“Grey’s Anatomy” turned 250 Thursday night, hitting a major milestone. To celebrate the 250th episode, exec producer Betsy Beers takes a look back on the highs and lows of ABC’s long-running medical drama.
Beers — who has been a staple at Shondaland, working hand-in-hand with Shonda Rhimes on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “How To Get Away with Murder” and the upcoming midseason drama “The Catch” — says she still laughs and cries frequently, even 12 seasons in.
“Every episode, something gets me and every season, something gets me,” Beers tells Variety. “Sometimes, I cry because I’m sad, and sometimes, I cry just because it’s just emotional and it’s super awesome.”
After what seems like countless character deaths, romance woes and coming-of-age stories, Beers admits that she’s more in love with “Grey’s” now than ever. “I think what’s so cool about this season is that so many of these characters are in an emotional crossroads right now,” the non-writing exec producer says.
Still, she can’t help but single out moments over the past 11 seasons like Meredith (Ellen) and Derek’s (Patrick Dempsey) one-night stand in the pilot; Izzie’s (Katherine Heigl) tragic romance with Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); George (T.R. Knight) ending up in the hospital being treated by his colleagues before he died; McSteamy’s (Eric Dane) fatal plane crash; Sandra Oh, who played fan-favorite Cristina Yang, leaving the show; and of course, McDreamy’s shocking send-off.
As for what’s coming up this season, Beers says Callie’s (Sara Ramirez) new romance with Penny (Samantha Sloyan) — the doctor who let Derek die — won’t be easy.
“I think we can all assume that this is going to be a complicated situation. Meredith is dealing with a lot of stuff and she’s relatively newly on her feet, and I think this is bound to be a very interesting and complicated thing to watch, as it goes forward,” Beers teases. Shedding light on Arizona’s (Jessica Capshaw) reaction to her ex having a new lady in her life, she adds, “Arizona and Callie have a very deep and complicated and interesting relationship, and I think there are always surprises there.”
Here, Beers tells Variety about her favorite “Grey’s Anatomy” moments and storylines from the past 250 episodes.
First, what are you loving about Season 12?
Everybody is at this amazing crossroads. Meredith is trying to rebuild her life and navigate the sisters; Bailey (Chandra Wilson) is chief; Jackson (Jesse Williams) and April (Sarah Drew) are having a rough go at it; I’m really loving Jo (Camilla Luddington) and Alex (Justin Chambers) trying to navigate their relationship; gosh, I want Owen (Kevin McKidd) to be happy; Arizona and Callie are where they are; I’ve got Maggie (Kelly McCreary) sitting there not knowing what the hell to do. I just want to see more and more and more of those situations play out.
What has made you cry the most over the past 12 seasons?
Cristina dancing with Meredith for the last time, for many reasons obviously. The death of Derek and Meredith’s devastation in that scene. Cristina being left by Burke (Isaiah Washington) at the altar and Meredith getting her out of her wedding dress. Bailey realizing that she’s finally chief at the end of the first episode of this season, I found so emotional because I’ve been waiting for Bailey to be chief for so long. I think the moment we realized Callie was going to be OK after the car accident in the musical episode. And also Denny Duquette’s death in the finale of season 2.
What moments have made you laugh?
Recently, almost anything with Dr. Webber (James Pickens Jr.). I think he got really funny once he didn’t have the weight of the hospital on his shoulders, so there have been a lot of moments with him that I’ve found really delightful. Early on in the life of the series, Addison (Kate Walsh) got poison oak or ivy on her nether regions, and watching her deal with that, I remember being a gigantic comedy high point for me. Also, George helping Bailey give birth was funny and also really, really emotional. Cristina and the older doctor played by William Daniels — those scenes, I just always found incredibly dynamic and funny. And this season, I’m just loving the dynamic between Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), Meredith and Maggie.
Do you recall any funny audition stories?
I remember when we got the tape of Chandra Wilson reading Bailey. We met her via an audition that had been sent in from New York, and it was the most amazing experience. What I remember was that she was doing that incredible walk-and-talk monologue from the pilot, and it was just one of those moments — she was this tiny woman and she was immediately both terrifying and funny at the same time and absolutely and totally electrically compelling. And I remember seeing her and thinking, “Oh. My. God. This woman is amazing.”
