Grey's Anatomy at Paleyfest 2023!
by Sara Clark
Dolby Theater, Los Angeles- Paleyfest 2023 continues with a television veteran of almost two decades, Grey's Anatomy. Let me save you the trouble of pulling out the Calculator app on your phone, the show has been on the air for 18 years. It’s an almost sobering realization that this titan of a series has been running since 2005, at a time when the word “streaming” would be strictly used to describe the flow of water. If Greys Anatomy were personified, it would be graduating high school in June and voting in elections in November.
If for some reason you are unfamiliar with Grey's Anatomy, the series revolves around the titular Meredith Grey and other young doctors at Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital. Episodes primarily revolve around Grey as she balances the challenges of her surgical profession (double-check this) with the relationships of her colleagues. The daily escapades of surgical procedures and rendezvous with fellow peers have gotten and kept the attention of millions of viewers. ABC sure isn’t unhappy with the ratings, and it could be argued that it is one of the studio's most successful projects.
Long-time viewers of the show, now reaching 400 episodes, know that Grey's Anatomy is synonymous with dramatic television. However, the future of the series is called into question now that show front-runner Ellen Pompeo announced her departure in November of 2022.
However, my arrival on day two of PaleyFest LA did confirm to me that the show was not in any danger, at least not anytime soon. Even with the absence of Ellen Pompeo from the panel, the audience roared with excitement as each actor was introduced, even the new incoming interns of the season. People loudly applauded the advanced screening of upcoming Episode 13 Cowgirls Don’t Cry, and the excitement continued to the panel.
I’ll keep my explanations of the show-related material brief for those who want a spoiler-free version.
The panel layout seemed to represent how Grey’s Anatomy was pushing forward. Hosted by T. R. Knight (Dr. George O'Malley for longtime fans), Longtime cast members Chandra Wilson (Dr. Miranda Bailey), James Pickens Jr (Dr. Richard Webber), Kim Raver (Dr. Teddy Altman), Caterina Scorsone (Dr. Amelia Shepherd), Kelly McCreary (Maggie Pierce), Kevin McKidd (Dr. Owen Hunt), Anthony Hill (Dr. Winston Ndugu) and Camilla Luddington (Dr. Josephine "Jo" Wilson) all occupied the front row. So great was the reaction of the crowd to each of them as they were introduced told me that the showrunners that they still have a golden roster, even without Pompeo.
The veterans of Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital did touch a bit upon their characters, however, the discussion primarily revolved around some of the actors taking on the role of directors of various episodes. Chandra Wilson is one of the aforementioned, as she has now directed 23 episodes of the drama. Wilson discussed her own challenges with directing Season 18 Episode 18 “Stronger Than Hate”, and talked about how she had to “learn to stop putting Bailey in the back of scenes.” Wilson realized that if her character Dr. Miranda Bailey was the subject of the scene, she needed to put her where she needed to be. Chandra Wilson says that the continuing of the show has led to cast members needing to “step into different positions”, but she has proven that she can be behind and in front of the camera.
Kevin McKidd (Dr. Owen Hunt) also shared his recent experience directing the recent Episode 12 “Pick Yourself Up.” McKidd has now 31 directorial episodes of Grey’s Anatomy under his belt, but until the recent season one dream of his had remained: the one-shot take. McKidd admitted to nagging the writing staff for years for the opportunity to put a one-shot take in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. He joyfully recanted the exhaustion and efforts to direct the one-take shot, saying that the intensity of getting the shot matched the intensity of the scene.
Caterina Scorsone (Dr. Amelia Shepherd) and James Pickens Jr (Dr. Richard Webber) used their panel time to reflect upon the growth of their characters throughout the series. Pickens Jr remarks that even after Webber experiences the death of one wife, one mistress, a brain aneurysm, and being electrocuted, it’s easy to find humor in there “He’s kinda funny”. The audience laughs along with Pickens Jr.
Scorsone receives loud applause from the audience when she says that Shepherd’s best quality is how she is able to endure “Resilience is her major skill”. The panel crowd has seen the many challenges of Dr. Amelia Shepherd, from the death of her son, a brain tumor, opioid addiction, and the death of her husband Dr. Derek Shepherd (famously played by Patrick Dempsey). Scorsone observes that Shepherd has a relationship with grief, and strives to “find the joy in it”.
