Why ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ almost didn’t address the pandemic

Roughly 15 minutes into her first meeting with the “Grey’s Anatomy” writers about the new season, showrunner Krista Vernoff said she knew there was no turning their back on Covid-19.

Speaking during Variety’s Power of Women virtual event, Vernoff said she had seriously considered opting out of pandemic storylines to preserve the sense of “escapism” many enjoy about the beloved primetime medical drama. And, after months of mulling her options, had believed it might be best to not go there.

With her writers, she defended her position, but then asked, “who wants to be brave and convince me that I’m wrong?”

Several did. And it worked pretty quickly.

“But it became my job to make sure that we had exciting — I call it fan candy — fun things that aren’t just about PPE and the pandemic and to let you breathe and to let you laugh and we’ve come up with some really fun, creative ways to do that,” she said on the panel, where she was joined by stars Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and Debbie Allen.

Pompeo pointed out that “Grey’s Anatomy” has a luxury that many series filming amid the pandemic don’t, in that wearing personal protective equipment on screen is nothing new. Since the characters are doctors, it fits into the fabric of the series. Behind the camera, great care has been taken to keep the production safe, actress Wilson added.

“Not only are we in scenes that have been written in order to keep us safe, but our production goal all around is to be safe here as well as when we go home,” she said. “So I really feel that all the time — that we’re all really doing everything we can to take care of each other. So it’s a privilege and an honor to be in this situation right now.”

It is also not lost on them that — as arguably the most influential medical drama on television — they have a responsibility to honor the shift felt in the profession in light of the pandemic, Vernoff said.

“The stakes have just they’ve changed, and that is the thing that I noticed. Every time a doctor or a nurse came to our writer’s room to talk to us, they were changed as human beings,” she said.

Vernoff added that their opportunity to spread credible information about prevention is also on their minds.

“I want to inspire people to take care of each other, to wear their masks, to help this pandemic end,” she said.

The first two episodes were directed by the show’s executive producer and star Allen, who said she feels positive about their progress, despite the adjustments that have had to be made to production.

“We’re tested three times a week and we have all of our protocols. So it’s very different, but we’re still getting great work done,” she said.

Vernoff said that though she’s never regretted their decision to tackle the pandemic, “I was worried.”

“And I’m no longer worried,” she said. “I’m excited by our show.”

The new season of “Grey’s Anatomy” will premiere November 12.

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