Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, speaks with “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner Krista Vernoff, which returned for its 15th season on Thursday.
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Vernoff had been in the writers’ room for the show’s first seven seasons, then returned last season as showrunner. In taking the reins, she says she wanted to bring some of the “comic teeth” she sharpened during her time on “Shameless” back to “Grey’s.” “The show had become a much darker, much more serious drama,” she says. “Now it’s time to bring the light back in. The government’s gone dark, people need some relief. So I came in to bring joy and comedy and light.”
She also had to make some “complicated and tough” decisions, including letting go two series stars, Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew. “We had 14 series regulars, and that is an unmanageable number of series regulars to write stories for,” she says. “Nothing has time to land. It wasn’t manageable.”
The move sparked a backlash on Twitter, which Vernoff admits hit her hard, as she took it really personally. But then she talked to executive producer John Wells (“Shameless”), who she credits as a mentor, as well as Shonda Rhimes, both of whom advised her to stay off Twitter so she could “stay sane.” “Social media can really be a catch-22 because you want to engage with fans. You want them to support the show. You want to drive the conversation,” she says. “But it’s also very hard to live in that space when that the negativity starts coming back at you. I love the fans … and I do like to engage with them. I think it’s one of the joys.”
“None of this was easy, but I believe that it is right and I have to stand in the middle of the storm,” she says.
Vernoff, who is also directing “Grey’s” for the first time this season, says executive producer-director Debbie Allen pushed her to take her turn behind the camera. “I have a theory that part of why she wanted me to direct was to make me a little bit more of a director-friendly showrunner,” says Vernoff. “‘You have a lot of opinions there in the village. Why don’t you get in the chair and see what it’s like?'”
The cast has enjoyed watching her try her hand at a different set of skills on the set, she says. “They seem to be all greatly entertained and delighted. It’s playful,” she says. “They’re giving me s— in there, but mostly they’ve been really supportive.”
This season, she promises, will be more of a romantic comedy, as Meredith finds a new boyfriend, Karev becomes the new interim chief of surgery, the love triangle between Owen, Amelia, and Teddy gets more complicated, and a love story with the show’s first openly gay male surgeon, Dr. Nico Kim (Alex Landi), is introduced. “It’s sexy. It’s funny. It’s moving. It’s deep. It’s playful,” she says. “And I’m going to say delightful.”