‘I wasn’t trying to make someone who was “likable.”’
The set for the pilot of Grey’s Anatomy was the big operating room with the gallery. On the first day, I think I must have spent about two hours playing with all of the tools, pretending I was a doctor, screaming, “Clear!” and “We’ve got to save them!” It was the best thing. You type in “OR day” and somebody builds an OR. You type “interior Oval Office day” and somebody builds an Oval Office. It’s magical. You imagine something—and then it happens.
I didn’t watch a lot of television before I started writing it, and I wanted to write people I wanted to watch. I was very surprised to discover that people thought Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang were revolutionary—they were like women I knew. Then I looked around the landscape of television and realized that a lot of the women were “nice.” They were wives, they were people’s girlfriends, and they were more interested in being mothers than they were in their jobs. That’s fine—there are plenty of real-life women like that, but they just weren’t women I knew. So it was interesting to discover that there was an issue about that.
The biggest moment for us was when we had one episode under our belt. My producing partner Betsy Beers and I were brought into a room at Disney—I like to say it was the Old White Men Room. Somebody said, “Nobody’s going to want to watch these women. They’re not nice, and nobody’s going to want to watch a woman who sleeps with a man the night before her first day of work.” I wasn’t trying to make somebody who was “likable,” so that was very strange to me. “Nice” had not occurred to me either.
As I sat there stunned, thinking, “I’ve got to get out of here,” Betsy, to her wonderful credit and in much coarser language, said, “I slept with a guy the night before my first day at work.” That’s when I knew we were going to be best friends.
Rhimes created Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal, and is an executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder.