When “Grey’s Anatomy” returns with its 17th season in November, Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and the rest of Grey Sloane Memorial will be experiencing the same pandemic as the rest of us.
While it may seem like kind of a no-brainer for TV’s longest-running medical drama to acknowledge the biggest medical crisis in generations, “Grey’s” showrunner Krista Vernoff tells Variety that her initial feeling was to proceed with stories set within a world where COVID-19 didn’t exist, offering viewers escapism.
“I think that people have fatigue of COVID, and I think they turn to our show for relief,” she told the show’s writings in this season’s first meeting, held via Zoom.
But she then added a challenge “Who wants to be brave and convince me that I’m wrong?”
Co-executive producer Lynne E. Litt was the first to speak out. “I think it’s the biggest medical story of our lifetimes,” she said.
Naser Alazari, the only doctor on the writing staff, had been working on the frontlines at a clinic during the show’s hiatus. He agreed. “This is the biggest medical story of our lifetime, and it is changing medicine permanently,” he told Vernoff. “And we have to tell this story.’”
“And I said, ‘Okay,’” Vernoff recalled.
Without giving away any plot details, Vernoff revealed that the season premiere — a crossover with spinoff “Station 19” — is set early on in the pandemic, just a few weeks in.
Vernoff concedes the show will look and feel different, and will no longer feature ORs packed with doctors or crowded emergency rooms.
“It changes the feeling of the show; it changes the pacing of the show,” Vernoff said. “It is what it is.” Among the measures taken are special camera lenses that make people appear to be closer to each other than they are.
She also addresses the “massive” behind-the-scenes safety protocols. “It’s social distancing, it’s masks, it’s visors — it’s masks on the actors between takes and during rehearsals,” she explained.
“It’s just shocking how slowly we’re having to move,” Vernoff admitted.
However, Vernoff said that these added challenges, if anything, are just energizing the whole team even further.
“Everyone was willing to scale the mountain,” she said. “I keep saying to people, ‘No, no really, we’ve actually reinvented the wheel. We are changing everything everyone has ever understood about how you make television. Everything is changing. And I’m proud of what we’re doing.”
The season premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursday, Nov. 12.