Shonda Rhimes on the Music of Grey's Anatomy - and the Show's Dramatic Notes to Come

This Sunday evening at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the cast of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy will gather to perform “The Songs Beneath the Show,” a live musical celebration to benefit The Actors Fund. (Get ticket info.) On the occasion of this special event, TVLine invited Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes to discuss how she and her team make beautiful music together — as well as preview the dramatic notes to come for Meredith, Cristina, Alex et al.

TVLINE | Back when you were developing Grey’s, did you know it was going to be so music-centric?
When we started talking about the sound of the show – and we have an amazing music supervisor, Alex Patsavas – I knew we wanted it to feel really current and different from anything that had been on television before. Finding new music and laying in interesting songs, for me, has been one of the best parts of doing the show.

TVLINE | When breaking a script, do you pencil in song suggestions or just give Alex a general idea of what you’re looking for?
Alex gives us a huge supply of music [to choose from], so I would say that I have tastes because Alex tells me what tastes to have. And then I work with the editors to place all the songs. Sometimes I’ll find a song, because I have all these CDs from Alex, file it in the back of my brain, and than that one has to go into the show. And then there have been amazing times when we’ve been able to get on the phone with artists, talk to them about what we’re looking for, and they write a song for us.

TVLINE | Snow Patrol obviously broke out of the box because of Grey’s. Did you then have artists courting you, saying, “Use our song”?
We did, and we still do. It’s a big platform – people watch the show and then say, “I need to buy that song.” But it doesn’t work that way. I just put in songs that I like.

TVLINE | Do you in a small way consider “Chasing Cars” to be the show’s unofficial anthem?
I think a lot of people do, and I love that song, but I don’t know. I feel like the show has such as strong musical identity in so many ways. There’s a bunch of different songs, from Ingrid Michaelson and others, that work on that level.

TVLINE | Beyond last season’s musical episode, is there any particular musical cue or choice that stands out for you?
We have a really lovely composer, and in Season 4 I asked him to write a musical cue that we all called “MerDer’s Theme.” Because we use so much source music, it was really interesting to have something composed that captured that essence of the show so iconically for fans who continue to tweet me, “Where can I buy that song?” It’s been nice.

TVLINE | Now that the “Songs Beneath the Show” event is close, have your actors been ducking out for rehearsals?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of rehearsal for this. Everyone’s super-busy, and everyone had been super-rehearsed for the musical episode, so in a lot of ways it’s about making sure that everybody who’s participating is still on point. And a couple of people are doing new things, which is exciting as well. Plus, we’ve got Ingrid Michaelson coming in to do a couple songs for us.

TVLINE | Turning now to some Grey’s storylines…. In your mind, should we be questioning whether Owen is being unfaithful, or is that strictly in Cristina’s head?
That’s a really good question…. I should hope that you’re questioning it.

TVLINE | She’s just in such a paranoid, fragile place right now.
She is, but I also think she’s a smart woman who feels like something’s wrong. She might not be correct about what’s wrong, but….

TVLINE | And it is Summer Glau, so….
I know, right? She only did two episodes for us, but it was really great to have her. She did an amazing job.

TVLINE | This week, Derek encourages Meredith to work with him again in neuro. Is that a noble gesture that will backfire on him?
I don’t know that it’s a “noble” gesture, but it is going to backfire. Part of saving their relationship, they decided, meant they shouldn’t be working together again. And Meredith knows that, very full. And she’s actually really enjoying her life in general surgery. It’s Derek who has to come to terms with that fact. He just loves her and enjoys working with her.

TVLINE | What are you doing with Alex and Morgan, including but also beyond teasing a spark of something?
Here’s what’s interesting: We never told this story to tell a spark of anything. Part of the story is about Alex’s growth. He’s the guy who fell in love with a crazy patient with no face, so he’s had some issues, and here he’s coming along as a surgeon, and we wanted to tell the story of what happens when your patient leans too hard on you for your support, how difficult it is to step away from that. A little bit [of the story] is what to do when your patient falls in love with you, but I don’t think it necessarily means Alex is in love with his patient.

TVLINE | I get many readers writing in asking about what’s ahead for Mark and Lexie. What can you tease?
Mark and Lexie are going to take a surprising turn — and we will see something from Jackson that we have not seen before.

TVLINE | And what can you reveal about the type of season finale you have planned for this year?
I have no idea what’s going to happen in the Grey’s Anatomy finale at this moment in time [as of Tuesday afternoon]. I have a plan, and then I throw that plan out. And then I come up with a new plan… and then I throw that one out. So I have several plans and I don’t know which one I’m going to use yet.

TVLINE | But don’t you have to write it soon? I know the Once Upon a Time creators are writing their finale now…..
They’re doing 22 episodes; we’re doing 24, so we have a little bit more time. A little bit more time. So we’ll see what happens!

Both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice return with new episodes tonight, at 9 and 10 pm EST.