Shonda Rhimes says that, before 'Grey's Anatomy' aired, a 'room full of old men' told her no one would watch

Having kicked off its 19th season — yes, that's 1-9 — in primetime TV this month, Grey's Anatomy long ago established itself as a reliable hit, commanding not only a spot on ABC's primetime schedule, but timeslots elsewhere in reruns. And part of what made it successful from the start, was the relationship between the main character, Ellen Pompeo's Dr. Meredith Grey, and Patrick Dempsey's character, Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd, who left the cast in 2015.

On Tuesday, Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes explained that the way the relationship between Meredith and Derek began — they went home together after meeting at a bar — was an issue for some. At least Meredith's actions were. And they weren't at all charmed by her finding out the next day that Derek was her new superior at the then-named Seattle Grace Hospital, where she was a new resident.

"I remember getting called into a room full of old men," Rhimes said on the 9 to 5ish With the Skimm podcast, "and they brought us in to tell me that the show was a problem because nobody was gonna watch a show about a woman who would sleep with a man the night before her first day of work. And they were dead serious."

Actually, they asked, after reading the pilot episode, who would do such a thing, like getting drunk and having a one-night stand with a stranger the night before starting a new job?

Betsy Beers, who is Rhimes's production partner on that show and many others, volunteered that she would. The answer to the men's probably rhetorical question shocked them and sent them scrambling.

"They couldn't call me a slut to my face," Beers said. "They didn't know what to say."

<em>Grey's Anatomy</em> producers Shonda Rhimes, left, and Betsy Beers pictured in 2017. (Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Grey's Anatomy producers Shonda Rhimes, left, and Betsy Beers pictured in 2017. (Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

The entire point was that Beers and Rhimes, who've since worked together on shows including Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and Bridgerton, were not seeing women like themselves on TV.

"There wasn't even really that many shows with a female in a center part," Beers said. "That in itself was surprising."

Rhimes said that she later realized why they got such a reaction.

"It feels really obvious now, I think. But at the time, you have to remember there had never been a show in which there was a lead character who owned her sexuality on network television," Rhimes said. "There had not been shows in which you saw three or four people of color in a room talking unless it was on a sitcom, without anybody else in the room. You didn't see a lot of the things that we were doing. And I didn't really think about them as being revolutionary. I thought, like, 'We're just making a show that I want to watch.'"

Four Emmys and countless other awards later, they still are.

And that Meredith-Derek coupling that the men in Rhimes's story didn't approve of has gone down in TV history as one of the most loved by fans. Just last month, the actors behind the characters, Pompeo and Dempsey, happily reunited at the D23 Expo, where they swiped Yahoo Entertainment's mic for a few laughs.