There have been other medical dramas that have been hugely successful with TV audiences over the years, with some spawning the careers of some of the biggest names in Hollywood. George Clooney may be considered one of the biggest A-listers in Hollywood, but he was once best known for his role as Doug Ross from the medical drama, ER. With people understanding that medical dramas can certainly be a huge hit with fans, it’s not surprising that writers and showrunners would want to recreate that magic on the small screen. Yet, when the first season of Grey’s Anatomy first premiered in 2005, no one could’ve predicted how successful the series would become. The creator, Shonda Rhimes, is credited with bringing the characters and storyline to fruition, and the series definitely helped to solidify her as a true storyteller with an amazing vision for television audiences.
Grey’s Anatomy started off with a cast of characters that audiences could truly resonate with, and there were some roles that created a major fascination that led to a number of different nicknames. From “McDreamy” to “McSteamy,” fans of the series all seemed to have their own favorite characters. Yet, the story has continued to evolve to include all new characters, as well as a loss of some of the beloved characters from the show. Whether you consider yourself a Grey’s Anatomy expert or you just love a bit of behind-the-scenes knowledge, check out our list of the 20 things you didn’t know about Grey’s Anatomy and see the interesting facts about this hit series.
20. Conscious Effort Not To Be Like E.R.
As the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, it’s only natural that she would want to place the series within her own hometown. Shonda Rhimes knew a lot about the Midwest, more specifically, Chicago, since it was her hometown. Yet, there was already another medical show that was based out of Chicago. There was inevitably going to be a lot of comparisons to the previous hit medical series, ER, and it didn’t need any more help being compared to this other show. So, there was a conscious effort to try and distinguish Grey’s Anatomy from ER, and part of that was to stray from her first inclination to base the show out of Chicago. She ultimately decided on basing the series out of Seattle at the fictional hospital, Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital.
19. Most Of The Characters Didn’t Start Off With Descriptions
When Shonda Rhimes was creating the Grey’s Anatomy series, she didn’t have character descriptions for the majority of the roles. While other shows already have a description in mind when it comes to the characters, Rhimes didn’t have a character description for anyone except Miranda Bailey. Yet, even that character was only described as a “tiny blonde with curls.” This offered a huge amount of freedom for prospective characters and was a huge advantage for actors looking to go for a role on a hit network series. Typically, characters have a description that lets actors know which roles might be open to them for future auditions, but this wasn’t the case for Grey’s Anatomy. This also brings to mind that the series could’ve been completely different if the showrunners had gone with different actors for the main parts.
18. Many Cast Members Auditioned For Different Roles
It’s not out of the ordinary for actors to audition for certain roles but then wind up being cast for a completely different part. Yet, it’s really interesting to learn about the different casting choices for Grey’s Anatomy. Even though Miranda Bailey’s character was supposed to be a “tiny blonde with curls,” Chandra Wilson won over Shonda Rhimes during the audition process and earned her the role. Sandra Oh was actually supposed to audition for the role of Bailey but wound up convincing showrunners to let her audition for the part of Cristina Yang. Ellen Pompeo wasn’t even supposed to audition for Grey’s Anatomy and was actually trying to land a spot on a completely different series, Secret Service. Yet, the most interesting casting choice was when Isaiah Washington originally auditioned for the role of Dr. Derek Shepherd, which would have been a completely different “McDreamy.”
17. Key Aspects Hidden From The Actors
There are some instances where it’s crucial for the actors to know a huge amount of background information on their characters in order to truly develop their roles. Yet, there are other times when certain aspects of their roles are kept from them in order for showrunners to allow the actors to portray a different type of personality. In the case of Grey’s Anatomy, it seems like the showrunners may have wanted to allow their actors to portray a different kind of perspective with regard to how the audience views them. On the other hand, it could’ve been because the entire storyline of the series hadn’t been thought out at the very first season. For example, Ellen Pompeo wasn’t told that Dr. Derek Shepherd was married until the last episode of Season 1. Patrick Dempsey didn’t even know his character was married until they were already halfway through Season 1.
16. Kate Walsh Made Her Own Luck
While women have made huge strides in Hollywood in recent years, there’s still a bit of difference in the way Hollywood executives treat actresses. They’re often paid less than their male counterparts, and there aren’t many female roles that are available to actresses. Yet, there are some actresses who don’t just sit back and gripe about the opportunities they aren’t afforded in the entertainment industry. Kate Walsh was cast in a role on Grey’s Anatomy that wasn’t initially intended to be a full-time character. Yet, she proved herself on set, and the chemistry she had with the rest of the cast led to her landing a full-time role. The success of her character on Grey’s Anatomy ultimately led to her getting her own spin-off series, Private Practice.
