'Grey's Anatomy' Poised to Become ABC's Top-Rated Show in 12th Season

GREY'S ANATOMY S12E01 Still - H 2016
Richard Cartwright/ABC

GREY'S ANATOMY S12E01 Still - H 2016

A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Grey's Anatomy is experiencing a second life. The Shondaland medical soap is poised to become ABC's highest-rated drama this season among coveted adults 18-to-49 and also ranks among the top five dramas on all of broadcast.

Now averaging a 3.9 rating in the demo, the Ellen Pompeo starrer ties Thursday time-slot neighbor Scandal — an almost unheard of accomplishment for a show in its 12th season. (Live showings for recent episodes suggest Grey's will end the season as the top ABC series.)

One benefit for Grey's: Steady is the new up. The series outpaces the TGIT pack because fellow Shonda Rhimes drama Scandal is down 17 percent this season and How to Get Away With Murder fell 30 percent. New entry The Catch debuted March 24 to a disappointing 1.2 live-plus-same-day rating in the demo.

By contrast, Grey's barely has budged and ranks as the No. 2 returning broadcast drama in the demo year-over-year (trailing only Fox's Empire) — a sign fans haven't quit the series after leading man Patrick Dempsey was killed off last season with a year remaining on his contract.

Rhimes credits the staying power to the show's honest relationships and a character viewers are invested in. "The audience truly identifies with Ellen Pompeo," Rhimes tells THR. "We are following this woman's journey and the journey of all these people with her. It's not about a lot of tricks; it's about watching people evolve."

And it's not just loyal viewers sticking with the surgeons as they head into season 13. New (and younger) viewers are finding the series on Netflix. Case in point: The Netflix exposure has helped Grey's become broadcast's No. 2 series behind Empire among women 18-to-34.

Also helping tie viewers new and old together is the frequency with which the series references its past — a move inspired by Sandra Oh's exit in season 10 that coincided with the departures of head writers Tony Phelan and Joan Ratner (who left for a CBS deal). "We were starting over again," Rhimes says. "I felt such an extreme sense of nostalgia. So to get to go back and use it for the purposes we were using it for was really wonderful — and it's a reminder for people with what they may have missed."

Adds Shondaland partner Betsy Beers of the drama's evolving cast (of which only four originals remain): "The show uses its past well — and I'm glad they have so many relatives!"