So now, recalling that audition and looking at everything that Bailey has been through, what does it feel like to see her evolution from behind the scenes?
In watching how she’s grown and changed, the number of paces that we’ve put Bailey through on this television show on the past 12 seasons when you think of the flashbacks, and how we met her, and how she had baby Tuck, and then her marriage fell apart, and then she met Ben (Jason George) and learned to have a relationship, and now the culmination of that is for her to be able to be chief. That’s the amazing thing about the show — there are these things that continue to be constants in the show, but they kind of transform over the years.
Who was the hardest character to watch die?
Oh, I could not pick. I don’t mean to sound like the a–hole executive producer, but honestly, I could not pick because at each moment with each character going, in the moment, it’s just the worst. Every single one of them. The plane crash was hideous because Arizona lost a leg, you lost McSteamy and you lost little Grey (Chyler Leigh). It was a gigantic thing watching Derek go, watching George go — they’re all incredibly traumatic. It’s impossible to pick because in the moment that you’re losing a character, it’s the most painful thing ever. You always feel that somebody that you know and love and feel like you’ve spent all your time growing with is gone.
Is there an unexpected character that you’ve really found yourself attached to?
The character I think that nobody ever talks about that died, but that I grew very fond of was Doc the Dog, who died in the finale of season 2 when Denny Duquette goes. I don’t think Doc was the character that was the hardest to see die, but I think he’s the character that people forget died. I just would like to give a shoutout to Doc the Dog. But he’s in no way comparable to the amazing characters that we lost. One of the things that is so genius of Shonda and the writers on this show is that you become so attached to these characters that it’s gut-wrenching to have to say goodbye to them.
Has anything unexpectedly popped out from behind the scenes that you’ve noticed?
Meredith’s house is one of my favorite things about the show. Almost every year, some occupant changes. The house really determines the group of characters that are going to be hanging out every year, and I think it’s like one of the longest lasting things on the show and one of the weirdly compelling things that no one talks about. But it’s yet another thing on the show that has never gone away and has kind of transformed, and this year, physically, the house transforms and it’s kind of interesting.
Could you pick a favorite long-running storyline or relationship?
There’s never a favorite, but there are always a couple. I always loved Meredith and Cristina; I always loved their dynamic. I loved watching that grow and change.
Favorite character evolution?
I loved watching what’s happened with the chief because I feel like in a weird way, the chief has gone through personally more change than anybody else — he went from being just the chief to somebody who had this relationship with Meredith’s mother. I mean, the man has children he didn’t know about, he struggled with an addiction problem, he’s worked his way through being the head, he almost died. All of the characters have been through a lot, but I always come back to being rooted with the chief. And I think I’ve also always been really kind of fixated on Alex’s relationships and him finally getting to a place where he can finally have a good relationship with somebody. I’ve always loved Alex because Alex presents this tough and sarcastic [attitude], but there’s this moment early on with Izzie when he gives her a cupcake because he likes her and then he finds out that she actually has a thing for Denny and you can see his whole world fall apart. There’s something about Alex that I find just to be always compelling. I feel like there’s always something going on that you don’t know.
Do you regret any storylines?
No, because all those choices got us to where we are and I love where we are. They all felt organic and right in the moment, and I always feel that with Shonda’s choices and the writers, the choices feel human and what somebody would do, and feel organically correct for the character in that moment. I might have regretted what a character did, but I never regretted the choices that were made, in terms of the storylines. Like everybody else, I’ve looked at the screen and said, “Don’t do that!”
Is there a character that you miss the most?
No. I miss them all. Stop it! No! Cristina was really hard to lose.
Is there any chance that Cristina could come back — or any other character for that matter? Perhaps in the series finale, whenever that is?
I couldn’t possibly answer that. That would probably be up to Shonda’s big brain to come up with — because I don’t know what the series finale will be.
“Grey’s” is 12 seasons in and going strong, but what would be a reason to end the show?
I think the only time the show ends is when Shonda runs out of stories, and I don’t see a sign of that happening any time soon.
What do you want to see in the next 250 episodes?
I want to see more of the same. I want to see these great characters in complicated, personal and emotional situations with unexpected medical cases that are super emotional. What I love about this show is that every single season has its own unique tone and flavor. Every season is different from the others. It’s the same show, but they’re so specific. The episodes and the storylines are so specific to each season, and I just want those feelings to continue.