The following article appeared in the April 24, 2006 issue of Jet Magazine
In Living Color: Diverse cast is 'Grey's Anatomy' spark
By Mike Duffy
Free Press TV Critic
When "Grey's Anatomy" happily found Isaiah Washington, the actor knew exactly what sort of TV doctor he did not want to play:
The arrogant, standoffish, token Dr. African American.
"That kind of person can be done without a chip on his shoulder," says Washington. "I didn't want to be on a successful show and just put in a box."
Minority medical mission accomplished.
Dr. Preston Burke isn't just another stereotypical incarnation of Eriq LaSalle's Dr. Peter Benton on "ER." Burke's more evolved. He's started to open up and reveal shades of emotion. He's flawed, he's funny, he's taking a chance on romance.
Heck, you might even say he's the Other McDreamy.
When "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes found Patrick Dempsey to portray Dr. Derek Shepherd (aka Dr. McDreamy) and then chose Washington to portray Dr. Burke, everything clicked.
"It meant we could have two leading men and two leading men in very different ways," says Rhimes, whose clever mix of drama, comedy, soap opera and hot doctors in love has become the highly-rated sensation of Watercooler Nation this season.
Given an XL push by a post-Super Bowl episode that attracted 37.9 million viewers, "Grey's Anatomy" has even displaced the "Desperate Housewives" of Wisteria Lane as the most appealing part of ABC's Sunday night juggernaut.
"This isn't a traditional medical drama. I've always said from the beginning, we're a relationship show with surgery," says Rhimes. "It's never about the patients. It's about how the doctors feel about the patients."
Though "Grey's Anatomy" is anchored in the emotional odyssey of Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), the show's moody heroine, Washington's Dr. Burke is a prominent example of the show's impressive, almost matter-of-fact diversity.
People of color just happen to be in key positions of authority at Seattle Grace Hospital. Besides Dr. Burke's no-nonsense surgeon, Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) is the avuncular chief of surgery. And Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) is the gruffly humane senior resident in charge of training the interns.
"I'm a post-Civil Rights baby. I'm not trying to make a point. This is just the way the world looks now," says Rhimes, 36, one of television's few female African-American series creators and show runners.
Rhimes, who spoke during a phone interview from her "Grey's Anatomy" offices in Los Angeles, had grown weary of programs that feature just "one black doctor in the hospital and one black cop or one Latino detective on the force."
On "Grey's Anatomy," multiculturalism is a casual fact of life. Half the regular cast are minorities, including Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), the Asian-American surgical intern who has captured Dr. Burke's heart.
But Rhimes avoids playing the race card in her stories.
"There's never going to be 'a very special episode' of 'Grey's' about race. I hate that sort of thing," says Rhimes, who first earned recognition for her screenwriting on such films as HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" and the comedy "The Princess Diaries 2."
Washington initially auditioned for the role of Dr. Derek Shepherd before Dempsey was cast as the dashing brain surgeon. But the actor was thrilled when Rhimes promised him that Burke wouldn't be fitted for the standard-issue, black-male emotional straitjacket.
"Race will fall away if you show the humanity of people," says Washington.
But when "Grey's Anatomy" premiered last spring, Dr. Burke made a chilly first impression as a perfectionist cardiothoracic surgeon who kept his emotions rigidly in check.
"He did start out sort of stone-faced," says the 42-year-old Washington, who talked during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "But he's evolved into someone we see as an effective leader and someone who learns how to love and be loved."
One of the most illuminating hours of "Grey's Anatomy" came with last fall's Thanksgiving episode, where Burke proved to be a culinary magician.
"That's when Burke started to come out, not merely as an attending surgeon who's dating an intern but as a fully dimensional guy," explains Washington. "We discovered that he's someone who cooks, he's someone who has compassion."
The live-in, odd-couple romance of Dr. Burke and Dr. Yang has become one of the most touching and funny attractions of "Grey's Anatomy."
Writing that charming, quirky relationship has been a ball for Rhimes, who was hit with a happy thought when she imagined Dr. Burke's story.
"I couldn't wait to put him in a romantic relationship," says the producer. "We have a cast that can be really dramatic and really funny. It allows us to do so many things."
Burke has been revealed as a deeply honorable man with an almost military bearing, not surprising since Houston native Washington served in the Air Force before becoming an actor.
But the scenes between Dr. Burke and Dr. Yang have also offered another window into Burke's soul, says Washington, noting that, "Nobody else really knows Burke. But he's been able to show levels of vulnerability to Cristina."
An African-American surgeon and an Asian-American intern in love?
The not-so-secret joy of "Grey's Anatomy" is that anyone can relate.
"Being after 'Desperate Housewives' has allowed a large number of people to discover our show," says Shonda Rhimes. "But they stay and come back each week because these characters feel like people you know. And no matter what race they are, you see yourself in their problems."
