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Vital Signs

This Grey's Anatomy isn't gross—but it's a textbook case of a hit show

All of us at some time or other will go through the walls of a hospital," observes Shonda Rhimes, a 1991 Dartmouth College graduate and the producer of the hit TV series Grey's Anatomy. It's that familiarity, Rhimes thinks, that makes the hospital/doctor show such a perennial favorite on television. "There's something both distant and familiar about hospitals and doctors," she says. Her own interest in medicine springs from being, she says, "a sickly kid" who spent a lot of time in hospitals.

But being a doctor herself was a short-lived idea. "I planned to study medicine for about five seconds before I realized that I'm scientifically challenged," Rhimes says. The show is not, she emphasizes, a medical show per se but a relationship show set in a hospital—though Rhimes did do extensive research before writing the show's first episodes. She now calls on Dr. Karen Pike, a fellow Dartmouth alumna, to read all the scripts, and she has a coterie of other medical experts on call, including some at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Grey's Anatomy—named for its principal character, surgical intern Meredith Grey, by way of allusion to the famous anatomical reference book—includes enough grisly detail to be an accurate depiction of medical life and enough relationship drama to keep it romantically interesting. Its first-year surgical residents have already, in their first few months of training, confronted the death of a woman with a 60-pound tumor, the need to extract a set of keys from a man who swallowed them when his wife threatened to leave him, and the awkward seasonopener: Meredith's discovery that a man she had a one-night stand with was with the surgeon who will be her boss for the next four years.

Asked if she knows what will happen in future seasons, Rhimes says she knows exactly what's coming up, "but if I told you, I'd have to kill you," she laughs. Under the guidance of a woman with a sharp sense of reality, a gift for dark comedy, and a keen interest in the kind of medical drama for which the public seems to have an insatiable interest, Grey's Anatomy seems poised to become even better-known than its eponymous textbook.

Megan McAndrew

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