Behind the Dungey-McDonald swap on “Private Practice”

Mdungey_2The news about the recasting of Merrin Dungey (pictured left) in one of the Amcdonald_2 lead  roles in the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice” raises the question of how producers plan to handle the launch of the series this fall since its pilot was actually a two-hour seg of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

It might’ve made sense to repeat that episode, or even a cut down version of that seg, in advance of the first episode of “Private Practice” proper this fall, but not now that Audra McDonald (pictured right) is stepping in to the role of Dr. Naomi Bennett, the college pal of Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery. I’m told there’ll be no reshooting of anything done this past spring. “Practice” will start with a fresh seg that finds Addison relocated in L.A. and into her new life at the Santa Monica wellness center populated by a host of quirky doctors. Necessary backstory can be easily filled in with dialogue in the opening moments.

So why the Dungey-McDonald swap? I’m told that it was partly a chemistry thing between Dungey and Taye Diggs, who plays Naomi’s estranged husband Sam, and that some were having trouble buying them ever having been a couple. McDonald, a four-time Tony winner and a Juilliard-trained singer, is known for exuding a natural strength common to great stage actresses. But the decision to make the switch couldn’t have been easy for Shonda Rhimes, creator-exec producer of “Grey’s Anatomy” and its spinoff. Merrin Dungey is the sister of Channing Dungey, an ABC Studios executive who oversees “Anatomy” for the studio and is known to be close to Rhimes.