The following article appeared in the March 20, 2006 issue of TV Guide Magazine
The following article appeared in the March 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
The following article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Ebony Magazine
Shades of 'Grey's Anatomy'
By Bill Keveney
LOS ANGELES — The Grey's Anatomy doctors are definitely in.
Viewers think the sexy surgeons are the latest in TV cool, while ratings have been red-hot for the ABC medical drama, which ranks fifth in viewers (18.4 million) in just its first full season.
Launched in March, Grey's (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT) inherited the huge lead-in audience of Desperate Housewives, but it soon attracted its own following. There's something for everyone, says Patrick Dempsey, who plays neurosurgeon Derek Shepherd, known as Dr. McDreamy to Grey's female doctors.
"There's such a diverse cast that people can identify with, archetypes that people can relate to," Dempsey says. "There's an emotion to it. There's a sense of humor to it."
Grey's secret might be in the mix: of work and play; of comedy, drama and a little soap; of men and women; and of interns, residents and attending physicians of varied background, race and personality.
"This is essentially a workplace romance show, as opposed to a pure medical show or a pure relationship show. It's really about a group of friends trying to make it through everyday work and relationships," says creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes.
And don't forget the sex factor. "Everybody has sex on (Sunday's episode). Well, not everybody, but there's a lot of sex," Rhimes says.
Since more people are watching, the series' growth spurt deserves examination, with diagnoses courtesy of Grey's actors, producers and viewers.
Friends, as Rhimes calls them, is the operative term. Fans appear to have bonded quickly with Grey's cast. Viewers enjoy the stories, but they come back for Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), her sometimes lover, Shepherd, and colleagues.
"The characters are so convincing and the chemistry is electric," says Tracy Gallo of Lisbon, Ohio. In a recent episode, "I could feel McDreamy's breath on the back of my own neck during the elevator scene with Meredith."
Meredith, the Grey of the title, is one of five first-year interns. The show's narration comes from her perspective, but Rhimes says it "absolutely is an ensemble show."
Critics praise the rich detail of the characters, especially in a series now featuring 10 regulars with the addition of Dr. Addison Shepherd (Kate Walsh), Derek's wife.
Both characters and relationships are ever-changing. The early take on George O'Malley (T.R. Knight): indecisive intern. He has evolved into a talented doctor with a backbone. At the same time, cocky Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) is dealing with an uncertainty of his medical future and his tentative love connection with Isobel "Izzie" Stevens (Katherine Heigl).
Tough-as-nails resident Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), known as The Nazi, could have been a one-dimensional person. But subsequent episodes have shown a broader character.
Now she's pregnant, which tests her ambition, says Wilson, who this month gave birth to her third child. "We'll see how together she is."
Series TV newcomer Rhimes, who wrote Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement, has been given broad leeway to create the world of Seattle Grace Hospital.
"Shonda has a very clear idea of who the characters are, and she writes them that way," fellow executive producer James Parriott says. Rhimes' concept combined the universality of workplace relationships with a heightened life-or-death aspect that few face. It didn't hurt that she is a big fan of surgery documentaries on cable TV.
"I know what's going to happen in Season 4, should we make it that far," Rhimes says.
Tragedy, meet comedy
Heigl says viewers relate to the show's humor. "And I think Shonda has the wickedest sense of humor," she says.
In one episode, Seattle Grace encountered the serious and not-so-serious aspects of a syphilis outbreak among the medical staff. In another, doctors discovered a patient had consumed doll heads.
During a scene shot this week for an upcoming episode, Meredith faced the serious and the slapstick simultaneously. The caring doctor gave lifesaving treatment to an elderly woman with "do not resuscitate" instructions.
As Meredith realized the gravity of the matter, the patient's friends, played by June Lockhart, Betty Garrett and Rae Allen, served as a tsk-tsking trio. Allen's character then whacked Meredith with a large handbag, calling her a schnook.
Pompeo broke up laughing during a couple of takes. Working with the veteran actresses was refreshing on a demanding day. "You can only hope for days like this," Pompeo says. "They're hysterical."
Though the medical plots exist to serve the characters, often serving as a metaphor for events in their lives, the show wants to get them right. It has featured such oddities as a teratoma, a growth that can make a man appear pregnant.
On the operating room set, director David Paymer gave instructions to Dempsey, Heigl and Walsh, whose characters were trying to save a premature baby. The actors were playful between takes — Dempsey and Walsh pantomimed patty-cake over the dummy mother — but the lifesaving scene was all business.
That seriousness grounds everything else, says co-executive producer Peter Horton. "Human beings in direct proximity of life and death — that makes it intriguing, entertaining and extremely moving."
Variety is the spice
Grey's is running ahead of a TV world slow to reflect the country's diversity. The cast includes African-American and Asian-American doctors; a Latina character is coming. But they are not defined by race. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), an Asian-American, and Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), an African-American, have relationship issues, but they are based on personality.
