By Patricia Brennan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Shonda Rhimes, who grew up fascinated by surgery shows on cable television, says she loves blood and gore. But she never planned to become a physician, not even to play one on television. Instead, she set out to write about young doctors.
The result: "Grey's Anatomy," ABC's midseason drama so popular that it pushed David E. Kelley's "Boston Legal" out of its choice time slot on Sundays at 10 p.m., just after "Desperate Housewives."
"Grey's Anatomy" began in March and airs its last fresh episode tonight -- until it returns in the fall. The drama focuses on Meredith Grey and her fellow group of earnest, competitive surgical interns.
Rhimes, the show's creator and producer, wrote three of the first four episodes. She also is known for having written HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," which won several awards, including a Golden Globe and an Emmy for Halle Berry for best actress.
For "Anatomy," Rhimes has assembled a racially diverse cast. Like her, James Pickens Jr., Isaiah Washington and Chandra Wilson are African Americans. Sandra Oh is a Canadian-born Korean, and the rest of the main cast -- title character Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers and T.R. Knight -- are Caucasian.
"It's not diverse by some design," said Rhimes. "I'm an African American woman, and I assumed when we cast the show it would be diverse. I said, 'Let's bring everybody in to read.' When the cards fell, these were all the actors we picked."
Rhimes grew up in University Park, Ill., outside Chicago, with two brothers and three older sisters.
"Two of my sisters and I are absolutely obsessed with medical shows," she said. "My sister will call -- 'Are you watching the show where they're removing the 800-pound tumor from that woman?' "
As a teenager, Rhimes was a candy striper in a local hospital. "Some people are squeamish about hospitals, but I love them," she said. As a junior at Dartmouth, majoring in English literature and creative writing, she was an intern for a law firm in the District.
But she didn't plan on becoming a lawyer or a doctor.
So she went to University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television, earning a master of fine arts degree and winning a prestigious writing fellowship. And she decided she didn't want to be an actor, either. Screenwriting was her love.
"The funny thing about this job is there are things I never actually wanted to be, but I get to write about them," she said.
She also isn't certain she wanted to be a wife, but she wanted a child. So she's a single mom, having adopted Harper, now 2, a girl whose birth she witnessed.
"We're talking about putting a playroom" at the studio, Rhimes said. "Patrick Dempsey, Isaiah Washington, Justin Chambers, they all have 2-year-olds-going-on-3."
Now Rhimes, who is in her mid-30s, is branching out to directing. She is slated to make her feature directorial debut with an original screenplay, "When
Willows Touch," a Southern gothic tale of a family torn apart by the discovery of a body in their cornfield. Will Smith
and Jada Pinkett Smith are executive producers.
Even as her schedule gets more crowded, she said: "I'll be fully devoted to 'Grey's Anatomy.' I want to keep up the quality."Cast of Characters
Creator Shonda Rhimes assembled a diverse cast for "Grey's Anatomy":
Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), the senior resident in charge of training, has earned the title of "the Nazi."
Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington): His arrogance is second only to his skills with the scalpel.
Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) has been playing doctor outside the office with intern Meredith.
Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) is the hospital's paternal but no-nonsense chief of surgery.
Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) boasts a PhD, an MD, and drive to spare.
Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) is ambitious to the point of obnoxiousness.
Isobel Stevens (Katherine Heigl) finds it's tough to earn respect when you're a former model.
George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) is too nice for his own good.
Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo): Her mother is a legendary surgeon now facing Alzheimer's.
Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC