The venerable, Seattle-based medical drama Grey’s Anatomy has made us laugh, cry and even dance for nearly a decade and a half. Season 14 is underway, and Healthcare Daily Online’s resident Grey’s devotee, Rachel Swearingen, explains why the life and times of Dr. Meredith Grey continue to captivate huge Thursday night audiences on ABC.
In 2005, George W. Bush was in his second term of his presidency, Carrie Underwood won “American Idol” and a medical show no one knew much about, “Grey’s Anatomy,” premiered.
Fast forward 13 seasons later, and the show is still going strong despite some bumps in the road, like key character deaths that caused many to stop watching. It has just begun its 14th season, and now it’s just behind ER, which ended after 15 seasons, in the historical “race” for longest-running medical drama.
Critics have called it a primetime soap opera, and while some of its plot lines have been a bit sensational (anyone remember the plane crash in the middle of the woods, or the bomb in the hospital, or the car crash that killed one of the most beloved characters?), it continues to resonate with audiences.
Since we’re in the 14th season, here’s 14 reasons why the show endures:
- The friendships. Everyone can relate to having a close friend. Grey’s is full of those. The friendship between Meredith and Cristina is one of those that stands the test of time. Even though (spoiler alert if you’re still watching the earlier seasons!) Cristina isn’t on the show anymore, her presence still looms in the halls of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. She and Meredith were each other’s person and were always there to support one another.
- The family issues. We all have family issues, but Meredith has all the issues. A disinterested mom, a dad who left her, a half-sister who causes resentment, and of course the father figure she has in Dr. Webber bring a whole new level of complication to her life. Meredith refers to herself as “dark and twisty,” and that’s a relatable feeling for many of us. Almost everyone has a family member or close friend who’s affected them negatively.
- The character development. The Grey’s audience has watched Meredith go from an inexperienced intern to a confident attending general surgeon with three children. She transformed herself into a strong, capable woman after her husband’s death. How about Alex Karev? He started off as the quintessential bad boy in season one, and now he’s a well-respected pediatric surgeon who has trained with some of the best. We also watched Miranda Bailey go from a resident to the chief of surgery, all while going through a divorce, working through single motherhood and finding love. These characters all have their flaws, as do we all. They’re relevant and timeless, which creates a cross-generational appeal.
- The romantic relationships. Whose dating life hasn’t been a disaster at some point? Almost anyone can sympathize with Alex when Izzie leaves him, or with Owen when he and Cristina split up. We can also share in their triumphs, like when Derek and Meredith create the “post-it” marriage.
- The medical cases. These themselves are an intricate part of the plot line. We’ve seen patients like Denny Duquette steal audience’s hearts, and other cases that give us anxiety over whether or not the patient will survive. Sometimes they don’t, and that gives the show an air of reality. It also gives the audience a view into the medical world, but obviously adds in some extra flair for the viewers. It’s not an entirely accurate show when it comes to its portrayal of medicine, according to Andrew Holtz, former CNN medical correspondent in an interview with Monster. But it does put spotlights on rare diseases like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, brittle bone disease, moyamoya syndrome and recently, star Chandra Wilson (Miranda) told the media about her own daughter’s rare illness, cyclic vomiting syndrome, which sparked an episode Wilson herself directed.
- The script writing. Shonda Rhimes knows what she’s doing. The woman is a television genius. She’s gone on to pen other hit shows like Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder, and her lineup dominates ABC’s Thursday night schedule. She’s written these characters in such a way that the audience loves them, no matter what happens. Karev brutally beats up an intern after assuming the worst in a situation? No problem, the audience forgives him as he works to redeem himself. They’ve loved him from season one and won’t let a mistake change that. Rhimes has also mastered ways to include comic relief that don’t seem forced at all. A 2017 Variety article reviewed some of her videos on writing, and came to the conclusion that Rhimes “has more willpower and ambition than everyone else we know, combined.”
- The streaming capability. Where would we be without this fantastic invention? Netflix has allowed a whole new audience to stream the past episodes and catch up on what they missed if they didn’t start from the beginning. The ability to stream on Netflix has led Grey’s to become the 2 broadcast series among women 18-to-34, according to the Hollywood Reporter. One site, Fansided, listed it as the No. 9 show to watch on the popular streaming service.
- The consistently high ratings. Over the past 13 seasons, the show has remained high in Nielsen ratings. For its first four seasons, the show averaged more than 15 million viewers per episode. The show did experience a dip in later seasons, but in season 12, it was one of the top five dramas on broadcast networks. Last season, AdAge indicated that it was in the top 10 most expensive media buys, showing that the drama has returned to the higher ratings and reaches a large audience.
The acting. Ellen Pompeo has done a brilliant job over the years in depicting Meredith Grey’s development as a doctor, wife, mother and woman. It has been widely speculated that when Pompeo decides to leave, the show will end. Pompeo isn’t the only one making the show great, though. Sara Ramirez shines as Callie Torres, a woman who bounces back time and again after trials in life set her back. Jessica Capshaw’s Arizona Robbins, a brilliant pediatric surgeon, emanates charisma in every scene and plays her character beautifully.
- The soundtrack. One could almost argue that the music in this show is its own character. It’s set so many scenes and introduced fans to bands they might have never heard. The scene with “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol is still one of the most iconic scenes on the show, and “How to Save a Life” by The Fray received loads of attention after being featured. Many episodes have also featured covers of famous songs, especially those in later seasons. Season seven even featured a full-on musical episode, with the actors and actresses singing (Tony winner Ramirez’s performance was particularly great.).
- The devoted fan base. Rhimes has created a show that audience members latched on to without reservation. Even when favorite characters have left the show due to issues with the actors who played them, the show endured. Many vowed to stop watching after Patrick Dempsey left the show, but the ratings improved anyway. His character’s memory still lives on in the show as Meredith struggles with becoming a single mother and trying to move on and date after losing him. The fans are hooked, and that’s obvious after 13 seasons.
- The awards and recognition. From 2005-2012, the show was either nominated or won an Emmy. It’s also been recognized by the GLAAD Media Awards, the Golden Globes, NAACP Image Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Teen Choice Awards and even received a Grammy nomination in 2006 for its soundtrack. Award nominations and wins keeps the show in the news and on people’s minds, which only helps to aid its popularity.
- The inclusion of real-time issues. The show has a big awareness of cultural context, and relies on it throughout the plot. Rhimes uses the opportunity to point out to the audience how anyone can be relatable, and has done a lot, especially with LGBT issues. She manages to keep the audience involved and focused on cultural issues all while maintaining the show’s plot. This allows the TV viewer even more opportunity to insert themselves into the situation, especially for women when a scene discusses wage gaps or for minorities when they see African-Americans and Latinos prominently featured in leadership positions.
- The ability to change and adapt. Obviously, Grey’s has stood the test of time. It’s not often that shows make it this long, or maintain a consistent fan base like this one has. It’s a very different world from 2005, and for Grey’s to still be relatable and successful shows how masterful Rhimes is at creating a world that reaches across generations and time. The long-form storytelling is what hooks in the fans and keeps them there.
The success of Grey’s is undeniable, and as long as it continues to excel in these reasons, it may be around for a few more years, showing us the importance of relationships, cultural awareness and relatability.