Grey's Anatomy's medical expert is opening up about the importance of covering the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on the long-running medical drama.
So far, season 17 of the ABC show has followed the doctors at the fictional Grey Sloan Memorial grappling with COVID-19, both with their patients and amongst the team itself. Dr. Zoanne Clack, a writer and producer who has been with the show since it premiered in 2005, recently told The Hollywood Reporter that "COVID is no. 1 on the call sheet" this season.
"This pandemic is the single-biggest medical story of our time and likely a permanent game-changer as to how we practice medicine and how we look at the world," she said. "Being a medical show that focuses on our doctors' professional and private lives and one that takes great pride in being a voice for the voiceless and understanding that responsibility, we felt compelled to tell the stories of loneliness, fear and bravery that our health care workers and the patients are going through."
Clack continued, "Of course, we were scared that people would not want to go through the misery of COVID once more, but I think we've found a nice balance of keeping a Grey's vibe on the episodes. It's not all COVID, all the time, but COVID is always the backdrop. As I've heard people say, COVID is no. 1 on the call sheet."
Clack, who spent a year working with the CDC after her residency in emergency medicine at Emory University, also said the show has assembled a large team of doctors and medical experts over the years who help keep Grey's Anatomy as accurate as possible.
"I've started a program called the Medical Communications Fellowship that allows active surgical residents to spend three to six months with the writers during the research years of their residencies," she said. "Those doctors, in addition to some of our tried-and-true consultants that we go to for advice and expert opinions on every episode, pressed upon us the overall life-changing effects COVID is having and will continue to have on our medical system."
Clack also addressed the season premiere's shocking twist, in which the late Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) appeared in Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) vivid dreams while she battled a particularly severe case of COVID.
In addition to spotlighting the "visceral 'COVID dreams'" that have affected coronavirus patients and non-patients alike, Clack said bringing Derek back was an opportunity to spark joy for longtime fans.
"It's a chance to bring some joy into the abyss that is COVID and that is 2020," she said. "I loved how people on Twitter were saying that Grey's saved 2020 for them. One of our writers said we were making America Grey's again."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.
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