- Shonda Rhimes said a “room full of old men” once told her the “Grey’s Anatomy” pilot was “a problem.”
- The pilot begins with Meredith and Derek waking up, essentially strangers, after a one-night stand.
- “There had never been a show in which there was a lead character who owned her sexuality,” she said.
Shonda Rhimes’ hit medical series “Grey’s Anatomy” is currently in its 19th season, has aired more than 400 episodes, and served as the catalyst for Rhimes becoming a household name in the TV industry. But not everyone had faith it would be a hit.
On the “9 to 5ish with theSkimm” podcast with co-CEOs of theSkimm Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, Rhimes recalled a conversation she had with television executives while she was pitching the series.
“I remember getting called into a room full of old men and they brought us in to tell me that the show was a problem because nobody was gonna watch a show about a woman who would sleep with a man the night before her first day of work,” she said around the 13-minute mark of the podcast episode. “And they were dead serious.”
Viewers first met Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) in Meredith’s living room the morning after their first hookup — before she knew he was essentially her boss.
Meredith was starting her first day as a surgical intern at the fictional Seattle-Grace Hospital and Derek was also at the very beginning of his tenure as a neurosurgical attending. Early seasons of the show would go on to explore the challenges that Meredith faced as she fell in (and sometimes out) of love with Derek, all while trying to live up to her mother Ellis’ (Kate Burton) own enormous legacy in the medical world.
On “9 to 5ish with theSkimm,” Rhimes told Zakin and Weisberg that in hindsight, she understood why the men were hesitant to take a chance on her pilot.
She said that while they could talk about how “Grey’s Anatomy” is an “obvious” good idea now, at the time “there had never been a show in which there was a lead character who owned her sexuality” on network television.
“There had not been shows in which you saw three or four people of color in a room talking unless it was on a sitcom,” she added.
Rhimes said that she didn’t necessarily think of those things as “revolutionary” at the time. She said she was just trying to make a show she’d want to watch.
Back in the room with the “old men,” Rhimes said she remembered thinking “these guys don’t know anything about what’s happening in the world right now but they’re the people making the decisions.”
Her business partner Betsy Beers (who appeared on the podcast with her) came to her rescue during that meeting, because Rhimes described herself as “painfully shy” at the time. When the men asked who would watch and relate to a show where the lead would get drunk and have sex with a stranger the night before her first day of work, Beers said, “I said, ‘that’s me, I did that.'”
“They could not get out of that room fast enough,” Rhimes recalled of the moment.
“And they couldn’t call me a slut to my face,” quipped Beers.
Beers said the moment made them “ride or die” partners, and ultimately, millions of people actually did watch the pilot.
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.