Dartmouth grad hits the ER on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
By Jessica Peet
Published on Monday, May 2, 2005
ABC's new hospital drama "Grey's Anatomy" follows the life of fictional Dartmouth graduate Meredith Grey, an intern at a competitive Seattle hospital. Perhaps not surprisingly, the show's creator and executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, graduated from the College in 1991.
Dartmouth alumni have a notoriously hard time letting go. With "Grey's Anatomy," Rhimes follows in the footsteps of "Animal House" co-screenwriter Chris Miller '63 and other notable Dartmouth alumni who retain their connection to the Big Green through their art.
Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo, often puts on a Dartmouth t-shirt during stressful situations, a decision Rhimes said reflects her fondness for the College.
"I was always like, 'We're going to put Dartmouth in every episode,'" Rhimes said, adding that she was grateful to the College for allowing her to use the Dartmouth name. "It's my way of giving back."
Carving out a niche somewhere between the almost slapstick humor of "Scrubs" and the thriller drama of "ER," Rhimes said she felt the show's popularity comes in part from its focus on universal life issues.
"It's not about the cases as much as it is about the lives of the doctors," said Rhimes, who briefly considered going pre-med while at Dartmouth. "They're younger, they screw up a lot and we all know what that's like."
Since it premiered in March, Grey's Anatomy has enjoyed high ratings and favorable reviews.
"I did not expect the show to be as big of a hit as it is," said Rhimes, who will soon begin to prepare for season two. "I just wanted to make a show that I'd really want to watch."
The drama appeals to Dartmouth students who relate to the high-pressure environment that Grey and her intern colleagues endure at the hospital.
"I can sympathize with the characters," fan Michele Nudelman '05 said. "Especially as they deal with issues such as sleep deprivation and roommates; any college student can relate."
Before breaking into the television industry, Rhimes wrote the screenplays for films including "Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement" and the made-for-HBO movie "Introducing Dorothy Dandrige," starring Halle Berry.
"I don't think anything prepares you for television," Rhimes said. "There's no time to sit around at home ever, it's very immediate."
Despite the faster pace and increase in pressure, Rhimes said she prefers television to film because television allows her to play a greater role in the creative process.
"The writer is in control," Rhimes said. "If I don't like something, then I can say stop and it gets fixed, which is lovely because the show is truly what you imagined it to be when it comes out."
While at Dartmouth, Rhimes majored in English literature and was heavily involved with the Black Underground Theatre and Arts Association, including directing work that earned her several awards.
The success she experienced at Dartmouth continued at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television. At USC, she earned a Master's of Fine Arts and was awarded the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship.
The cast of the show, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m., includes Emmy-nominated actor Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh of recent "Sideways" fame, in addition to Pompeo.