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Shonda Rhimes Told By Network Execs That Grey’s Anatomy Would Fail

Shonda Rhimes creator of Grey's Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes [Image @shondarhimes/Instagram]

Before Grey’s Anatomy premiered in 2005, its creator, Shonda Rhimes, was told that the medical drama would fail. In fact, Rhimes recalls that “a room full of old men” said there had never been a show with a lead character who “owned her sexuality.” Network executives said this could never work on network television.

Shonda Rhimes told Grey’s Anatomy would fail

Ellen Pompeo, Caterina Scorsone and Kate Walsh in Grey's Anatomy
Ellen Pompeo, Caterina Scorsone and Kate Walsh [Image @katewalsh/Instagram]

Grey’s Anatomy fans have been glued to the TV screen since the series first premiered in 2005. The series celebrated its 400th episode in May and, now in its 19th season, the medical drama continues. Despite warnings given to creator Shonda Rhimes by network executives, the show survived and was the first of its kind.

Talking on the Skimm podcast, Shonda recalled a meeting with ABC network executives, who were skeptical about the series. They were sure that it wouldn’t find an audience, due to the storyline in the first episode. Rhimes, 52, said:

It feels really obvious now, I think, but at the time, you have to remember, there had never been a show in which there was a lead character who owned her sexuality on network television.

In fact, the pilot episode of Grey’s Anatomy saw Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) sleep with a man the night before her first day of work. The fact was the man turned out to be Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), a new surgeon at the hospital where she was to be an intern.

Shonda remembers she was called into a room “full of old men” who told her the show was a problem. She said they told her nobody was going to watch a show about a woman who would sleep with a man the night before her first day of work. Even worse, Rhimes said they were “dead serious.”

Rhimes creative partner Betsy Beers spoke up

In that same meeting, Rhimes’ creative partner, Betsy Beers countered the executives’ argument. She told them the show was actually based on her real life. Beers said:

Shonda looked like she wanted to throw up, which was the appropriate response to this, but I couldn’t help it, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s me. I did that. That’s absolutely me.

I remember I was saying that and I just blurted it out, because it was true.

Rhimes recalled the executives couldn’t get out of the room fast enough after hearing that. She said they didn’t know what to do, adding: “They were like, ‘These are these kinds of women we don’t like.’”

Grey’s Anatomy season 19

Grey;s Anatomy star James Pickens Jr. shares image of new surgical residents
Niko Terho, Adelaide Kane, Midori Francis, James Pickens Jr., Harry Shum Jr. and Alexis Floyd [Image @therealjamespickens/Instagram]

Naturally, Shonda and Betsy were correct, as the medical drama hit its 400th episode in May. At the time Disney (ABC’s parent company) shared images on Instagram, showing the cast and crew celebrating the milestone together. Among them, Pompeo, 52, delivered a speech during the cake-cutting ceremony. On the network’s Instagram Story, she said:

You don’t get to this many episodes without this level of passion.

Now, of course, Grey’s Anatomy fans are enjoying season 19 of the hit medical drama. However, many were sad to note that, while Ellen Pompeo will narrate the episodes, she will only star in eight. This is due to the fact that she is involved with a new project – a limited series for Hulu that she is both starring in and producing.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 pm ET on ABC.

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