Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Is Up With Grey's Anatomy This Season?

LA Times paid a visit to the Grey's Anatomy set and interviewed the cast:

Many "Grey's" fans have been similarly incredulous about the drama's current season. Rhimes began the year by giving viewers exactly what they had long clamored for: The reunion -- this time permanent, she promised -- of notoriously on-and-off couple Meredith and Derek. But in more recent months, another, more controversial coupling -- Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) and her dead former fiancé Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) -- has emerged front and center.

To say that the unconventional romance is unpopular would be an understatement. "Enough with the dead Denny/Izzie thing! Ugh!" wrote one poster at The Times' "Grey's" Show Tracker blog. Pleaded another, "Can we stick to the somewhat realistic dramas of the characters and the struggles of this profession versus daytime soap crazy stuff like the dead coming back to life and having sex?"

Rhimes said she is acutely aware of the response. "I know the fans wouldn't have such strong feelings if they weren't so involved in the show," she said. "But I also feel like, you start on a path and you have to stay the course."

She staunchly defended the Izzie-Denny pairing, which she said she felt was "one of the great love stories on 'Grey's Anatomy.' " "I don't have story lines that I feel are unsuccessful, or else we wouldn't have put them on television," she said.

"I can listen to everyone's shouts of 'Izzie's having ghost sex!' and laugh a little bit," she continued, "because I know where it's going."

If, as has long been rumored, where it's going includes Izzie's death and Heigl's departure from the show at the end of the season, Rhimes isn't sharing. With anybody. Save for one person.

Rhimes said she has laid out the specific details of the story line, which recently included the revelation that Izzie's seriously ill, with only Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment.

During the network's portion of the Television Critics Assn.'s press tour last month, McPherson allowed that the story "might not be [everyone's] cup of tea." But Patmore-Gibbs, who has an idea of its "general direction," as she put it, stressed that the network remains firmly behind Rhimes. "We believe in where we're headed," she said. "We have an enormous amount of trust in Shonda as a show runner." In fact, in late January, ABC greenlighted a new drama pilot, executive-produced by Rhimes, called "Inside the Box."

Of course, at this point, "Grey's" has made nearly as many headlines for its behind-the-scenes intrigue as its on-screen plot twists.

Two years after the Isaiah Washington drama, Rhimes and the network faced charges of homophobia after the abrupt firing of Brooke Smith, who played Dr. Erica Hahn and, together with Ramirez, made up "Grey's" first significant same-sex couple. More recently came reports that T.R. Knight, unhappy with his character George's lack of screen time this season, had asked to leave. .

All of which makes a visit to "Grey's" Prospect Studios stages a unique experience. On this mid-January day, two publicists -- one from the network, the other from ABC Studios -- hovered closely, occasionally offering up unsolicited assurances about the set's harmony quotient. Perhaps they felt the need to fill the silence left by several of the show's stars. Dempsey, Pompeo and Ramirez all declined to sit for interviews, and neither Heigl nor Knight was on set that day.

"I didn't know if I was gonna talk!" said Sandra Oh with a loud laugh. "You caught me on a good day."

The negative media attention has made the cast "wary," she explained. "Quite honestly, I don't think people are really interested in the effects that it has on the people who are being scrutinized," Oh said. "It's very difficult to keep a handle on it."

Dane echoed the sentiment. "I've adopted the attitude 'enough already,' " he said, noting that, on set, "People have their moments, and let's just try to understand them for what they are."

Oh said her experience on "Grey's," where she plays competitive resident Cristina, had taught her that "work as a television actor is not just acting, at all." How so? "At this point, these are long-term work relationships that consistently have to be nurtured."

That includes relationships with those that provide the material. "The times that I've had conversations with the writers about my concerns," said Oh, "sometimes it's responded to and sometimes it's not. That's just the way it goes."

Actor-writer relationships

On set, Dempsey found his concerns responded to, though maybe not in the way he would've liked.

"See that face?" he said, nodding in the direction of Tony Phelan, the writer/co-executive producer on set, who didn't look particularly thrilled at the suggestion of more screen time for Derek and Meredith. "That's what I deal with."

"I'll trade jobs with you," Phelan retorted. "Why don't you come into the writers room and try to write for all 29 of you?"

Dempsey laughed. "They wouldn't wanna see me write," he said. "We're trying to keep the show on the air."

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