If ABC's Grey's Anatomy feels a little familiar when it returns with Thursday's season 14 premiere, it will be for a very good reason.
Krista Vernoff, who helped launch the Shondaland drama as part of the writing staff for its first seven seasons, has returned to the veteran medical drama as co-showrunner — and she's bringing her extensive history with the show and its characters with her.
Vernoff, who earned an Emmy nomination for her memorable season two episode "Into You Like a Train" (watch a clip below) in which two strangers are impaled by the same metal pole, has grand plans to lean into a more grown-up Meredith as well as to write for an entire slate of new characters. Below, she talks with THR about coming back to Grey's, why she's leaning hard into a lighter tone and why that's OK for series creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes. (And for those worried that Rhimes' Netflix deal will impact her involvement with Grey's, you can stop as it remains business as usual.)
How did you wind up back at Grey's?
Shonda and I have stayed in touch. We had our annual lunch and she said, "So, hypothetically … when is your deal up?" It turned out not to really be a hypothetical question.
What was your pitch?
She asked if I wanted to come back. Specifically, she said, "I miss you! And I would like to offer you the keys to the candy shop that is Grey's Anatomy!" I said "thank you" a lot, and then pointed out that I've been writing Shameless for the last five years so my comic teeth have sharpened. I said if she wanted the darker, moodier show she's been producing for the last few years, I was the wrong person for the job. She said "No, I want you to come and do you."
Have you kept up with the show since you left?
No. I had watched a few key episodes that my friends who were writing the show had told me to watch. But when you leave a show after so many years, it's hard to watch it because it feels like there's a party that's going on without you. It just makes you sad! So, I had a lot of binge watching that I had to do once I agreed to come back.
What did you learn on Shameless that you're bringing back to Grey's?
For sure my comic sensibilities are stronger. But so are my showrunning skills. You can't work for John Wells for five years and not come out a better showrunner.
You spent the first seven seasons launching this show. Now that you're back, what are you most looking forward to doing with these characters?
What's really fun about coming back now is that half the cast are people I've never worked with. So, I get the joy of homecoming and of revisiting characters that I helped to give birth to and love so much, and I also get the joy of feeling like I'm writing a brand-new show a lot of the time. I've particularly enjoyed writing Meredith because she's changed so much over the years. This is a much more grown-up version of Meredith — she's been through so much and survived so much and really kept her sense of humor intact — so she's a lot of fun to write. She's a grown-ass woman who is sexy and funny and smart and fierce and a boss, and you don't see that all that often on TV.
Do you have a theme or larger, overall goal with this season?
Joy. Laughter. Hope. Possibility. Breaking rules for all the right reasons.
Grey's Anatomy season 14 premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on ABC.