Shonda Rhimes Reveals Why TV Executives Originally Thought Grey’s Anatomy Would Fail

Shonda Rhimes on Good Morning America.
(Image credit: ABC)

Back in 2005, Grey’s Anatomy was a surprise hit when it came in as a midseason replacement for Boston Legal on ABC. Viewers fell in love with the medical drama, in which the secret hookups were always as important as the medicine being practiced. Seventeen years later, the drama is a big moneymaker for the network in its 19th season, Shonda Rhimes is a household name, and with a new class of interns giving the series a breath of fresh air, it doesn’t look like Grey’s Anatomy is going anywhere anytime soon. However, back when the creator met with TV executives about the pilot, they told her they were sure it was going to fail.

Shonda Rhimes spoke on the podcast 9 to 5ish with theSkimm (opens in new tab) about a nightmarish-sounding meeting with network executives, and she revealed the reason they didn’t think audiences would relate to show. Rhimes recalled:  

I remember getting called into a room full of old men and they brought us in to tell me that the show was a problem, because nobody was gonna watch a show about a woman who would sleep with a man the night before her first day of work. And they were dead serious.

Shonda Rhimes said she was appalled that these executives seemed so out of touch and yet were the ones making the decisions. While the suggestion that viewers wouldn’t connect with the show for the simple fact that Meredith Grey had a one-night stand (or so she thought) before her first day as a surgical intern seems crazy today, the TV producer pointed out how much she was doing with Grey’s Anatomy that wasn’t seen on network television back then. She said:

It feels really obvious now, I think, but at the time you have to remember, there had never been a show on network television in which the lead character owned her sexuality. There had not been shows in which you saw three or four people of color in a room talking, unless it was on a sitcom, without anybody else in the room. You didn’t see a lot of the things that we were doing, and I didn’t really think about them as being revolutionary. I thought, ‘Oh, we’re just making a show that I want to watch.’

Thank goodness, too, because it turned out to be a show that a lot of people wanted to watch. Shonda Rhimes knows that part of her legacy is going to be that she made it possible for more people of color to get acting jobs on television, and while that’s an admirable thing to be known for, the famed producer has said it really just makes her embarrassed for television. Grey’s Anatomy continues with the mission of representation and tackling social issues, but it is crazy to think that 2005 wasn’t that long ago, and Rhimes has said it shouldn’t have taken so long to include more diversity in the faces we see on our screens.

It may not have been the easiest road, but I, for one, am glad that Grey’s Anatomy did make it to air. I’d love to hear what those network execs have to say now about the series that’s still going strong 19 seasons in. You can catch new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays on ABC, or stream Seasons 1-18 with a Netflix subscription

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.