Chapter 14 of 30 from Shonda Rhimes

Case Study: Grey's Anatomy Pilot - Part 1

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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

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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. ...

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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.

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Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television