Shonda Rhimes on "Song Beneath The Song"...
Original Airdate: 3-31-11
HOW AND WHY WE DID THIS:
So, on about the third day of filming the pilot episode of Grey’s Anatomy (way back before it was even called Grey’s Anatomy, back when it was called The Untitled Shonda Rhimes Pilot), I turned to exec producer Betsy Beers and said, “I can’t wait to do a musical episode of this show.” See, I have this wild obsession with musicals and an unhealthy love of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical and also, I’m a geek. Which is why I said it.
“I can’t wait to do a musical episode of this show,” I said.
And Betsy, who is wise and funny and wry, just nodded. “Okay,” she said. And we went back to watching Patrick Dempsey pretend to do brain surgery.
One hundred forty-four episodes and seven and a half years later, we began filming the Grey’s Anatomy Music Event.
Explaining what the heck took us so long is too complicated to go into here. There are a lot of reasons – I was busy telling other awesome stories at Seattle Grace, I got a second show (what up, Private Practice peeps!), I was raising my tiny human, my musical talent involves oboe-playing and nothing else, the network thought it was the dumbest idea they’d ever heard of and refused to do it.
And, oh yeah, one other thing: I had no idea how we would do it.
So I forgot about my musical episode dreams.
Then a thing happened in Season Four of the show. The Writers Guild of America went on strike. Which meant that, instead of writing my TV show inside my studio office, I carried a picket sign up and down the street in front of my studio office. It also meant that I got worried. About the crews who work hard on TV shows and movies. I got worried about how they would pay their bills. And so a bunch of us at Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy got together and decided to throw a benefit concert to raise money for the crews.
I stood backstage at this concert and I listened to members of both of my casts sing (Audra McDonald, folks, she has four Tony Awards and the chick can BLOW -- buy a ticket and hear the woman sing sometime). Sara Ramirez closed the benefit. And when she opened her mouth, she brought the house down. I know people say that – brought the house down. It’s a thing people say. But Sara Ramirez (who has a Tony of her own) BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. She’s a superhero. Singing is her super power.
Now, most of us have a super power. Dempsey has that twinkle in his eye. Also, he can juggle. And babies, all babies, every baby in the world, ALL BABIES love him. It’s amazing how much babies love him. They just stop crying when he’s around and stare at him and smile. It’s awe-inspiring. The man commands the hearts and souls of babies. He’s a baby-mesmerizer. If I ever have another baby, I am going to bring her to work and hand her to Patrick and walk away for hours at a time. She will be the happiest baby in the world. I’m telling you, every baby in the world seems to get that he’s McDreamy. Super. Freaking. Power.
But I digress. Anyway, most of us have super powers. But not a lot of us have super powers that involve opening our mouths and having God come out. I’m not a big God person but that’s really the only way to describe what happens when Sara sings. God, or whatever you want to call the magic of the universe, comes out.
You know who else has that super power? Chyler Leigh. And she didn’t even know she had it. Also Kevin McKidd. Who knew he had it but is all Scottish and humble and didn’t reveal it. Also Justin Chambers. Who is just so cool that it makes sense that he has it. Also Chandra Wilson. Who has it but gets nervous when she has to sing. Also-
You see my point. Our bench is deep.
(It is also deep on Private Practice, scary deep, shockingly, brilliantly deep, but I’m talking about Grey’s here so I’ll save that for when I meet you and you ask me about it.)
Anyway, it was Season Four and we hadn’t met Kevin McKidd yet and I still hadn’t come up with an idea for a musical episode and I still only play the oboe and the network was still saying no. But it made me think about it again. It made all the writers sit around and say, “We wish we could do a musical episode of Grey’s Anatomy.”
Two more seasons went by and…nothing.
Then at the very beginning of Season 7, I said to the writers that Callie should get pregnant with Mark Sloan’s baby and that it should be complicated and horrible and really upset Arizona. And suddenly, I knew what the musical episode should be about.
So I started begging people. I begged the studio people. I begged the network people. I took these people to dinner and begged. I jumped out at these people in bathrooms and begged. And they all smiled politely but what they were clearly really thinking was, “This woman is an idiot.”
So I did the only thing I could think of. I got Tony Phelan (one of our writers, as you know, but also a great big musical theatre geek like me only he has real musical theatre talent) to help me. I also got Chandra and Sara and Kevin to help me. And then I dragged all of the studio and network executives in to work on a Saturday. Sandra Oh showed up to be our cheerleader. There was an amazing band. And in front of the studio and network execs (who are all very nice and very smart but clearly thought I might be a Grade A Idiot), we threw a great big concert. I pitched my idea and Chandra and Kevin and Sara sang. And God came out of their mouths. And the studio and the network stopped thinking I was an idiot and they said yes.
Seven and a half years. One hundred and forty-four episodes.
We started rehearsals a full four months before we filmed – unheard of for our show. We usually prep a show for eight days. Sara Ramirez was the one who gave me the idea that we should sing the songs our show had made famous. Tony Phelan was the one who directed the episode. The entire writing staff helped me make the script make sense. Bossy McBossy Rob Corn never once complained about how overbudget we were. The crew went all in, leaping off this crazy cliff of music with us. And every single member of the cast got excited and came together like the family they are to do this right.
Even Pompeo. Who is funny and kind and who has never once hesitated to do any of the crazy things I write for Meredith to do but who was also a little worried I might have turned into an idiot. She came up to me after the table read for the episode and said, “This is amazing. I want to sing more!”
And when I walked on stage and watched the episode being filmed, I felt like it was worth every minute of begging to get it done. I hope you think so too.
“I can’t wait to do a musical episode of this show,” I said way back then. And Betsy nodded.
And now we have done it.
On Monday (yes, just this past Monday) I stood on the mixing stage, watching the final playback of the musical episode on a giant movie screen (and boy, how I wish you could see it with surround sound on a movie screen), and then I went to Betsy and I said, “I can’t wait to do another musical episode of this show. I want to see Ellen Pompeo sing Rilo Kiley.” And Betsy nodded.
So now I have another dream to dream. I kind of like to think that dreaming is my super power. That or oboe playing. But nobody likes it when I play the oboe so, you know, I’m gonna go with dreaming.
Thank you so much for watching. I mean it. My gratitude is large and my appreciation is limitless.