Grey's Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff is opening up about the medical drama's decision to have its main character battle the novel coronavirus this season.
During last week's episode of the long-running ABC show, it was revealed that Ellen Pompeo's character, Meredith Grey, had gone from a doctor treating the coronavirus at every turn to a patient fighting it herself.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Vernoff explained the decision behind seeing Meredith fight the virus first hand, and why she felt it was important to use the show's global platform to shed light on the deadly virus.
"Last week we felt Meredith Grey's pain as a doctor treating an early surge of COVID patients," Vernoff told the outlet following Thursday's episode. “This week we begin to experience what it is for her to be a COVID patient herself.”
"Over 1,700 health care workers in the U.S. have died of COVID to date. Many thousands more have been infected. Health care workers are on the front lines of this crisis, living through a war for which they were not trained," she continued. "We saw an opportunity to dramatize and illuminate their plight through the incredibly well-loved and well-known character of Meredith Grey."
"Doctors and nurses are fighting for us and falling for us. The least we can do is wear a mask, socially distance and stay home whenever possible," she added.
As Meredith comes in and out of consciousness on the show, she finds herself returning to the same beach dream sequence where she reunites with her late husband, Derek Shepard, (Patrick Dempsey), who died in an April 2015 episode.
"Meredith has a real fight ahead of her," Vernoff explained. "And … she has that beach. Darkness and light. It’s a powerful season. Stay tuned."
The showrunner added that Meredith's health battle comes as part of a season that will be "dedicated to the health care workers who put their lives on the line every day to try to save ours."
"Wear a mask, save someone else's life," she urged.
Following the end of the show's season 17 premiere, Vernoff spoke out about how the Grey's Anatomy team went to great lengths to keep Dempsey's surprise return under wraps.
"I have to say that it was an epic feat, the keeping of this secret," showrunner Krista Vernoff recently told Deadline. "I didn’t send cuts to the studio and network that included that last scene. I didn’t have writers’ assistants in the writers’ room for the last couple of months. There were writers who didn’t know we were doing this on that staff. Most of the actors didn’t know we were doing this. The crew didn’t know we were doing this when they showed up on the day."
Vernoff explained that she even wrote the scene as Meredith envisioning a reunion with her mother Ellis Grey (played by Kate Burton) instead of Derek so no one in early stages of production would know.
"I put the name 'Ellis Grey' in the script that we read at the table, and I had Meredith say 'Mom' at the table, so we got there on the day and no one had been told what was happening," said Vernoff. "… I was like a crazy person with this secret. And Ellen and I were texting at all hours of the night, like: 'Who knows,' "I think this person!' "
Vernoff said, since the show would be covering real-world trauma surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she wanted to work in a treat for fans to balance the material. That's when the idea for a Dempsey return came about.
"From a writer’s perspective, it happened because it was my job to find a way — once we determined that we were doing the pandemic — to also bring joy, and escape, and fan candy, and all the things that at Grey’s Anatomy we give people," she said. "We give them romance, and we give them humor, and we give them joy, and a lot of that is lacking for the medical community in this pandemic."
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