“Grey’s Anatomy” returns to ABC on Nov. 12 (9 EST/PST) for its 17th season – and yes, it will tackle the coronavirus pandemic. But don’t expect politics to take center stage.
“We’re not responsible for politicizing COVID,” Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith Grey, said during Variety’s Virtual Power of Women panel. “That’s not on us.”
Executive producer Krista Vernoff agreed: “I think it’s our job to humanize it,” she said during the panel. “I feel like the politicians have politicized an illness that affects human beings regardless of political affiliation. So our job is to make it human, not political.”
While the season will focus on the pandemic, audiences won’t be shocked to see actors in medical gear. This is, indeed, a medical show.
“We’re more fortunate than some other actors,” Pompeo said. “Not only is the crew in full PPE, but we are as well because we get to play doctors.” Cast and crew are tested three times a week, said executive producer, director and recurring star Debbie Allen.
Pompeo teased the beginning of the new season with three keywords: “Girl, hold on.”
“We are bringing it this season,” she added. “Just hold on, it’s coming.”
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Vernoff wasn’t planning to do a pandemic season, and called it “a complicated decision.” “Grey’s” usually offers a certain amount of escapism, and she hoped the show could channel that. But her writers convinced her otherwise.
‘The writers are so brilliant and they had some pitches that were so exciting to me that it made me feel like, ‘Oh, we could do our show and the romance and the humor and the escapism and the pandemic,” she said. Having several doctors in the room (one writer and several advisers) helped make the decision, as COVID-19 had changed their lives more acutely: Doctors and nurses who visited the writers’ room showed how the stakes had changed in medicine.
That shift in the medical community – one of urgency – will play out in the show.
“I want to honor that tonally,” Vernoff said. “We’ve been having conversations about the tone and the energy and the urgency, and I want to inspire people to take care of each other, to wear their masks, to help this pandemic end, I want to honor the doctors and the change to the medical system, and it also has to play out like ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ And so far, I feel like we’re threading that needle.”
The panelists also discussed the series’ legacy and its impact on television for the Black community and for women.
“We never were a show to beat you over the head with what you were supposed to see,” series regular Chandra Wilson said. “We just showed you.”
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