Gamble on program's popularity paid off

Shonda Rhimes remembers listening to ABC topper Steve McPherson try to persuade her in spring 2006 that it would be a good idea to move “Grey’s Anatomy,” from Sundays to Thursdays.

“Finding out we were moving to Thursday night was very scary,” the “Grey’s” creator and executive producer says. “I remember that I was standing on the street in New York City, at the upfronts, talking on the phone to Steve McPherson. He was saying very strongly that it was the right thing to do.

“There are things I know how to do, like write a show, and there are things he knows how to do, and that’s program a network.”

ABC exec VP of scheduling Jeff Bader recalls that the move was bold but also necessary. While CBS procedural “CSI” had broken NBC’s long-standing Thursday dominance, Bader admits ABC was “definitely the odd man out.”

“The question was,” Bader says, “were we going to move (“Grey’s”) to Monday, which was a safer time period, or Thursday, which was more important in terms of success if we could get it to work against the No. 1 show on television?”

ABC decided to pair “Grey’s” with its most buzzed-about new series, “Ugly Betty.” While “CSI” still tops the night, “Grey’s” succeeded in becoming a tentpole, most recently breathing new life into its spinoff, “Private Practice.”

“Grey’s” executive producer Betsy Beers credits ABC’s promotion for making the change work.

“The billboards were insane,” she says. “The network supported us in so many ways. We love Thursday. It’s a great place to be.”

“The marketing behind it was tremendous,” Bader adds, “but a marketing push can only go so far. It was the right show at the right time. With a show that’s moving time periods, you have to be sure the audience follows it. In this case, not only did the audience follow, it grew.”

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