The world has changed enormously in the months since viewers were last at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. The show was one of the first to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously, shutting down production on March 13, and ending the season early. When the series returns — a premiere date is not finalized yet — it will be after months of real-world hospitals have been overwhelmed by the crisis. The series has always taken a bit of a "ripped from the headlines" approach to some of its stories, so it's not surprising Grey's Anatomy will address the coronavirus in Season 17.
Showrunner and executive producer Krista Vernoff confirmed the show would tackle the most significant health crisis in decades during a conversation hosted by the Television Academy ahead of the 2020 Emmy nominations. As she put it:
We’re going to address this pandemic for sure. There’s no way to be a long-running medical show and not do the medical story of our lifetimes.
During the "Quaranstreaming: Comfort TV That Keeps Us Going" panel, which will be available on the Emmys website starting July 21, at 8 p.m. ET, Vernoff revealed the show's writers have been meeting with real-life doctors to understand their perspective on the pandemic. The series' actors have already posted thank-you messages to those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic; now, they'll get to highlight those stories as part of the new season.
According to Vernoff, speaking to doctors about their real-life experiences in hospitals was already part of the show's creative process. This is merely the natural extension of that. According to Entertainment Weekly, Vernoff said:
Every year, we have doctors come and tell us their stories, and usually they’re telling their funniest or craziest stories. This year, it has felt more like therapy. The doctors come in and we’re the first people they’re talking to about these types of experiences they’re having. They are literally shaking and trying not to cry, they’re pale, and they’re talking about it as war — a war that they were not trained for.
Grey's Anatomy will apparently use one specific character to tell a coronavirus story. Owen Hunt, played by Kevin McKidd, has a backstory as a trauma surgeon, which gives the series a character who is actually trained for these crisis situations. Vernoff explained:
[T]hat’s been one of our big conversations about Owen, is that he’s actually trained for this in a way that most of the other doctors aren’t... I feel like our show has an opportunity and a responsibility to tell some of those stories.
Grey's Anatomy has not yet started filming for Season 17, but ABC has the series slated to return this fall.
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