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.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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26 Comments
  1. Diana says:

    The author and performer of “Grace” was Kate Havnevik.

  2. Jamie says:

    I’m with Diana – I think Shonda misspoke when she cited Ingrid Michaelson as the artist behind “Grace” – it should be Kate Havnevik, right? Michaelson has done other songs on the show, but not that one.

  3. JJ says:

    How is that “How to Save a Life” song not the “unofficial anthem,” when that song used clips of the show? Also, remember when the show actually had and used a theme song?

    • Saint Alicia says:

      MTE; for a while there it seemed like The Fray was GA’s House band or something. Not that I’m complaining :)
      Also, kind OT, but is it just me or does it seem like a lot of showrunners are just now starting to write their finales? This seems really late in the game, especially to have no clue what you’re going to do…

      • Emma says:

        Shonda like just said in her last interview that she still doesn’t even know who in the cast is coming back next season, so you have to admit that kind of makes it hard to write a season finale.

        • Saint Alicia says:

          Yeah that’s true, and I’m aware, but you still gotta bite the bullet. And I seem to recall weeks ago Shonda saying that she knew how the season was going to end (regardless of who was returning) and that she just had to go ahead with the story and deal with the/any consequences next season.
          But I guess that fits with the constant throwing out of plans she mentions here. Just seems like she should have THE plan by now. :\

  4. Jennie says:

    Cristina is “a smart woman who feel’s like something’s wrong.” Do you think? Nothing’s gone right for them in 3 years. It would be nice to see something positive happen for that couple for a change.

  5. Leah says:

    Great article! One of the biggest reasons this show hooked me way back when (I’ve watched since the pilot aired) was because of the use of music. I started listening to a lot of great singers because of this show – the aforementioned Ingrid, Joshua Radin, Brandi Carlile, Mat Kearney, and on and on.

    But yeah, “Grace” is definitely Kate Havnevik – it’s on the second Grey’s soundtrack, too. Ingrid has contributed a lot of songs for other moments – like when Burke left Cristina at the altar (“Keep Breathing”) and when Izzie and Alex got married (“Turn to Stone”).

    • CJ says:

      The songs is the thing that bothers me most about the show. I don’t mind an occasional snippet of music, especially at the end of an episode, but the constant songs playing over the scenes is really annoying. Although they do better than Hart of Dixie, which plays songs but in such a way that they sometimes drown out dialogue in scenes.

  6. MaggieM says:

    Thanks for the interview,really good one. Good scoop on the couples,too except you did ask anything about Calzona

  7. Juan says:

    I love Ingrid Michaelson, amazing singer and I discovered her from grey’s. Keep Breathing is amazing and everytime I hear it it just reminds me of the wedding scene, she is such an awesome singer.

  8. c-mo says:

    My local radio station agrees with you because they call the show “Fray’s Anatomy”.

  9. Edie says:

    Meredith had a passion for neuro and that’s what has been shown for the past 7 plus years. Makes zero sense to me so not buying the premise that she knows they can’t work together to save her marriage. Switching the drug in the clinical trial was just poor storytelling IMO. It’s a little late in her residency to be switching. I have always thought of her as Derek’s protege just like Cristina was Burke’s, Hahn’s and now Teddy’s.

  10. Edie says:

    Forgot to add that they do a great job with the music on this show. The right words of the song at the perfect moment. Especially, the first three seasons of the show, when a song came on the radio I could pinpoint exactly what scene was playing when that song came on. I bitch and moan a lot about Rhimes but gotta give them credit for the great music they find. It is a big part of the show.

  11. Ana says:

    I know that I have purchased many tracks because I heard the song in Grey’s. Sometimes it was just a snippet and I googled the lyrics and found the songs and artists that way. The music IS like another character in the show. And as much as I love Greys, I’m kind of anxious for this season to be over. I’m bored with the Mer/Cristina/Owen emphasis. Mer is everywhere even when she doesn’t have to be. And Cristina and Owen just keep reformulating the same problems that they’ve had since S5: they come from different places and they have different values. How long are we going to keep focusing on their differences? I loved the Zola storyline but it was over too soon. I loved the heartbreaking Henry storyline but that too was over too soon. Merk/Lexie are on a holding pattern. Callie, who as a regular since S2 should be getting more exposure, is being used as a prop and we barely get glimpses of her. And Arizona is being used to support Alex who by the way has also being majorly neglected. Finally we see a spark between Alex and someone else (Morgan) and you’re saying that’s not sticking? How long are they going to keep him alone? He’s becoming that creepy, whorish, bachelor that no one can take seriously. Alex is rough around the edges but he has a lot of love to give, c’mon! He deserves better…

  12. GreysAnatomyFan says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much music I have gotten from this show over the years. They really do magic with the music on Grey’s. In fact, I just got ‘Swans’ by Unkle Bob from the episode Some kind of miracle when Izzie is walking in the hall and stops when she feels Denny near, yesterday. Keep up the good work!

  13. bree says:

    i love updates on grey’s anatomy, i never really know where this show is going and it’s always a pleasant/maddening surprise to see what happens next. i love the grey’s soundtracks and the music from the show – it introduces me to a lot of new bands, and artists and it’s lovely. also; can i just say that all i really got out of this was “mark/lexie”? ugh, i just miss them so much. <3

  14. Jennie says:

    I hate this story line with Cristina and Owen. HATE IT. HATE IT with the white hot heat of 1,000 suns. Hate it so much that I forgot to watch tonight because I was so not excited about seeing Shonda destroy one more couple. Hate it because the idea that husbands and wives cheat on each other is so tired and played out, (and believe it or not, some of them don’t cheat, even when they’re having problems). Hate it so much that I preferred to watch the American Idol results show on my tivo WITHOUT fast forwarding. Hate it so much that I want to send Sandra Oh and Kevin McKidd condolence cards. Hate it so much that I want to return any Grey’s dvd’s I bought to Amazon even if I have to pay shipping. Hate it so much that I want to delete any “Music of Grey’s Anatomy” off my ipod if I have any, and if I do have it, I hope I got it bootleg and didn’t pay for it. Hate it so much that I might actually fill out one of those surveys that ABC emails to me every week the next time I get one about Grey’s so I can tell them how much I used to love the show and I now hate it.

    Did I mention that I hate Cristina and Owen’s story line?

    • ChasinRain says:

      I agree. I watched because of Owen and Cristina and this storyline is torture. Week after week it’s been heartbreaking and now another element is thrown into the mix.

  15. I miss Meredith in neuro, there are too many general surgeons. Plus her mother was a general surgeon. It seems overdone, like her talents could go to something more extraordinary than general.

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