Believe it or not, it has been almost fourteen years since ABC aired the pilot of Grey’s Anatomy. Since then, many in its cast have become stars, and its creator, Shonda Rhimes, has produced several other television hits. The balance of riveting medical drama and fun “will they, won’t they” romances made Grey’s Anatomy a household name in television by the end of its first season in 2005.
Viewers across the country followed Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and her fellow interns, gripping their chairs when a surgery got dangerous and smiling when McDreamy walked through the halls of Seattle Grace Hospital. Many actors came and went throughout the show’s long history, but Grey’s Anatomy‘s original ensemble of diverse, well-written characters still resonates with audiences today. With former cast member Sandra Oh’s recent Golden Globes win and the show’s record-breaking fifteenth season on ABC, now is a great time to look back at where it all began.
There are hundreds of facts about the show’s many seasons worth looking up, but many from the pilot are especially interesting. Some reveal parts of the show’s development and creator Shonda Rhimes’ creative process. Others hint toward character quirks and show traits that would continue on in later seasons. Others still are production goofs, random pieces of television trivia, and everything in between. These details range in importance to the overall show, but all deepen the pilot of Grey’s Anatomy for any hardcore fan and hopefully spark interest in anyone who wants to start watching.
Here are 20 Little Details Fans Missed In The Grey’s Anatomy Pilot.
20 Last-minute voiceover
The pilot episode, “A Hard Day’s Night”, begins and ends with voice-over narration from Meredith, a practice that would become common place in following seasons. It may come as a surprise, then, to read that this voice-over was a last-minute decision by Shonda Rhimes who later revealed about the narration that “in the editing room, it felt like a piece was missing, so we added it.”
Ultimately, including the voiceover was a wise choice that brought viewers closer to Meredith as a character. Through these voiceover narrations, it is easier to empathize with the hardship of her first 48-hour shift and understand how she is feeling in a given moment. Above all else, they function well in helping the montages of the episode flow a little smoother.
19 The first scene ever filmed
After 300 episodes aired in mid-2017, Shonda Rhimes took to her blog to reflect on the first scene filmed. Not only was it the first scene for Grey’s Anatomy, but it was her first scene for any television show. The scene in question finds Meredith, Izzie, George, and Cristina (Sandra Oh) running down the hallway to meet Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) for the first time.
In order to make their boss-intern relationship more authentic, Rhimes made sure this scene was the first time that the cast members had met Wilson. When Wilson began reciting her five authoritative rules, the rest of the cast burst out laughing– until Wilson’s glaring eyes quieted them down. With actors as talented as these, it’s no wonder that this first scene is as memorable of a story off-camera as it is in the final cut.
18 Seattle Grace’s real location
While the show is set in Seattle, very little of it is actually shot in the seaport city. A handful of location shots of the Space Needle, Monorail, and other landmarks help situation the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital within the city. In truth, the hospital used for many Seattle Grace scenes is the Veterans Administration Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center outside Los Angeles, California. Scenes just outside the building or in the hospital’s grand atrium and central walkways are filmed on location, but the rest are done on studio sound stages.
This is a common practice for most network shows, filmed typically in Los Angeles, New York City, or Vancouver, but for the most part Grey’s Anatomy hides its real locations well.
17 Helicopter shot mistake
There are bound to be a few location-related mistakes in the show and this one is the pilot’s most obvious. For the roof of the hospital, which features the helicopter landing pad, the show uses Fisher Plaza, which houses one of ABC’s affiliate stations, KOMO-TV.
When Meredith and her fellow interns rush to answer their first air ambulance call, the episode cuts to a sweeping camera shot of the helicopter on approach. Unfortunately, a sign for KOMO-TV is clearly visible at the top of the building. The shot goes by pretty quickly, though, so it’s not hard to imagine most captivated fans were too focused on the drama of the medical emergency to notice the gaffe.
16 The Episode title that started it all
The pilot episode “A Hard Day’s Night” as well as every subsequent episode in the show is named after a famous song. The pilot’s song, a Beatles classic, reflects the grueling 48-hour shift that Meredith and the other interns must complete on their first day at Seattle Grace. For them, day and night blend together as they rush between different situations and tasks.
Each of Grey’s Anatomy‘s 326 episodes (with one exception) is also named after a song that ties into its plot. The songs do not necessarily feature in the episodes’ soundtracks, but they do relate in some way to the story. The show’s one exception, which aired in January 2018, is titled “1-800-799-7233”, the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States, which relates to the episode’s plot, but also greater publicized the service.
15 Meredith and Derek’s one-night stand was almost cut
Betsy Beers, executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy, shared back in 2014 that the relationship between Meredith and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) was almost taken out of the pilot. She describes how in a meeting between her, Rhimes and several male executives, one questioned how anyone could “sympathize or identify” with Meredith after having “a one night stand with a guy the night before she starts a new job as a doctor?”
