300 episodes? Seriously? Seriously.
In age dominated by TV series favoring seasons of 13 episodes or less, finite conclusions and ambiguous off-broadcast ratings, it’s a rare network show indeed that hits the once-vaunted 300-episode milestone. On Thursday Nov. 9, “Grey’s Anatomy” does just that, and even after 14 seasons and a dramatically changing television landscape, the durable medical drama has proven to be a survivor with a still-healthy prognosis without ever having been on life support.
The landmark episode, titled “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” consciously celebrates the occasion with a tacit nod to the tumultuous history of the many generations of relationship-challenged healers at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital and the storytelling style spearheaded by creator Shonda Rhimes.
“I wanted to look back and move forward simultaneously – that was the challenge that I gave myself and the writers’ room,” the show’s executive producer and current showrunner Krista Vernoff, who’s been with the series since its debut season in 2005, tells Variety. “We came up with creative ways to remember the roots of the show, to remember the original cast, to remember some stories we have told, or maybe not finished telling. And also, to move the lives of the present day cast forward.”
Vernoff shares that when they were shooting in Seattle in the early part of the season, she already had the 300th episode in mind because it is such an important milestone. The inspiration behind the current hospital staff encountering patients who are dead-ringer doppelgangers for now-departed “Grey’s” characters came from her walking around set and seeing their stand-ins, one of whom “looked so much like Season One Katherine Heigl that I felt like I was traveling back in time.”
“We actually went looking for that stand-in, tried to find out if she was an actor, and in fact she was,” reveals Vernoff. “We brought her here to play that role. One day if she’s famous, that’s a pretty great breaking-in story!”
James Pickens Jr., who has played Dr. Richard Webber throughout the series’ entire run, thinks the show did a great job of finding those actors to take the show (and its audience) down a memory lane of sorts in its big episode. “I really had to do a double take!” he says. “They had the mannerisms down, the speech patters, it was really something. I got a little melancholy thinking about those great actors.”
As the second longest-running medical drama in network history, “Grey’s” is well within shooting distance of the recorder holder “ER” (331 episodes), and as the creative team gathered at Tao in Hollywood to celebrate the show’s accomplishment, there was an optimistic prognosis that “Grey’s” might even have the longevity to join the rarefied 600-plus ranks of “The Simpsons” and “Gunsmoke.” “Ellen and I have a pact: as long as the two of us want to do it and as long as we both feel creative while doing it [we’ll do it],” says Rhimes. “My vision for it is that as long as there’s good story to tell, I’m in.”
In the meantime, cast and crew offered a fond look at the show’s seismic impact then and now, on television, the culture, Hollywood and themselves.
Grey’s Anatomy‘s 300th episode airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
(Excerpt) Read More at: Variety.com