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20 Things You Didn’t Know About Grey’s Anatomy

I don’t watch much television, but when I do, it’s on Shonda Rhimes’ TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday, obviously) primetime takeover of ABC. I’ve seen every single episode of Grey’sand Scandal—and even kept up with a few seasons of Private Practice. I know several Shonda monologues by heart. I even read the comments sections on promo videos, because they’re full of amazing fan theories.

All of this is because Rhimes just knows how to glue you to the screen, no matter how implausible the plot. It’s a marvel. So, when I heard that she was going to give away all her secrets in an online television writing masterclass, I signed up immediately. Is it possible to learn that kind of genius?

The 30-lesson package of video lessons, worksheets, and peer forums launched this month. Beyond the practical career advice Rhimes gives to writers—and if you’re a lover of Shondaland, it is well worth taking the full course—she also lets you into her beloved TV shows like never before. In particular, Grey’s Anatomy fans will find it a satisfying source of show trivia. She shares original and early drafts of Grey’s Anatomy scripts, alternative scenes, and the Grey’s “story bible.” We even get a peek at the original pitch Rhimes wrote for Grey’s Anatomy back in 2004.

Here are some of the most fascinating, little-known facts I picked up about Grey’s Anatomy.

1. The title was once very different: The title of the original pitch is simply “Surgeons.”

2. Seattle Grace Hospital almost didn’t exist: The location was originally going to be Boston, Philadelphia, or New York City. “This is not a small town life. Big city, big medical center, big surgical opportunities,” Rhimes wrote. Of course, the show would eventually take place in Seattle, Washington.

3. Rhimes was certain what kind of tone her show would set: “I don’t believe in melodrama and I don’t believe in EARNEST SAPPY MOMENTS,” Rhimes wrote of the show’s dramedy tone (caps lock and all).

4. Rhimes knew her characters so well she even stocked their lockers: In her character descriptions, Rhimes included the contents of all the main characters’ hospital lockers to flesh out their personalities. Among them, Meredith Grey has “stacks of old birthday cards she was planning to mail but never got around to” and “three alarm clocks because she’s terrified of oversleeping on her breaks.” George O’Malley’s contents “come from fear—med journals, old text books,” while Cristina Yang’s include “a Palm Pilot featured with the latest research articles….high heels to go out in after work, condoms because you never know.”

5. There is no Alex Karev in Rhimes’ original pitch: He was added in after the pilot was shot. Meanwhile, 13 seasons later, he is still a central character in Grey’s.

6. The Grey‘s doctors all had one very unhealthy habit: Smoking was a big thing among all the doctors, especially Meredith.

7. Can you imagine Cristina falling for Denny? Cristina’s plotline included her falling in love with a dying patient (a story that would eventually go to Izzie Stevens) and her father becoming a major donor to the hospital.

8. Or Derek Shepherd with a teenage daughter? In addition to being divorced, Derek Shepherd was supposed to have a teenage daughter who apparently convinced him to take the job at the hospital. “This is his chance to make up for all the mistakes he made with her when she was younger,” Rhimes wrote, “It’s going to be far more difficult than he bargained for.”

9. Richard Webber, is that you? Chief Richard Webber, who is easily one of the most lovable characters in Greys, was described as “not a warm man—with his patients, with his students, with his family.”

10. Preston Burke was supposed to already be married: Preston Burke, the cardio surgeon who Cristina fell for early on, originally had a wife and kids who made him feel “trapped.” His plotline revolved around him wanting to leave his wife.

11. Thank goodness Miranda Bailey’s character changed, too: The character who would become Miranda Bailey was originally named Deborah and had a totally different personality—”surly, quirky, and sorely lacking in people skills.” She also was supposed to get into an “odd but hot” sexual relationship with George.

12. Meredith’s mom originally had a different name: Ellis Grey’s name was originally Helen.

13. And perhaps their mother-daughter relationship would have been a little different, as well: Meredith’s voiceovers were supposed to be from visits to her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother.

14. Rhimes knows things about the characters that we don’t: Even if information about a character doesn’t make it into the script, Rhimes says she always keeps it in mind. For example, to make Preston Burke feel real, she constantly told herself that his mother owned a restaurant in Alabama. “Those details were very important for me and internalized,” she said.

15. The idea for Grey’s Anatomy was inspired by a show that Rhimes couldn’t get made: The idea for Grey’s Anatomy came to Rhimes after a pitch on war correspondents didn’t get picked up. Because the U.S. was in a war at the time, it didn’t land well. But Rhimes decided to combine what she liked about that show idea with medicine. “I just liked that feeling—a bunch of overly smart people fighting for their space,” she said. In the pitch she wrote, “Like WarCor, there’s that sense of being war buddies, of being different, of seeing the rest of the world as civilians.”

16. If you’ve ever thought Grey’s has a similar vibe to Sex and the City, you’re not alone: While pitching Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes compared Meredith’s point of view to “a more grounded version of Carrie’s articles in Sex and the City.” In the Masterclass, Rhimes admits the SATC connection (she went so far as to informally call Grey‘s “Sex in the Surgery”) wasn’t her “favorite” way to sell the show, “but it worked.”

17. Rhimes didn’t want to set her show in the same city as the hugely popular ER: In addition to the previously mentioned cities, Rhimes wanted to set Grey’sin her native Chicago, but mega-hit ER was set in Chicago. “Seattle felt fresh to me,” she explained, “Seattle felt like a city I hadn’t seen in television a lot.”

18. The show’s diverse cast can be attributed to a couple of simple rules: All of Rhimes’ series have been praised for having diverse casts, and that can be attributed to this character development principle for preventing clichés: “Take half the characters that you made men, and make them women. Take one character you were gonna cast one color, cast them differently,” she said, “I think it’s important for people to rethink because what people see on television changes what people think about themselves.” Case in point: the character of Miranda Bailey, before Chandra Wilson was cast, was originally a “tiny blonde with curls.”

19. Casting Grey’s Anatomy changed how Rhimes wrote characters forever:After casting Wilson as Bailey, Rhimes no longer described characters’ physical traits, like “beautiful.” Instead, she goes for an aura or feeling. For Denny—the patient with a chronic heart condition, whom Izzie Stevens falls in love with in season 2—the character note was “he has a quality that makes you want to lick him.”

20. There’s a reason some of the doctors love tequila so much: Alcohol preference is a character trait Rhimes picks deliberately. She says Meredith and Cristina drank tequila because “you never saw women drinking on TV…women weren’t the hard drinkers.”

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