Grey’s Anatomy Made Simple

This past spring, ABC added a series to its Sunday night schedule (at ten o’clock, Eastern time) which turned out to be a real winner in the ratings. The show is Grey’s Anatomy. It’s set in the Seattle area and centers on a group of surgical interns who are learning the ropes in the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital.

It took over the time slot held earlier by David Kelley’s Boston Legal. Grey’s Anatomy became so popular that it held on to the highly desirable Sunday night spot longer than originally planned (forcing “Boston Legal” to take up residence on Tuesday night on ABC’s fall 2005 schedule).

At first glance, Grey’s Anatomy appears to be just another medical show. What accounts for its immediate popularity and success in the ratings? After all, ER had made history when it first came on the air a dozen years ago, giving viewers a ringside seat of the action in a Chicago hospital’s busy Emergency Room.

Assisted by real life medical personnel who advised directors and actors about how to simulate the professional actions of doctors, nurses, technicians and others in an ER as they endeavored to render medical assistance, sometimes under very trying circumstances, the show succeeded in creating a startling, and very compelling, look of realism.

Ever since, TV dramas have upgraded the sets (and action) used for any hospital scenes they may contain. Thus, there’s no new ground to be broken by Grey’s Anatomy, in terms of those considerations.

Perhaps the best explanation for the show’s meteoric rise to the top of the ratings charts is based on two key aspects of the show–(1) the emphasis on characters and (2) the the brisk dialogue given to those characters to utter.

Unlke House, for example, which focuses attention on a medical mystery to be solved each week, Grey’s Anatomy is introducing viewers to a group of interns and letting them get to know them as people first and doctors second. In fact, each show opens and closes with off-camera narration offered by one of the interns–Meredith Grey.

These commentaries of hers often have a philosophical bent, as she wonders about aspects of life which have nothing to do directly with medicine iself. During the course of each hourly episode, the interns interact with each other, with other medical professionals, and with patients. All the while, viewers are taking note of their actions, in light of what they (the viewers) know about them as individuals (with their own worries, problems, and cares). In short, Grey’s Anatomy is making a powerful human connection with its viewing audience.

Additionally, the dialogue given to their primary teacher–Dr. Bailey–rings true and hits the mark over and over again. A no-nonsense trainer who has no qualms whatever about pushing around the interns (on the job and off), Dr. Bailey provides a bracing tonic for keeping the interns on the straight and narrow and not adrift in an idealistic, unrealistic dreamworld about medicine and life as a doctor.

However you look at it, Grey’s Anatomy is working its magic on the viewing public. And ABC, intent on shoring up its position in the ratings, will keep the show on the Sunday night schedule in the fall. Viewers may not learn a great deal about anatomy itself, but they’ll certainly pick up useful pointers about people as human beings, coping with the curve balls that life throws their way.

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