Chapter 14 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Case Study: Grey's Anatomy Pilot - Part 1


Shonda breaks down the Grey's Anatomy pilot act-by-act and shares why she made certain story decisions.

Topics include: Grey's Anatomy Case Study

Shonda breaks down the Grey's Anatomy pilot act-by-act and shares why she made certain story decisions.

Topics include: Grey's Anatomy Case Study

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television

In 6+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television.

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Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.

Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Shonda will also respond to select student questions.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Good writing pointers, great working advice and I learned how to structure my story around the character

An honest revealing class, Generous of Shonda to be so frank. I learnt several new writing techniques to develop a story - most importantly to be lead by character.

So far this has been an amazing class. I never did a story bible before and I completed one because of this class. I'm now going back to the middle lessons to work on the pilot and I'm hopeful with Shonda's inspiration that I will complete it.

Incredible resource and tools from one of the most talented and productive creatives in the biz! Thank you!


Toni H.

Having started with these characters from the Pilot, my investment in them hasn't waned. Thank you, Shonda, for creating a story which gave me a ticket on their roller coaster ride into becoming human beings while becoming surgeons, and now, teaching me how to see my own story/pilot anew. I'm so appreciative that you're so approachable, Shonda, in giving back to so many writers. This is one of my favorite lessons. The reveals in Act II and Act III set up the characters' weaknesses and failures shadowing them going forward in the story.

Jonathan S.

I'm in a number of writers' groups. The members often want to know the reasons for things that are happening and what the characters are saying. But sometimes (most of the time) those reasons will come out later. It's a good idea to keep track of the things the readers or watchers will want to know so that you can deliver on those "promises" later. Otherwise your audience will feel gypped. You don't have to deliver everything, but you do have to deliver most everything.

Paisley B.

Appreciate the professional perspective on the current state of...character affairs, I guess. I leaned in when Shonda discussed the importance of allowing our characters to have some dark imperfection, and absolutely agree that we've creatively gone overboard trying to make everyone Walter White or every series as dark as Game of Thrones. (both brilliant, BTW, but brilliantly bloody and brilliantly dramatic) I think it's a sign of the times we're living in, which was something discussed earlier during this seminar. The audience either is or isn't ready for content we create, and right now dark, dramatic and messy is selling. I'm also still wrapping my mind around the last lesson re: dialogue. I've been complimented on my ability to write good, believable dialogue. (pat on the back) The discussion touched on leaving things unsaid and allowing subtext to communicate something important - what's happening, but not said out loud. I know this is so, so important so content will ring with authenticity and truth. What I'm most surprised about is the fear that comes with doing something seemingly fundamental. I've come at this "subtext" communication topic as an acting student and dedicated myself to understanding and making good on delivering what the author intended - helped by the director, of course. As a writer, I definitely see "letting go" and trusting it's on the page as something I'll need to work on. The pitfall of explaining too much or over explaining in dialogue seems to come directly back to trusting myself as a writer, as well as trusting the process - the director, show runner, EP's, creative departments, and chosen talent will do the material justice if it's on the page. (I should write this last bit 1,000 times on a chalk board to make sure it sticks with me.)

Shelly H.

I agree with Debi. This was one of my favorite lessons so far. It planted so many seeds in my head for my own pilot/characters, that I had to pause the lesson several times and download my ideas. Very helpful stuff.

Ta'Mara J.


Akashdeep H.

Dear Shonda or whoever reads on her behalf, This pilot is so unforgettable for me... must have been ages I saw and it is still vividly etched in my head. Great work . Fortunate to attend this class. Thank you for having us be a part of this amazing case study. Thank you master class.

V M.

I am so glad that I watched this pilot when I started this Master Class and I watched the Scandal Pilot also. It makes it easier to see and understand EVERYTHING Shonda is referring to in the classes if you've watched them. I also read the pilot script. Very helpful how she writes. All episodes are on Netflix.

Debi F.

This is easily my favorite lesson so far. I learn best by talking and working through visual examples. In fact, the engagement within this lesson helped to coalesce ideas in previous lessons in one shot -- character, dialogue, plot -- it all comes together. Here is where it got real for me! I'll definitely be re-watching this lesson a few more times.


I love the insight into a writers mind. I will definitely need to watch these videos a 2nd and 3rd time! Wonderful!

Nickolas G.

I love how not a single one of those "students" said a single word in this lesson aside from grunting in the affirmative...


So, looking at the pilot of Grey's and thinking about the structure. Interestingly enough, it feels like it's a good example of how to lay something out. So if you think about there are five acts in a pilot, and every act is roughly 11 pages. Although, it could be a little bit longer. Or could be a little bit shorter. So, act one is really the introduction of the characters. The introduction of the world. I've said that you really want to start your pilot out with an exciting opening. And by exciting I don't mean everything has to blow up. I mean exciting in that you want an opening that makes someone lean in. And I often say this because I feel like people don't get this, a cliche is anything you've heard or seen before. So, don't do it. Any line of dialogue that you've ever heard anybody say before, is already a cliche. So don't write it down. It shouldn't be done. Any scene-- don't do, like, oh, I've seen this scene before, so it's a really cool idea. I'm going to just do something like that. Do something original. If you've seen it before, why would you do it again. Someone's already done it. Granted, there's almost nothing new under the sun. But there are different interpretations. And different ways of thinking of things that are new. Your goal isn't to copy somebody that you admire. Your goal is to be the thing that other people would admire themselves. If you think about act one, act one is really all about finding-- is setting up a world, introducing your characters, and then having your inciting incident. What's your pilot going to be about? What's your inciting incident? In Grey's it's Meredith finds out-- there's two things, actually. Meredith finds out that Derek Shepard, the guy she slept with at the very beginning of the pilot, is one of her bosses and one of her doctors at her hospital. And she's horrified because she's very interested in being professional, and being a surgeon is her biggest hope. The second thing that happens is, and it's a smaller one because it goes with our b-story, George O'Malley tells a patient that the patient is going to be fine. And he, basically, gets under Dr. Burke's skin. And Burke basically declares, you're going to be my guy. And you realize that George is in trouble. So those two things have happened. And once those two things had happened, the pilot is on its path. Everything is set up. One of the things I like to say to my writers when we're making scenes happen, is you have to think of the worst thing that can happen to your characters. Make it happen, and then go from there. And I don't necessarily mean always just the worst, but I mean the most extreme. What's your worst case scenario? If George is going to tell a patient the patient's going to be fine. Well, the worst case scenario is if the patient dies on the table. ...