Beers and Rhimes argued against such a stance, instead standing behind a progressive attitude for the show’s characters. It is hard to imagine what Grey’s Anatomy would look like in tone and story without Meredith and Derek’s tension. More than that, for Grey’s Anatomy to have not included this part might have discouraged other shows from telling similar narratives in later years.
14 Derek’s catchphrase begins
As with any pilot, “A Hard Day’s Night” features many firsts for the show, chief among them the first time Derek says his catchphrase: “It’s a beautiful day to save lives. Let’s have some fun.” The quote perfectly captures Derek’s attitude and character. He is laid-back and calm, but only because he is confident in his abilities. He tries to see the fun, positive side of his work, but never forgets that there are always lives at stake.
The quote is also a good expression of the show as a whole: fun, charming, and agreeablee, but always aware of how seriousness of the medical field. Considering all the fan art and merch with McDreamy’s words of wisdom on it, it is easy to see why his character proved to be so popular with fans.
13 Characters’ lockers were filled with Easter eggs
In order to flesh out the set, and get her actors deeper into character, Shonda Rhimes filled the lockers of each character with props and decorated them according to their owner. For Meredith, Rhimes stacked “old birthday cards she was planning to mail but never got around to” and “three alarm clocks because she’s terrified of oversleeping on her breaks.” In George’s locker were “med journals [and] old text books,” and Christina’s had a Palm Pilot and high heels.
While the viewer can barely see inside the lockers in the final cut of the scene, even the slightest hint of detail makes the world on screen seem that much more realistic. If these props helped the actors deliver great performances in any way, then they were surely worth the effort.
12 Miranda Bailey was based on Rhimes’ mom
In an interview with Oprah, Shonda Rhimes revealed that the character of Miranda Bailey was somewhat based on her mother. She described Bailey as “no-nonsense” and the “kind of realist” that her mom was. Compared to the typical television authority figure, Bailey leaves a unique impact.
For a character as progressive and atypical as Bailey, it may come as a surprise that Rhimes did not have a physical type in mind to play her. Before auditioning actress Chandra Wilson, Rhimes “pictured her as a tiny blonde with curls.” after Wilson’s interpretation of the character, Rhimes knew “that’s exactly who Miranda is.” Along with the rest of Grey’s Anatomy‘s cast, the character of Miranda Bailey is a testament to the unique storytelling potential that Rhimes’ color-blind casting process can create.
11 Alex Karev was added in editing after the pilot was shot
After the pilot was filmed, producers wanted to add a male counterpart to George’s character; probably the closest role to an antagonist in the pilot. New intern Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) was added to the episode in post-production, either through shots where he is by himself or by digitally placing him in scenes the crew had already filmed.
While in some shots it seems a little odd to be cutting away from the action toward a disconnected intern, Alex’s inclusion is fairly seamless. He does not contribute much to the pilot’s story, but he is memorable enough that viewers would be able to recognize him in future episodes where he is given plenty more to do.
10 Animal organs were used for surgery scenes
Cast member Sarah Drew revealed to RTE that the crew uses cow organs for the show’s surgical scenes in order to make them appear as realistic as possible. To Drew, “the smell… makes us all gag,” made even worse when the cast uses real soldering tools that actually burn the prop organs. For other surgical moments, the crew also used “a lot of silicone and blood matter – red jello [jelly] mixed with blood and chicken fat.”
One has to imagine that the longer Grey’s Anatomy‘s actors worked on the show, the easier it got to handle these props. Even if that isn’t true, one hopes that they find some comfort in knowing how realistic and well-done the surgery scenes look on screen.
9 George’s heckler is a Hero
Actor Sendhil Ramamurthy, who would go on to play Mohinder Suresh in Heroes and its reboot Heroes Reborn, has a small role in the pilot. He has also appeared in a wide variety of dramatic and comedic roles as Kelly Kapoor’s boyfriend, Ravi, in The Office, assistant district attorney Gabriel Lowen in Beauty and the Beast, and CIA officer Jai Wilcox in Covert Affairs.
In this pilot, Ramamurthy is not given much to do as an intern who heckles George during his ill-fated first surgery. While he is only on screen for a minute or so, Ramamurthy acts with a memorable condescension and hints at the talent he would show in future projects.
8 Meredith’s house real location
One of a few prominent in-show locations that is actually filmed in Seattle is Meredith’s house in Queen Anne Hill. Though the address given in the show is fictional (613 Harper Lane), the real house exists and is privately owned. In the pilot, the house used to belong to Meredith’s mother, Ellis, before it was given to Meredith. At the end of the episode, Meredith decides to remain living there and soon invites in a few roommates, namely fellow interns Izzie (Katherine Heigl) and George (T.R. Knight).
