The New Reality for Grey’s Anatomy

Anmol Gill, Lit-Art Editor

As the entertainment industry progresses with the new COVID-19 regulations, the ABC series Grey’s Anatomy comes out with their new 17th season that revolves around the new virus. Premiered on Thursday, November 12nd, 5.7 million people tuned in to watch the two hour special focused on the beginning of the pandemic, including the implementation of the new protocols, according to Entertainment. Original actors of the popular show, Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson, and James Pickens Jr. all returned to the allegedly last season along with a fresh face, Mackenzie Marsh, who starred in other well-known shows such as Charmed and The Following, according to Newsweek. As the virus affected health professionals around the world, the production team of Grey’s Anatomy believed that they were obliged to “tell the stories of frontline medical workers during this national crisis,” according to the Daily Cardinal. 

This popular show has been known for covering important controversial issues such as “domestic abuse, transgender rights, and drug addiction.” While implementing entertaining and romantic moments throughout the previous seasons, the producers have also managed to highlight the reality for medical doctors and the toll it takes on their physical and mental health. The new season has joined the trend with the other seasons in terms of realism as it reveals the existing situation for medical workers during pandemic times. Showrunner Krista Vernoff of Grey’s Anatomy claims that addressing the pandemic in the ABC series is a must as “there’s no way to be a long-running medical show and not do the medical story of our lifetimes,” according to Entertainment. Vernoff continues with saying how the crew talked with doctors to gain insight to their experiences as a yearly tradition; however, this year’s gathering became emotional for them as it was painful to witness what medical workers and those affected by the virus have to go through. As a result, this inspired Vernoff to include the harsh reality of the pandemic into the new season. 

To show viewers the risks of being a health professional during the pandemic, the executive crew decided to have Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) experience COVID-19. Vernoff believes that it was necessary for Meredeith to get the virus to tell the fans of the show that “the least we can do is wear a mask, socially distance and stay home whenever possible,” as 1,700 medical professionals have lost their fight against the virus as a result of trying to help others, according to hollywoodreporter. As Meredith experiences the virus herself, she slips into a hallucination where she sees her late husband, Patrick Dempsey, who had previously died in the 11th season of the show. This particular scene excited the entire fandom as he was part of the original cast and was a certain favorite among some parts of the fandom. 

While Governor Newsom exempted entertainment productions from a stay-at-home order in Los Angeles, the show was still obligated to follow COVID-19 protocols which posed a significant challenge for the entire crew and cast as adjustments for filming had to be done. To avoid close distance between the cast, cameras were set up in a way where the actors seemed closer than they actually were. They were also asked to stay in their designated places during break times and the production team had to work in shifts to avoid any physical contact. To fully adhere to the protocols, the Grey’s Anatomy team created “zones,” or different places for the actors to remain. Each place was labeled with a different color that represented the amount of times to get tested; the red zone was equivalent to getting tested three times weekly while the yellow and green zone was equivalent to getting tested once weekly, according to esquire. Executive co-producer and medical advisor of Grey’s Anatomy, Linda Klein, says “not [being] able to hug each other” was quite hard on the entire team as well as the new way of filming that was time-consuming. The writers and producers were also challenged with maintaining the “medical authenticity” as well as the emotional aspect of the show due to the new protocols. Vernoff adds how implementing romantic and humor moments were quite difficult as their season revolved around “these painful times.” As fans become eager to watch the new season, they receive a reality check on how medical professionals are mentally and physically dealing with the pandemic.