Despite the continuing fallout from the death of a major character, “Grey’s Anatomy” is going for a “much lighter tone” in its 12th season.
So said Shonda Rhimes Tuesday during the Television Critics Assn. panel that featured the leading ladies of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” and Shondaland exec producers Peter Nowalk and Betsy Beers.
The past season of “Grey’s Anatomy” saw the death of Patrick Dempsey’s Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd, which gives Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey the mandate to reinvent herself.
“Meredith is single, living this life she never thought she would be living again,” Rhimes said.
Rhimes said the decision to kill off Derek was made to reinforce the truth of the relationship that he’d had for 11 seasons with Meredith. Death was the best option to stay true to the characters, Rhimes said.
“To have Derek walk out on Meredith would suggest that the love was not true. For me that was untenable,” Rhimes said. “Meredith and Derek’s love had to remain. The only way to preserve what felt true to me was that Derek was going to have to die for that love to remain honest.”
“Scandal” will pick up shortly after the end of last season, deal with the aftermath of the world having “blown apart” for key characters, Rhimes said. “Murder” will also pick up about a week after the end of its first season, according to creator/showrunner Nowalk.
“We will reveal a lot more about the backstories” of Davis’ Annalise Keating and characters, Nowalk promised, including “the dark twisted things that happened to them in the past.”
The session marked a rare moment of togetherness for the Shondaland stars. Davis, Pompeo and Kerry Washington compared notes about their shows and their processes. Washington acknowledged that the work can be grueling but she never loses sight of her good fortune. “Look at these stories we get to tell,” she said. “When people complain it’s because they’re not in a place of gratitude.”
The group was asked about the significance of Rhimes’ success with the “TGIT” lineup of three Thursday dramas and the fact that Davis is one of two African-American woman nommed for lead drama actress Emmy this year — a first.
“If you’re in this business for awards you’re in the wrong business,” Davis said. “It’s like being in this business for the money.”
Rhimes agreed: “I”m thinking about the work that we are doing. We don’t spend our time focusing on awards or accolades.”
Rhimes also firmly resisted a reporter’s effort to comment on her influence or legacy in opening doors for African-American characters in primetime, as evidenced by the success of her shows and Fox’s “Empire,” which landed a lead drama actress nom for Taraji P. Henson.
“It’s a lovely thing you are saying but I’m not answering that,” Rhimes said, with steely resolve.
(Pictured: Peter Nowalk, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Shonda Rhimes, Ellen Pompeo, Betsy Beers)