Throughout the next several seasons, many other characters would move in and out of the house- two even got married inside! Alongside Seattle Grace, Meredith’s house became one of the series’ main locations and a focal point for all its characters and storylines.
7 Only 6 of 20 interns are women
In one of the pilot’s first scenes, Meredith enters into a room with all of her fellow interns. It is a diverse group of people, especially considering that the show came out in 2005, but after a quick count one finds that only 6 of the 20 interns are women. It is hard to tell how intentional this casting number is, so it could possibly be anything from a choice that mirrored actual demographics to the result of common industry casting practices.
More obviously deliberate, however, was Shonda Rhimes’ intention to present several strong, well-developed female characters in the Grey’s Anatomy pilot, mainly Meredith, Cristina, Izzie,and Bailey. Several other female characters would join the show in later seasons and maintain the show’s balance of male and female cast members. Rhimes has since gone on to produce several other shows for ABC, most of which feature female leads.
6 Meredith’s Dartmouth sweater
After making it through her first 48-hour shift, Meredith visits her mother and tells her about the past two days. During this touching scene, Meredith is wearing a Dartmouth sweater, which is not only her fictional alma mater, but the real alma mater of creator Shonda Rhimes.
At Dartmouth, Rhimes majored in English and Film Studies and received an honorary doctorate from the university in 2014. She also spent much of her time as part of the Black Underground Theater association, writing, directing and performing in creative works. For some college-age fans of the show, this is an especially fun detail to notice.
5 Grey’s Anatomy’s original titles
As cast member Kate Walsh shared in 2017, the network was considering changing the show’s title right up until the pilot aired. First it was Doctors, then Surgeons, then Complications before finally settling on Grey’s Anatomy, “the perfect title” according to Walsh.
While simple and straightforward titles can have their perks (think Law and Order or ER), what differentiated this show from others was its main character and her relationships. It had a very talented and very large cast, but Meredith Grey was always at the center of it more than the protagonists of some other procedurals or medical shows. Because of this, it made sense to have her name up front and be the main focus.
4 The soundtrack
Each of the pilot’s seven songs connects to the scenes they play over. “Portions for Foxes” by Rilo Kiley plays as Meredith first reports for work, and is used again in season 9 to welcome the hospital’s newest interns. “Super Cool” by Bang Sugar Bang amps up the excitement as the interns receive their first patient. “They” by Jem plays as the interns struggle with their first individual duties.
“Dance” by The O.A.O.T.’s plays as George performs his first surgery. “Ready to Rise” by Vaughan Penn plays just as Meredith thinks she’s reached her breaking point. “Life is Short” by Butterfly Boucher plays when George informs a family that their loved one passed away. Finally “Into the Fire” by Thirteen Senses plays as a confident Meredith is thrown into her first surgery.
3 Charlie Kelly’s mom has a cameo
Also appearing in this pilot episode is actress Lynne Marie Stewart, who is best known for her recurring role as Charlie’s mom in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Before It’s Always Sunny, Stewart had already had a long career and had appeared in several films and television shows, like M.A.S.H., The Running Man, Laverne and Shirley, and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
In the Grey’s Anatomy pilot, Stewart plays a pre-op nurse who suffers under Alex’s rude behavior. Fans of Stewart won’t get to hear much from her in this episode, but her body language when Alex dismisses her ideas is communicated well and a lot of personality comes through very little screen time. Ultimately, the focus of her biggest scene is taken up by Meredith, who proceeds to put Alex in his place.
2 The “Walk and Talk” filming technique
Fans of The West Wing will notice that this pilot also uses the “walk and talk” technique popularized by Aaron Sorkin’s political drama. This technique positions a moving camera in front of the actors and follows them uninterrupted as they move and talk to each other through a large set. This is a very demanding effort for cast and crew alike, as the actors must memorize a large chunk of dialogue and the crew has to plan out a minutes-long sequence. When done right, as in Grey’s Anatomy, a “walk and talk” can result in a smooth, fast-talking and visually impressive shot.
The many hallways and corridors of Seattle Grace lend themselves well to “walk and talk” shots, as do the medical directions that doctors constantly throw out for their interns to follow.
1 Origin of the title
While the “Grey” of Grey’s Anatomy comes from main character Meredith Grey, the title itself is a play on Gray’s Anatomy, a medical textbook written by English anatomist Henry Gray. The textbook is a seminal work in the medical field and is still in use today. In fact, since it was first released in 1858, the book has had 41 editions continually published.
Like Meredith and her fellow interns, Henry Gray started his medical career young and became a member of the Royal Society (the oldest scientific academy still in function) at 25. However, the fictional Meredith Grey would go on to outlive her historical namesake, as Henry Gray perished only 9 years later when he contracted a fatal case of smallpox.
Did you notice anything else about Grey’s Anatomy‘s pilot? Let us know in the comments!