Shonda Rhimes says ‘old’ TV execs doubted ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Grey’s Anatomy co-creator Shonda Rhimes said that after reading the pilot for the first time in the early 2000s, she was rebuffed by “a room full of old men” who questioned the success of their hit medical drama.

Rhimes, who is also the small-screen mastermind behind “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” and “Bridgerton,” recalled the exchange on Tuesday’s episode of the podcast, “9 to 5ish with theSkimm.” which she appeared with her creative partner and rookie showrunner Betsy Beers.

Two women pose together at a red carpet event.

Shonda Rhimes (left) and Betsy Beers attend the celebration of the 100th episode of “Scandal” at the Fig & Olive in West Hollywood in 2017.

(Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press)

“I remember being called into a room full of old men and they brought us in to tell me the show was a problem because no one would watch a show about a woman who died the night before her first day with a man sleeps work,” Rhimes said about 13 minutes into the episode. “And they were deadly serious.”

Grey’s Anatomy, currently in its 19th season, finally debuted on ABC in 2005. The first episode memorably begins with Meredith Gray (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) waking up in their living room, essentially strangers from a one-bedside table. Moments later, she rushes to her first day of her surgical internship at the hospital, where Derek, aka Dr. Derek Shepherd when one of her superiors is exposed.

Rhimes said she remembered thinking, “These guys don’t know anything about what’s going on in the world right now, but they’re the people making the decisions.” But the “painfully shy” screenwriter had trouble coming on the executives to respond.

Rhimes and Beers said the “old men” asked them who would watch and relate to a show where the leading lady would get drunk and have sex with a stranger the night before her first day at a new job.

“I couldn’t help but say, ‘That’s me, that’s what I did. That’s absolutely me,'” Beers said. “What I didn’t say is that I probably came into work drunk the next day.”

The room went silent, and the men “couldn’t get out of this room fast enough,” Rhimes said, adding that executives were “appalled” and didn’t know what to think of “these types of women.”

“And they couldn’t exactly call me a bitch. … They didn’t know what to say,” Beers said, adding that the moment cemented her and Rhimes as ride-or-die partners.

The Shondaland founder told podcast hosts Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg that she later understood why the men were concerned about the pilot.

“It feels really obvious now, I think,” Rhimes said. “But at the time you have to keep in mind that there had never been a show that had a lead character who owned their sexuality on network television. There weren’t any shows where you saw three or four people of color talking in a room unless it was a sitcom with no one else in the room. You didn’t see a lot of what we did.

“And I didn’t really think it was revolutionary,” Rhimes added. “I was like, ‘We’re just doing a show that I want to see.'”

Beers added, “A lot of the idea came from the fact that there wasn’t anything on TV that looked like us at the time. There weren’t even that many shows with a woman in the middle. … That alone was surprising.” Shonda Rhimes says ‘old’ TV execs doubted ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

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