[This story contains spoilers from the two-hour series premiere of ABC’s Station 19.]
ABC sounded the alarm Thursday, unveiling the two-hour series premiere of its highly anticipated Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Station 19.
The drama from showrunner Stacy McKee, who has been with Grey’s since the flagship, is set just blocks from Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital at Station 19 and follows the firefighters both at work and at home. It’s the second spinoff to stem from Grey’s. The first was Private Practice.
Jaina Lee Ortiz (Rosewood) stars as Andy Herrera, a woman who was raised to be a firefighter, as she navigates the station politics after her father — the captain (Miguel Sandoval) — is forced to take a step back. Similar to the Grey’s pilot, Andy is already established at the station, where she competes with love interest Jack (Grey Damon) to replace her father as captain. Meanwhile, Andy also has a long (and romantic) history with police officer Ryan (Alberto Frezza) as Station 19 jumps right into what will be its central love triangle.
Below, McKee talks with The Hollywood Reporter about where Station 19 goes next, who else from the Grey’s world could pop in and which cues she took from the flagship.
What kind of ground rules did Shonda have for Station 19, was there anything you couldn’t do?
No. Maybe with a different person that might have been a different conversation. But I’ve worked with Shonda for such a long time. I’ve learned at her heels and watched her and creatively absorbed the way she likes to approach story, the themes and types of characters that she’s always been excited to showcase. Now, that’s part of my make-up too. It was a very organic conversation about what kind of awesome, badass lady are we going to put at the forefront of this show? It was a no-brainer. We were never going to not do that. There weren’t any ground rules, it just needed to feel like the right story and right world to work as a companion piece for Grey’s.
Was there anything Rhimes said she specifically wanted?
Not that I recall. I remember she said we’ll do the spinoff if the right idea comes to surface. I went in and pitched this idea of a fire station and from that point on, it was full steam ahead.
Where did the idea to explore firefighters come from? You wrote the season 13 finale that featured Jason George’s Ben running into the burning hospital…
A little kernel of it was born out of that episode. I was on set for it and it was so much fun and it seemed like the most perfect, organic extension of the Grey’s universe. We see the rigs pull into the breezeway all the time, drop off patients and drive away. The idea of a spinoff was really exciting if it could shine a light on a whole other piece of a world; not just one single character. When thinking of what world that might be fun to shine a light on, we know the first responders, paramedics and firefighters have worked within the Grey’s universe in a peripheral way for so long that to shine the light on them now and realize that there’s this whole other world that’s happening right down the street that we never knew, it organically came to be.
Matthew, the paramedic from Grey’s played by Justin Bruening, offered a good and recent example of these characters that exist just outside of the hospital, too. Is there a chance he’ll pop in on Station 19?
I’m open to any and all cross-pollination of that nature. Matthew was incredible, paramedic Nicole [played by Nicole Cummins, who also serves as a director on Grey’s] has always been exciting. There are so many of those characters that have popped into the Grey’s universe. I’ve been there for all of them; I was on Grey’s for every season. I have all of those on my radar. You never know when you might see them.
Grey’s Anatomy opened with Mer starting her internship in her mother’s shadow. Station 19 started with Andy working alongside her father before competing to take over for him as he tends to his health. Was that similarity intentional?
Yes and no. In a general sense, there’s definitely something to a character who has something to prove to their parents or is in the shadow of a parent. That’s a universal kind of thing. We all have a point in our lives where we have to grow up and step into our own adult life. Whether it’s a parent who is deceased or still living or in a nursing home or standing beside you looking over your shoulder, it’s tough not to feel that presence in some way and have it inform how you define yourself moving forward. I love starting a character at that place. The big difference is that with Grey’s, we saw Ellis [Kate Burton] and she wasn’t fully present and was already suffering from Alzheimer’s. She wasn’t able to be a physical presence in the workplace side by side with Meredith. She was more in the shadows and hanging over her. With Andy and her dad, we see him; he’s fully interactive and that’s a dynamic that we don’t get to see on Grey’s that I was really excited to have with my main character.
How much did the pilot and early seasons of Grey’s influence the direction of what would become Station 19?
I didn’t go back and rewatch things specifically to look for structure. But because I worked on Grey’s — I was an assistant on the pilot and became a staff writer on season one — I lived through all of those seasons and transformations of those characters for so long that they’re ingrained and a part of me now. It’s impossible for me to not have been influenced. There are a lot of common themes and a lot of things that I wanted to showcase: I wanted really aspirational female friendships, women who are strong and capable and there’s no question about them being strong and capable; I wanted messy personal relationships but I also wanted people who have a real joy for the work that they do and for their job and a real passion for this incredible thing that they wake up to do every day. Those were important because they’re nice stories to put out into the world.
Andy is the Meredith of this show. Was it always the plan to build this around Andy vs. having Ben be at the center? There haven’t been any male-led Shondaland shows…
It’s interesting that you put it that way. To me, it’s built around the whole station and all the people there. Yes, Andy is at the forefront and anchors things emotionally but Ben has as great and compelling a story as she does. I don’t know that it’s an either/or situation to me. To me, it’s about this family and group of incredible characters. In the second episode, you start to get to know the others a bit better and as you move forward this season, you get to know all of them really well. We’re following Ben and his trajectory as much as we are Andy’s too. So it isn’t just around her. Though she is at the forefront, it’s a pretty even balance, creatively, that we’re showing this whole family and station.
How much of Andy’s trajectory follows what we’ve seen for Meredith over the years when it comes to her dedication and drive with her career but also this love triangle that you’ve established? Do Andy and Meredith follow a similar trajectory?
Andy’s trajectory will be a little different. There will be a lot of ups and downs; it will be a whole rollercoaster of emotions. The great thing with Andy is that she’s just at this first beginning moment of the next step of her career. This is a tiny window into where that could go. We’ve seen so many years of Meredith but Andy is just at the beginning.
Unlike Grey’s, the show came built in with a love triangle. How big of a storyline will that be in the first season?
The love triangle definitely is at the forefront of our storytelling this season. You might watch one episode and be invested in Andy’s relationship with Jack and the next episode you might be invested in Andy’s relationship with Ryan. It’s very even-handed and that makes it messy and fantastic.
Is the plan for Andy to pick between Jack and Ryan this season or is that something that will stretch beyond that?
We’ll have to see!
The competition to be the captain of Station 19 is similar to what Grey’s did with its competition for top posts like chief resident, etc. What other cues are you taking from the flagship?
There’s that balance between humor and heart. I wanted this to work as a companion piece — to be a happy sibling to Grey’s — because it’s supposed to be a spinoff and they’re supposed to work hand-in-hand. I wanted something that could match it in tone, humor and heart; that was always my goal in looking at how to craft this creatively. I wanted it to feel within the same wheelhouse. But there’s also all the extra fun of being out on location and having big fires and stunts and the action component of it. That heightens the stakes in certain ways.
How much will Tuck (BJ Tanner) continue to be part of the series? Will Ben’s home and work life balance continue to be explored?
On Grey’s we didn’t always get to do that. It’s been nice to do that here. Yes, we see Tuck in episode two and we definitely keep Ben’s personal life alive. We’ll get to see more of Bailey (Chandra Wilson) … he won’t go away.
Grey’s Anatomy ended its first season with a great cliffhanger — Kate Walsh showing up as Derek’s wife, Addison. How does the Station 19 finale compare?
Hopefully it compares well. There will definitely be some cliffhangers.
What did you think of the Station 19 premiere? Will you sound the alarm for more? Sound off in the comments section, below.