POSTED BY STUART LEVINE
The overcast weather analogy seems appropriate for the past season of "Grey's" in many ways. The tone of the series was ominous in a bunch of episodes, including arcs on the tenuous relationship between Meredith and McDreamy, George's by-the-threads marriage to Callie, Richard's divorce and Burke's ultimate dismissal of Dr. Yang as a life partner.
And that's just the on-screen tumult.
Of course, nothing got bigger headlines than Isaiah Washington's meltdown and anti-gay remarks, which ultimately led to his dismissal off the show.
(When asked about Ben Silverman's comments, that NBC had talked to Washington about a possible role on "Bionic Woman" while he was still under contract to ABC Studios, Rhimes answered, "I wasn't aware of any conversations." And when prodded for a response on his arrival at the Peacock primetime lineup, she rose above the fray, answering, "He's very talented and I hope he and the show do well, but not as well as 'Private Practice.'")
"It was a dark journey," said Rhimes of the past year, who added later on that it was a "dark season, but I want to get back to having fun."
On Wednesday, ABC topper Steve McPherson agreed, having said "Grey's" would arrive this fall with a slightly lighter tone.
"There was a lot of difficult stuff and emotional stuff going on for a multitude of characters. And I think we're going to get away from some of that just because of the nature of the storytelling that she (Rhimes) is going to do," he said.
That's not to say Rhimes wasn't happy with the how the stories turned out. She remained on the creative course she set out from Day 1.
"We started with Meredith helping Izzy out of her wedding dress and ended with Meredith helping Christine out of her wedding dress," Rhimes said in bookending the season.
And, yes, she was aware of the unhappiness of some of the hard-core fans — though she didn't necessarily agree with them — those who followed the show to Thursdays from Sundays in a risky programming move by ABC that paid huge dividends.
"I read the blogs," she explained. "I take very seriously what the fans say. They care about the show."
"Private Practice" will have a built-in audience, with many "Grey's" viewers wanting to see where Rhimes takes these new characters. Spinoffs, of course, come with both advantages and built-in hurdles. Rhimes plans to split her time evenly between the two shows.
The backdoor pilot in the penultimate "Grey's" episode of last season already introduced the characters, so there's immediately familiarity. And, unlike when "Grey's" began, the show arrives with a very well-known and cast. (Seems weird now, but Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight, Sandra Oh and even Ellen Pompeo were far from household names just two years ago.)
For "Private Practice," Tim Daly and Amy Brenneman (pictured left) are both TV vets that, when given the right material, have proven to be more than able to carry a show. And Taye Diggs (pictured right), though coming off a misfired "Day Break," is a hugely popular actor.
As for Kate Walsh (pictured below), who was virtually unknown before arriving on the "Grey's" set in the middle of the first season, the TV gods seems to be shining on her.
But expectations for "Private" will be high, with the assumption the show has to be an instant ratings knockout and may be considered a failure if it doesn't live up to "Grey's" expectations.
If it's knocked around a bit with fans and critics, it won't rustle Rhimes, though, whose passions for the characters can't be faulted. She's sticking to her vision for both shows, and if others want to come along for the ride, even better.
"Damon (Lindelof, exec producer of 'Lost') and I talked about the backlash," she confessed. "There's a moment that, if you're going strong creatively and telling the stories you want to tell, the fans will follow you."
-- Stuart Levine