15. Chyler Leigh Is No Genius
Oftentimes, medical dramas can be the most difficult for actors because they’re forced to learn lines that contain complicated medical terms. This is equally true for their demeanor since the actors are required to exude a certain persona that truly sells their status as a medical professional to the audience. In the case of Grey’s Anatomy character, Lexie Grey, the actress portraying her needed to truly sell the idea that she was a graduate of Harvard Medical School. It says something about Chyler Leigh that she was able to portray a graduate of Harvard Medical School with regard to her acting skills because she was far from being considered an academic. Leigh actually dropped out of high school and never went on to further her education.
14. Real-Life Pregnancy Changed The Storyline
There are times when the real-life events of an actor or actress can create an issue for the writers of a show. When an actress gets pregnant, it can be a sticky situation for writers, and everyone handles it in his or her own way. In the case of Mad Men, January Jones‘s pregnancy led to a storyline in the series where her character gained a huge amount of weight. In the case of Scandal, Kerry Washington‘s pregnancy led to a number of layered ensembles and strategically placed vases and furniture to hide her growing belly. For Ellen Pompeo during the sixth season of Grey’s Anatomy, the writers implemented a new storyline where her character made the decision to donate part of her liver to her estranged father. This allowed her to remain on the series but spend a lot of time bedridden.
13. Sandra Oh Wanted To Have A Breakdown
As a researcher, chief medical officer, and director of cardiothoracic surgery, Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina Yang, pretty much held herself together in the most professional way in the Grey’s Anatomy storyline. She wasn’t exactly devoid of personality, but seeing her in a bubbly and personable light wasn’t exactly going to help her branch out in showing off her true acting skills. Yet, that didn’t stop Sandra Oh from trying to influence Shonda Rhimes into giving her some truly dramatic scenes. In the episode where Oh’s character loses her unborn baby, it was actually Oh’s idea to have her character endure an emotional breakdown. This is what led Rhimes to write the scene where Oh’s character couldn’t stop crying in her hospital bed. It definitely proved that it pays to have a good relationship with the writer of a series.
12. Television Executives Needed To Be Convinced About The Musical Episode
Television executives aren’t known for giving the writers complete freedom on specific scenes or episodes. From Seinfeld’s difficulty trying to convince the network executives that a show about nothing would be a hit with audiences to Frasier’s struggles in selling an episode where the lead character never left his bed, it seems like there are a number of examples where people needed to be convinced in order to get a certain storyline get airtime. This was definitely the case for the musical episode where Callie was seen singing over her own dead body. Death and musicals aren’t usually thought of as a good mix, but it definitely worked for Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda Rhimes reportedly enlisted the help of some of the actors in the series to try and convince them that a musical episode would be a good fit for the show.
11. Jesse Williams Wasn’t A Struggling Actor
Oftentimes, actors who are trying to break into the business are forced to take on some jobs that simply bring in just enough to pay the bills. Hollywood is filled with actors and actresses that were forced to wait on tables prior to getting their big break, and there are even some A-list actors who worked some seriously embarrassing jobs. Yet, that wasn’t the case for the actor that played Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy. Jesse Williams came from a family filled with academics and followed in his parents’ footsteps after receiving a degree with a double major from Temple University. Focusing on African American Studies and Film and Media Arts, Williams went on to become a high school teacher before getting his role on Grey’s Anatomy.
10. Real Organs Used On The Show
There are a number of shows and films that put some serious strain on the props department in order to create truly lifelike items that are critical to the storyline. The Game of Thrones props department famously had to construct a giant gummy shaped like a heart for the scene where Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a heart during a Dothraki ritual. Yet, that isn’t the case for Grey’s Anatomy. Being a medical drama, it’s obvious that Grey’s Anatomy would have to have some seriously realistic-looking organs while performing complicated operations in the series. Yet, it’s not necessary for the props department for the show to have to go above and beyond to create these realistic organs. Instead, they use real cow organs during many of these scenes.
9. Multiple Takes For Cereal Scene
Actors are often forced to perform multiple takes when delivering lines and acting out scenes. There are times when this isn’t actually so bad since it can lead to some comical moments with the actors or even some steamy scenes that really aren’t considered tough work for all those involved. Yet, there are other times when multiple takes can be grueling work for actors. During the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio had to take a bit of sushi during the film, The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio actually became violently sick after eating so much raw fish. During the scene in Grey’s Anatomy where Sandra Oh’s character found out that Dr. Owen Hunt had cheated on her, she had to throw a bowl of cereal in his face. It took three takes to get just the right amount of cereal splatter that ultimately made it onto the show.
8. Life Imitates Art With Sarah Drew
Pregnancy can be a tricky thing to work around for an actress, whether it’s real or fictional. For a real pregnancy, the writers often have to scramble to try and work it into the storyline, hide it with props and other actors, or create a completely different storyline to try and work around the condition of the actress. Yet, there are also difficulties with fictional pregnancies since the actress is required to take on this growing condition in a way that’s truly believable. Audiences are often angered to see “pregnant” characters that don’t really appear pregnant, beyond an obviously prosthetic baby bump. Yet, in the case of the Grey’s Anatomy character, April Kepner, the props department really didn’t have much work to do when her character became pregnant. Only months after her character became pregnant in Season 10, the actress, Sarah Drew, became pregnant in real life.
