'Grey's Anatomy': What to expect on the long-running medical drama's newest season

The twelfth season of 'Grey's' is debuting on ABC later this month. The program is one of the longest-running on TV right now and was created by Shonda Rhimes, who also created or is producing other shows airing in primetime on ABC's Thursday nights.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
'Grey's Anatomy' stars Ellen Pompeo.

The long-running ABC medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” returns on Sept. 24 for its twelfth season and those behind the scenes have revealed some of what viewers can expect when the new episodes air.

The show centers on the doctors at a Seattle hospital and was created by Shonda Rhimes, who also created or is producing other shows airing on Thursday nights on ABC, including “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”

Last season of “Grey’s” included the controversial death of one of “Grey’s” main characters, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), who was a doctor at the hospital in which the show takes place and was married to protagonist Meredith (Ellen Pompeo). Viewers may be expecting that any new story involving Meredith will be sad because of the recent tragedy she experienced, but Ms. Rhimes says that will probably not always be the case. “Meredith being a widow, surprisingly, should be funny in some ways,” she said in an interview. “She's been a woman who has been off the market forever and that humor of… ‘I'm not interested in men' should be funny in a way. She should have some darker humor in that feeling.” 

Ms. Pompeo, meanwhile, said of Derek not being on the show any longer, “Let’s keep it really real for a second and say this is really difficult for my ego. It’s okay! We all have one! It’s like, Annalise Keating [of ‘How to Get Away with Murder’] carries the show, Olivia Pope [of ‘Scandal’] carries the show. But somehow, Meredith Grey needs someone. Why can’t I just be the lead of the show the way Annalise and Olivia can? Why can’t I be on that poster by myself?” 

Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), Derek’s sister, will be recovering from Derek’s death as well. “They were competitive in a really creative and fruitful way,” the actress said of the relationship between Amelia and Derek. “Her drive was very much fueled by his excellence. Losing Derek is going to spin her head around and cause her to have to redefine herself.”

As for other characters, Rhimes said the characters of Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), who were once married but are now no longer together, will both be involved with new people in the upcoming episodes. The new love interests will be “some pretty exciting ones, too,” Rhimes said.

As it enters its twelfth season, “Grey’s” is one of the longest-running fictional programs on TV right now. The show has gained and lost many cast members, with Pompeo; actor Justin Chambers, who portrays fellow doctor Alex; and Chandra Wilson, who plays doctor Bailey, being some of the early cast members who are still on the program. Many others, including Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight, and now Mr. Dempsey, have since departed.

Many of the longest-running programs on television are news or talk shows like CBS’s “60 Minutes” or “20/20,” which airs on ABC. Other current long-running programs are NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which is a comedy variety program, and “The Simpsons,” which is an animated program. The closest comparisons to “Grey’s” would most likely be NBC’s show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” which debuts its seventeenth season this year and has also experienced a lot of cast changeover, and CBS’s “NCIS,” which is debuting its thirteenth season this year. 

The CW’s show “Supernatural” and Fox’s “Bones” are also not far behind “Grey’s” in terms of amount of seasons. 

Judging a TV show’s run by the amount of seasons, however, is no longer as reliable an indicator as it once was. Comparing the run of “Grey’s” to a show like, for example, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” would be comparing apples and oranges because “Thrones” has far fewer episodes because it airs on cable. While “Thrones” has aired five seasons, it’s only created 50 episodes. “Grey’s” had a short first season but nevertheless had aired 50 episodes by halfway through its third season.

This can be interesting when it comes to awards seasons – for example, all of the nominees for Best Drama Series at this year’s Emmy Awards produced what networks would consider a limited number of episodes. To name a couple, nominee “Downton Abbey,” which airs on PBS in the U.S., aired nine episodes, while AMC’s “Better Call Saul” aired 10. 

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