Whenever I bring up “Grey’s Anatomy” in conversation, the response is always cynical: “That show is still on?” But if people stopped dismissing the show simply because it’s in its 16th season, they would see the impressive and creative work that has emerged and persisted since Shonda Rhimes created the show in 2005.
Although Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo, “Station 19”), Alex Karev (Justin Chambers, “Someone You Know”), Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson, “General Hospital”) and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr., “The Conners”) are the only four characters from the pilot that are still on the show today, considering the current state of network television where 13 episode seasons are now the norm, “Grey’s” is still going strong. It boasts 25 episodes in its past season and is already renewed for a 17th season.
Beginning in 2005, “Grey’s” aired as a mid-season replacement and was an immediate hit with the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographics and led its closest competition by over seven million. Although ratings have been up and down throughout its run, there was a resurgence entering Season 12 — the show’s first without fan favorite, Derek Shepard (Patrick Dempsey, “Hudson & Rex”). This resurgence proved that faithful viewers, mostly women under 35, were not done with “Grey’s” yet.
“Grey’s” is a case study in how younger audiences’s discovery of a show through streaming platforms can ultimately revive its popularity. My experience was no different — I was far too young to watch the show when it first came out. An initial look at same-day ratings from Season 12 show a decrease from prior years, but a quick examination of multi-platform numbers which include DVR and streaming services show an increase in viewership. In Season 13, “Grey’s” was the highest-rated drama on television.
For some people, this show has been apart of their routine for over a decade. There is familiarity that cannot be replicated. People may not be watching live television like they used to but they are still watching the programming, just at their convenience rather than the networks’s. I began watching “Grey’s” week-to-week in its 11th season when I was in high school and found it to be one of the only shows that can get me to do my laundry. I don’t need to give it my undivided attention, but I can still understand what is happening.
From “Will & Grace,” “Roseanne” and “Norman Lear’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” revivals happen because people still want this familiarity. In the same way, “Grey’s” has that same sort of feeling without the leaving-and-coming-back part. So stop dismissing it as garbage — there is a reason, perhaps even more than a singular one, why ABC hasn’t hung up its scrubs quite yet.
With each new season, “Grey’s” has continually reinvented itself. The Season 15 finale found Chief Bailey firing Grey, Karev and Webber — the four remaining original cast members — and consequently opened up a whole new world of stories to tell in Season 16 and beyond. Karev has been hired to be Chief of Pac-North to turn around the worst hospital in Seattle, and takes Webber with him.
So to those that question why “Grey’s” is still on the air, my best guess is that you haven’t taken the time to see the kind of show that it truly is. Not only has “Grey’s” broken the record for longest running medical drama, but it has outlived one spin-off and has a second one in its third season. In total, there is a universe that consists of 472 episodes worth of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Let that sink in. Committing to any new show is a daunting task, and that’s without taking into account the 20,768 minutes it would take for someone to watch every episode in the Grey’s Anatomy Universe. “Grey’s Anatomy” has survived a Writer’s Strike, casting changes and technological evolution. 344 episodes later, it is still only the beginning.