Grey’s Anatomy aired its landmark 300th episode Thursday night (read our recap), and, coincidentally, that also happens to be the number of questions we were left with at the conclusion of the nostalgic hour. Luckily, co-showrunner Krista Vernoff — who also penned the satisfying installment — agreed to hop on the phone with TVLine to tackle a dozen of the biggest head-scratchers.
TVLINE | I want to start at the end with that really great Ellis cameo, which would have packed a bigger emotional punch had her name not appeared in the opening credits.
[Heavy Sigh] Listen…
TVLINE | I know this is, at the end of the day, a business, and I’m sure there was some contractual reason she had to get name-checked like that. But I feel like this could’ve been considered a special, extenuating circumstance, no?
I’m not going to lie — I was devastated when I saw her name in the opening credits. I didn’t spot it until the crew screening Thursday afternoon. And I actually started to cry. It’s one of those things that slips through the showrunning cracks. You are doing 1 million things on any given day and you think everybody knows that Kate Burton shouldn’t be credited on this episode. Everybody knows that this is the biggest surprise of the episode, and you assume that they would’ve made a deal with her that allows it to be an uncredited cameo. Mike, it never even occurred to me that I needed to have that conversation. You have nailed the one thing that broke my heart.
TVLINE | And it was too late at that point to change it for that night’s airing?
Oh, yes. By the time I saw the credits it was 3:30 pm in Los Angeles. It takes them days to burn the episodes that the affiliates are screening. There’s no opening the show back up on the same day.
TVLINE | The episode leaned heavily into the show’s history, but it did so without the use of a single flashback. Did you feel like it wasn’t necessary since you had the doppelgangers?
What I said to Shonda [Rhimes] when I pitched her this episode was, “I want to find a way for the 300th episode to do a clip show without actually doing a clip show.” And I feel like we did it. I feel like the level of nostalgia was really high.
TVLINE | Was there ever any talk of having more than just Kate pop in? Surely, Sandra Oh would’ve agreed to contribute a voiceover in the scene at the end where Cristina Calls Meredith.
Oh, believe me, a lot of asks were made. People are busy. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Nearly every major character got a shout-out except Addison. Any particular reason she was left out?
I love the character of Addison. And I love Kate Walsh. What I focused on were the original cast members and the characters who died, because the theme was the ghosts of our past. And Addison didn’t [fall into either] category. But I do wish that I had found a way to name her. I regret that I didn’t.
TVLINE | I feel like there’s a Kate Walsh guest arc coming up. We haven’t seen Addison in a while….
I mean I love that idea. Can you call her? [Laughs]
TVLINE | I’ll get right on it. Any trepidation about doing an episode like that knowing it would only make longtime fans wish Cristina, Callie were still on the show?
Of course. That is the needle that you are threading. Can I pay tribute to the originals and remember the beauty of them without actually showing them… or will the fans feel betrayed in some way. And I believe that we were successful. I was following Twitter last night and I was kind of amazed at how few negative comments there were. And I think the reason is we allowed the patients to be patients and we focused on our characters’ memories. We didn’t try to say these doppelgangers were just like the originals. In fact, we had them say, “We aren’t your friends!”
TVLINE | Alex said he doesn’t need to see Izzie again, but I kind of do. I’m going to beat an old drum here and say it would be really nice to bring Katherine Heigl back in for a few episodes to bring closure to Alex/Izzie. Do you feel like there is unfinished business?
I think television has an important responsibility and opportunity to help people walk through the various experiences of their lives by giving them an opportunity to see those experiences depicted on television. And one of the realities of life is sometimes you don’t get to know what happened to somebody that you love. Sometimes they move on and you have to grieve them in your own time and in your own way and by making up a story about what you hoped happened to them and invest in that. There were great loves in my life who I don’t have any idea if they are alive or if they are dead or what they are doing now. I think it’s super important to not tie up every loose end with a bow. Life doesn’t get tied up with a bow.
TVLINE | How was Meredith suddenly eligible for the Harper Avery Award, when a conflict of interest was previously established due to that foundation’s funding of Grey Sloan?
[Laughs] There was dialogue that referenced that in Episode 6 and somehow it fell out. [Basically], there was a change in the rules. I think it had something to do with the death of Harper Avery and there was a change in the rules.
TVLINE | Going back to the big Ellis cameo, I kind of feel like that was a series finale moment. Was there any discussion of keeping that in your back pocket for eventual final episode?
No. As a matter of fact Shonda pitched it. Shonda came to the table read and turned to me with basically one note: “Get Kate Burton to stand in that gallery and clap.” And I burst into tears when I said it [because] actually bringing the actress in is not cheap. Budgetary realities are real on this show. And bringing in an actress to stand in one scene and clap was exactly the right move. I love that it felt like a series finale moment, because 300 episodes — that is epic. That is so rare. It’s such a big deal.