7. Jesse Williams Received A Humanitarian Award
At all award shows, there always seems to be that one recipient who steals the show with his or her acceptance speech. At the 2016 BET Awards, it was actor Jesse Williams, who managed to truly garner all of the attention for his words when accepting the Humanitarian Award. Williams may be best known for his Grey’s Anatomy character, Dr. Jackson Avery, but he’s also a college graduate with a degree focused on African American Studies and Film and Media Art. His five-minute speech addressed equality and struggles with police and drew a huge amount of applause from the crowd. A portion of the speech included, “We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold.”
6. Petition To Have Jesse Williams Fired
Not everyone was applauding the acceptance speech that Jesse Williams gave while accepting the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. There were some who felt Williams used his half-black and half-white background as a way to spew racial statements without any repercussions. An individual named Erin Smith started a petition on change.org to try and get Williams fired from the Grey’s Anatomy series. In the petition, Smith stated, “Jesse Williams spewed a racist hate speech against law enforcement and white people at the BET Awards.” The statement went on to say, “If this was a white person making the same speech about an African-American, they [sic] would have been fired and globally chastised, as they [sic] should be, but there have been no consequences to Williams’ actions.” Shonda Rhimes and Williams both took to social media to show that they weren’t bothered in the least by the petition.
5. Isaiah Washington Used Homophobic Slurs During Fight
Not all casts can boast a great chemistry between the actors, and this point was proven on the set of Grey’s Anatomy. There were numerous rumors regarding fights between the actors, and one of them made huge headlines. Reportedly, there was a fight that ensued between the actors Isaiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey. During the argument, Washington reportedly grabbed the other actor and stated, “I’m not your little faggot like T.R. [Knight].” Although Knight wasn’t initially named in the reports, rumors began to swirl regarding the altercation, and it forced Knight to make a statement of his own. During a People magazine interview, Knight released a statement that concluded with, “While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I’m gay isn’t the most interesting part of me.”
4. Washington Wasn’t Immediately Fired
When the reports came out about Isaiah Washington using a homophobic slur, the aftermath regarding the incident seemed to draw out the event even further. It forced Knight to make a public statement to People magazine, which outed him as a homosexual man. It also caused a number of influential people to call for Washington to be fired. Yet, nothing was done to Washington immediately after the rumored altercation. Washington’s publicist released a statement after the fight that read, “Differences are inevitable. They were aired, resolved, and everyone has moved on.” Patrick Dempsey’s publicist also released a statement that read, “There was an argument on set. In any close-knit family, sometimes, people argue. But everybody made up and went back to work.” This only solidified the fact that even though this event took place, nothing was done about it, and everyone just returned back to work.
3. Washington Fired Due To Increased Pressure
After the rumors regarding the fight between Patrick Dempsey and Isaiah Washington began to circulate, there were some who were surprised by the fact that Washington wasn’t immediately fired. He continued to return to the set, which seemed like it would be extremely uncomfortable for T.R. Knight (whom he referred to with a homophobic slur and publicly outed as a homosexual man). The media firestorm wouldn’t let up, and numerous people called for Washington to be fired. When it was realized that the situation wasn’t just going to blow over, Washington was told that he wouldn’t be returning for the next season and that he had lost his job. It became even more obvious that Shonda Rhimes wasn’t on board with letting him go after she announced that he would be returning to the series. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Rhimes stated, “If people don’t think that, over the course of seven years, it’s possible for a human being to change, then there really is no future for the human race at all.”
2. Katherine Heigl Withdraws Name From Emmys
For an actress, there are some awards that are thought of with such high esteem that even being nominated is regarded as a huge honor. For television actors, the Emmy Awards is a major event, and being considered for this prestigious prize is a huge triumph. Yet, not everyone knows how to handle their successes, and that was exactly the case with Katherine Heigl. The actress was thrown into the spotlight when she was cast on Grey’s Anatomy, which led to a number of movie roles that put her on track to become one of Hollywood’s favorite new leading ladies. Yet, all of that changed once she withdrew her name from the Emmy ballot in 2008. She stated, “I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination, and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention.”
1. Patrick Dempsey Got Killed Off
One of the major draws to the Grey’s Anatomy series was the character Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd. Patrick Dempsey’s character was a huge favorite with the fans, but that didn’t mean that he was a huge favorite with the cast, crew, and showrunners. There were numerous reports of his diva behavior on the set, and many still blamed him for Isaiah Washington being fired from the series. While the focus of the media reports was about Washington’s use of a homophobic slur, the simple truth was that the actual fight was between Washington and Dempsey. This was not the first time that Dempsey had rumors swirling around him about being a difficult actor to work with. There was also an interview where Dempsey seemed to be criticizing the character and the show by stating that it was just “a paycheck.” His character was ultimately killed off, which came as a huge shocker to fans. There are conflicting reports on whether he was fired for his behavior and comments or if he chose to leave the show. Regardless, this was the biggest shocker for this hit medical drama.
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