Maybe you just watched the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. And maybe you’re freaking out. Oh, who am I kidding, you are freaking out. Well, good news: I just got off the phone with series creator Shonda Rhimes and obtained exclusive intel on last night’s jaw-dropping climax. Will Izzie and
John Doe George survive? Was that really Meredith and Derek’s wedding we witnessed? Is Jessica Capshaw here to stay? Yep. Rhimes answered all those questions and even found time to address the "ghost sex" controversy, Katherine Heigl’s Emmy chances, TR Knight’s alleged unhappiness, and more. So before you combust from the excitement of it all, I give you this, my first-ever one-on-one with the one and only Shonda Rhimes.
Rumors have been swirling all year that Katherine and TR wanted off the show. The season ends with both their characters’ lives hanging in the balance. Purely coincidental?
SHONDA RHIMES: I don’t think there are any coincidences. I think Katherine’s stated publicly that she’s happy to stay. I think that there have been lots of rumors about TR, but TR’s never said anything. Take from it what you will.
This kind of cliffhanger almost seems tailor-made to capitalize on some of those headlines and generate buzz.
RHIMES: You have to remember, I have two shows. It’s not as if I spend a lot of time reading the press. We talk about stuff in the writers’ room that other people have read, but, mostly, we were really moving on character. Every year at the beginning of the season I pitch what the end of the season is going to be. And I literally sat down and pitched the last 10 minutes of this season at the beginning of the season, so we were headed towards the place that we knew we were going to go.
Do you know which one of them lives and which one of them dies?
RHIMES: Yes. And I don’t know that you should be saying "which one of them lives and which one of them dies." I know what happens to the characters.
Have you shared this information with Katherine and TR?
RHIMES: [Crickets, then...] I don’t want to answer that. I don’t want to talk about my private conversations with the actors.
Katherine said in a recent interview that she was as much in the dark about Izzie’s fate as anyone. Do you keep this stuff close to the vest in order to prevent leaks?
RHIMES: There was a joke for a while there that if I got hit by a bus [no one would] know how to end the season. I do feel like a secret’s not a secret if anybody knows about it. It was really about trying to keep the storyline as secret as possible, because I wanted the last moment of the season to be a real surprise.
Did TR ask to be released from his contract?
RHIMES: I absolutely am not going to talk about any private conversations I had with the actors. I feel like that invades their privacy.
Why haven’t we seen very much of George this season? I understand that there are ebbs and flows on ensemble dramas but…
RHIMES: There are ebbs and flows. Every character this season has had a lot of ebbs and flows. And every season is shaped differently. With George, I really wanted you to not notice that he wasn’t there for most of this episode. I don’t think anybody noticed because of the way we laid it out this season. He’s an incredibly talented actor. And, actually, he was really lovely and elegant about lying there in all that very painful makeup and prosthetics for much of the episode with no words. That moment where he grabs Meredith’s hand is one of the most affecting moments of the episode, and it was without words.
There was criticism that the Denny hallucinations went on too long without an explanation. Looking back, do you regret not revealing Izzie’s diagnosis sooner?
RHIMES: Do I regret it? No. As writers, we had a lot of fun figuring out how we were going to tell that story. I don’t regret anything we’ve done. Every season is a learning process for me. This is my first television show. Granted, I’ve done five seasons now, but it’s still my first television show. As we head into season 6 everything is still a learning experience for me. It’s been a great, crazy experiment that has happened fairly publicly, but, for me, it’s been my learning process.
There was a period there where the show was being relentless mocked, especially where the "ghost sex" was concerned. Did you ever take it personally?
RHIMES: You’re the first person to tell me that, because I, of course, don’t read a lot of press. One thing we’ve gotten used to is being in the public eye and we learned to let everything roll off our backs. We knew where we were going; we had a road map. The rest of the audience didn’t know where we were going. We all thought it was really surprising that anybody thought there was a ghost on our show. We’re a medical show. We thought it was surprising that anybody would look at it and go, "Gee, that’s a ghost." So that was surprising to us. But, other than that, we took it with a grain of salt.
Did the network stick by you during the initial backlash?
RHIMES: Yes. [ABC president] Steve [McPherson] and I sat down and talked about what we were going to do before we did it, and figured out how many episodes and everything. I’m in constant contact [with him].
Will Katherine be putting her name back in the Emmy race this season?
RHIMES: You know, I don’t know. I think she did beautiful work. I think she always does beautiful work.
Did Meredith and Derek really get married last night?
RHIMES: Their wedding was a Post-it note. We had a big series of discussions about it in the writers’ room. I felt very strongly — very very strongly — that the last thing Meredith Grey would do is put on a wedding dress and walk down an aisle. It just felt wrong to me, Meredith being Meredith. And the Post-it wedding will have big reverberations next season.
Will we still get an official wedding at some point?
RHIMES: I think they feel it is an official wedding.
Meredith and Derek fans felt a little cheated by the 100th episode because they were led to believe one thing and they got another.
RHIMES: Yeah, I saw a lot of people felt like, "Oh my god, they promised it was going to be a Meredith and Derek wedding." I never said it was Meredith and Derek’s wedding, I said it was their wedding day.
Have you figured out how you’re going to work around Ellen Pompeo’s maternity leave next season?
RHIMES: We’re actually still talking about that. The writers have disbanded for the season and we’re going to come back together at the beginning of June, so we’re still talking about what we’re going to do and what that’s going to mean. Her maternity leave doesn’t actually come into play until later this season. We will have shot a number of episodes by that point. [And] Ellen is extraordinarily optimistic about what she’s going to be able to do. She’s such a trouper and I’m really am grateful to her for it. We’ll take it as it comes.
Will Jessica Capshaw be promoted to a series regular next season?
RHIMES: I can’t say because we have not renewed anybody’s contract for next season yet.
Are you happy with Jessica Capshaw?
RHIMES: I love Jessica Capshaw. And when I say love I mean love. She couldn’t be a more wonderful person, and I feel like the chemistry Arizona and Callie have feels like the Meredith and Derek chemistry to me. I find them delightful to watch.
Last question: Looking back at this season, what are you most proud of, and what’s the one thing you would have done differently?
RHIMES: There are a lot of things I’m proud of this season. I feel like the cast was clicking on all cylinders. I love the addition of Kevin McKidd and Jessica Capshaw. Those were additions that really worked for us. For me, I feel like this was the season where I found my joy in the show again. You do all these episodes of television and there are ebbs and flows and, for me, I feel like I really came back to the show in a way that had a lot more energy.
And what would you have done differently?
RHIMES: That would mean I have to admit that we made some mistakes, and I’m not going to do that. [Laughs]
Come on, you’re human.
RHIMES: We tried some stuff that didn’t work this season. I wish that we had been able to find Callie a love interest that sparkled sooner, but we found it in the end, so I feel good about that.