Jake Borelli has been around since season 14, but this season is giving him the opportunity to explore his character Levi Schmitt’s new role as Chief Resident. Borelli says that “Levi struggles with what Chief Resident should be” and he is adapting to the role of a “student and a teacher”. Borelli smiles on the stage in pride, as he sees his character “Levi has grown so much.” Borelli looks forward to seeing his character grow professionally, but also wants opportunities to explore Schmitt’s queer experience.
Kim Raver also had her recent directorial debut with Season 19 Episode 11 “Training Day” which left fans in shock with a cliffhanger. Raver recalls how she imagined the final shot of Chandra Wilson’s Dr. Miranda Bailey as the camera pulls away, and the fate of Kate Walsh’s Dr. Addison Montgomery hangs in the balance. Even as Raver describes the pressures of directing “a Rubix cube of figuring [it] out”, she glows with a certain satisfaction that tells us it was all worth it in the end.
Of course, the heart of Grey’s Anatomy is the relationships, the new episodes, and the screening featured the cracks in Dr. Maggie Pierce and Dr. Winston Ndugu and the will they/won’t they between Atticus Lincoln and Dr. Josephine "Jo" Wilson. Kelly McCreary says that her character Maggie Pierce is “largely pretty resilient” but as this season goes on Pierce and Ndugu are “finally facing all the questions” in their marriage. Anthony Hill agrees that Dr. Winston Ndugu is seeing his marriage and himself fall apart, but that “fractures are going to have light shine through” and he hopes that it will lead to Ndugu “com[ing] into his purpose.
Dr. Atticus Lincoln and Dr. Josephine "Jo" Wilson spend most of the episode in a state of rest, or at least trying to. They both struggle to relax, and the reason is pointed out by the other. Lincoln tells Wilson that she had trouble being at ease because she never felt there was someone to take care of her. Wilson tells Lincoln that he can only relax when he feels he is taking care of someone else. They end the episode by taking a day off from work and being so emotionally intimate with each other (while being fully clothed). Camilla Luddington further adds that Wilson’s relationship with Link “is the most important in her life” and the audience at Paleyfest cheered when Chris Carmack said he had “potential romantic hopes” for Lincoln.
Getting into the newest staff members of Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, showrunner Krista Verdoff talked about what led her to choose the Interns for the show. Verdoff said she started with a specific character idea at first but then redesigned them around the actors who she felt had “the character and the star power.” The final five actors became Adelaide Kane (Jules Millin), Alexis Floyd (Simone Griffith), Harry Shum Jr. (Benson “Blue” Kwan), Midori Francis (Mika Yasuda), and Nick Terho (Lucas Adams).
Alexis Floyd describes her character Simone Griffth as someone who felt a true calling toward medicine beginning with the death of her mother. Floyd suggests that Griffith went into medicine to see if there was a way to prevent her death, and to use that to save lives. In Cowgirl’s Don’t Cry, she is paired with Nick Terho’s Lucas Adams. Adams seems like someone who is a thousand miles away, but Terho says Adams is “trying to figure out who he is” beyond his family name Shepherd and wants “to forge his own name.” What is obviously being forged is the chemistry between Adams and Griffith, as their on-screen connection is impossible to ignore.
Another possible pairing is one between Kwan and Millian, who are seen exiting the bar together at the end of the episode. While audiences are hoping for a relationship, Adelaide Kane says that Millian “has a very thick wall between herself and other people”. She notes that Millian needs to learn to “not be so afraid of getting attached to patients”. However, this could be something she learns from Kwan, who seems to even lie if it means that patients can get the best care. Kwan wants that success and for his patients to get the best, Harry Shum Jr says that Kwan “is trying to get to that place as quickly as possible”.
During the panel, something stuck out to me from Harry Shum Jr, (I admit there is some biased as I am very fond of him as an actor). Shum Jr, while describing his character, says that Kwan “has a mountain to fall down from and to climb back up”. Out of everything I heard, this truly stuck with me, as I think Shum Jr also identified why the theater was so packed, even after 18 years and 19 seasons.
All of the characters on Grey’s Anatomy are in the constant state of rising to the peak, falling to the pits, but then rising again. It’s the cycle of human determination to thrive despite the obstacles that are placed in front of us. Of course, the mountains on Grey’s Anatomy may be more exaggerated than in real life, however, they are still struggles that the audience obviously relates to all the same. It’s this formula that has kept people invested, all around me I could hear nearby fans recounting previous storylines, rooting for their favorite pairings, and the standing ovation at the end signaled that as long as Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital remains open, the fans will be checking in.
Photo Credit: Sara Clark