Grey's "actually reflects a regular city, with three-dimensional minority characters," says Kevin Lockett, a viewer from Akron, Ohio.
When Grey's was casting, the goal was to be open to all actors without earmarking roles by race.
Grey's diversity "is by design and not by design at the same time," says Rhimes, the lone African-American woman heading a broadcast network drama series. It also features strong, complex women pursuing professional and personal goals. "It's an accurate reflection of the women I know."
Rx: Sex, and lots of it
From the hot cast — Dempsey is in People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive issue and other cast members have not-so-secret admirers — to trysts ranging from romantic to lustful, Grey's offers soapy va-va-va-voom, creating buzz and drawing media interest.
The yin-yang of Burke-Yang intrigues fans, as does the slow-moving mating dance of Izzie and Alex.
Rhimes says the Meredith-McDreamy-Addison triangle has plenty of mileage. Last week's renewed spark between Addison and McDreamy left viewers buzzing.
"You get to see them try to work it out," Walsh says. But "that's a very small trailer to live in."
Some fans don't want it to work out, underscoring their bond with the actors and their characters.
"I'm rooting for Meredith and Dr. McDreamy to get back together," says Kimberly Kamis of Orchard Park, N.Y. "He is absolutely the best-looking, most delightful man" on television.
The following article appeared in the September 23, 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly Magazine
The following article appeared in the September 2005 issue of Essence Magazine
The Colorful World Of 'Grey's Anatomy'
By Patricia Brennan
Special to The Washington Post
Shonda Rhimes, who grew up fascinated by surgery shows on cable television, says she loves blood and gore. But she never planned to become a physician, not even to play one on television. Instead, she set out to write about young doctors.
The result: "Grey's Anatomy," ABC's midseason drama so popular that it pushed David E. Kelley's "Boston Legal" out of its choice time slot on Sundays at 10 p.m., just after "Desperate Housewives."
"Grey's Anatomy" began in March and airs its last fresh episode tonight -- until it returns in the fall. The drama focuses on Meredith Grey and her fellow group of earnest, competitive surgical interns.
Rhimes, the show's creator and producer, wrote three of the first four episodes. She also is known for having written HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," which won several awards, including a Golden Globe and an Emmy for Halle Berry for best actress.
For "Anatomy," Rhimes has assembled a racially diverse cast. Like her, James Pickens Jr., Isaiah Washington and Chandra Wilson are African Americans. Sandra Oh is a Canadian-born Korean, and the rest of the main cast -- title character Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers and T.R. Knight -- are Caucasian.
"It's not diverse by some design," said Rhimes. "I'm an African American woman, and I assumed when we cast the show it would be diverse. I said, 'Let's bring everybody in to read.' When the cards fell, these were all the actors we picked."
Rhimes grew up in University Park, Ill., outside Chicago, with two brothers and three older sisters. "Two of my sisters and I are absolutely obsessed with medical shows," she said. "My sister will call -- 'Are you watching the show where they're removing the 800-pound tumor from that woman?' "
As a teenager, Rhimes was a candy striper in a local hospital. "Some people are squeamish about hospitals, but I love them," she said. As a junior at Dartmouth, majoring in English literature and creative writing, she was an intern for a law firm in the District.
But she didn't plan on becoming a lawyer or a doctor. So she went to University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television, earning a master of fine arts degree and winning a prestigious writing fellowship. And she decided she didn't want to be an actor, either. Screenwriting was her love.
"The funny thing about this job is there are things I never actually wanted to be, but I get to write about them," she said.
She also isn't certain she wanted to be a wife, but she wanted a child. So she's a single mom, having adopted Harper, now 2, a girl whose birth she witnessed. "We're talking about putting a playroom" at the studio, Rhimes said. "Patrick Dempsey, Isaiah Washington, Justin Chambers, they all have 2-year-olds-going-on-3."
Now Rhimes, who is in her mid-30s, is branching out to directing. She is slated to make her feature directorial debut with an original screenplay, "When Willows Touch," a Southern gothic tale of a family torn apart by the discovery of a body in their cornfield. Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are executive producers. Even as her schedule gets more crowded, she said: "I'll be fully devoted to 'Grey's Anatomy.' I want to keep up the quality."
Cast of Characters
Creator Shonda Rhimes assembled a diverse cast for "Grey's Anatomy":
Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), the senior resident in charge of training, has earned the title of "the Nazi."
Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington): His arrogance is second only to his skills with the scalpel.
Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) has been playing doctor outside the office with intern Meredith.
Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) is the hospital's paternal but no-nonsense chief of surgery.
Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) boasts a PhD, an MD, and drive to spare.
Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) is ambitious to the point of obnoxiousness.
Isobel Stevens (Katherine Heigl) finds it's tough to earn respect when you're a former model.
George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) is too nice for his own good.
Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo): Her mother is a legendary surgeon now facing Alzheimer's.
Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC