- 10A and 10B with 12 and 12 [episodes each] -- and we're focused on the first half of the season this year. That was my solution to cope with not knowing who's coming back. I'm not going to worry about what's going to happen because I have no control over that.
Is there a character you wish you'd never killed off or written out?
I probably wouldn't have blown up Kyle Chandler [in season three]. We were filming the episode and he was pitching me ideas on how he could stay.
Is there one character death or departure that proved the hardest?
Cristina's departure is going to be really emotional. Denny [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] dying was really difficult for us. I didn't want to do it, and he didn't want to come out of his trailer. I cried and everyone at the table read cried. He was a character that we had all become really close to. Lexie's [Chyler Leigh] death was devastating. It was hard to write, hard to be at the table read and hard to see on film.
Over the course of the series, what has been your biggest challenge?
Keeping it fresh every season. The only way the show remains interesting to me creatively is if we're reinventing it at the beginning of every season. To find ways to do that as many times as we have has been a challenge.
What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned doing that?
Don't be afraid to tell a story. Be fearless, don't be afraid of the critics or the critics in your head. The hard stories are often the most interesting. I learned how to write television and run a show on Grey's Anatomy. I've made all my mistakes and learned a lot of valuable lessons here.
How did your experience on Grey's help to launch Scandal?
I learned on Grey's that you don't want anybody on your show that doesn't want to be there. I wanted Scandal to be a place where everyone that you're working with was a lovely, giving person who was as excited about this as we all were. There's no competition, no jealousy and no drama; it's just a family, and that's what Grey's is now.
Was there ever a time when you felt like Grey's wasn't a family? How did you handle that?
Absolutely. Creatively, that was a really difficult time, and it was hard for me to write the show. Seasons four and five were difficult because I was in a dark place [after Katherine Heigl said she had insufficient material and declined to submit herself for the Emmys]. In the beginning, it felt like such a magical place, and to discover that everyone isn't who you thought they were is very unfortunate.
Some awesome things did come out of it, though. I found the Callie [Sara Ramirez] and Erica [Brooke Smith] relationship and Owen [Kevin McKidd] in there. There were things that were amazing because they pull you through. A lot of us joke we have PTSD from that period of time -- and we do.