A Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Grey’s Anatomy Shows There’s a Geeky Side to Every TV Show

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Greys-on-air

I was more than a bit skeptical about what kind of article I could get out of the visit to the set of Grey’s Anatomy that was part of the press junket I went on last month. After all, it’s not a geeky show in any noticeable way, and is definitely not aimed at children, so how could I talk about it in a way that would engage GeekDad’s audience?

What I hadn’t realized is that, behind every successful scripted TV show – regardless of genre – is a team of makers. It makes sense: when you’ve invented a world for your characters to inhabit, you sometimes need to create sets or props to make it as real as possible for the viewer. This is, of course, especially true for period pieces and science fiction/fantasy shows, but even ones like Grey’s Anatomy that are based in a realistic contemporary setting require plenty of things that can’t be bought (or, at least, require modification after being bought) in order to maintain verisimilitude.

Props, including a beating heart (note the person handling the air bulbs)
Props, including a beating heart (note the person handling the air bulbs)

While on the blogger trip to Los Angeles last month, our group visited the set of Grey’s Anatomy and got a chance to look at and discuss the show’s props with propmaster Angela Whiting and actress Jessica Capshaw – who plays Dr. Arizona Robbins on the show, and is incidentally the daughter of Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and the stepdaughter of Steven Spielberg. It was extremely cool to see some of the items, big and little, that they very frequently have to produce quickly but that have to look perfect or risk making the show look fake. In particular I enjoyed seeing the very realistic latex human heart they had made that actually appeared to be beating.

A hallway in the hospital set
A hallway in the hospital set

Visiting the set gave me a real appreciation for how hard the set designers work. We first visited the set of the home of two of the show’s characters, which looked for all the world like a place lived in by two very well-off people who hire someone to clean. But that wasn’t even that impressive when compared to the hospital set. I swear that the rooms that had proper ceilings (rooms on sets often don’t, if they’re going to be filmed in such a way that the ceiling won’t be seen on camera), you could bring in an unconscious person and leave him there, and when he awoke he would be completely convinced he was in a real hospital. Not that I’m advocating trying this, mind you. There were rooms and hallways and desks and such that anyone who’s ever been to a good-sized hospital will recognize immediately – consider how much stuff there is in an actual hospital room that you would only really notice if it weren’t there, and you’ll see what I mean. These people are really good at their jobs, and it shows.

A ward (dressed as pediatric) on the hospital set
A ward (dressed as pediatric) on the hospital set

So, all in all, it wasn’t enough to make me start watching Grey’s Anatomy – it’s just not my kind of show – but it did give me a new, healthy respect for how much work goes into making even the least geeky of fictional TV shows, and how much of that work is more than appropriate for geeks.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays (including tonight) at 9:00pm ET/PT on ABC.

Photos by Matt Blum.

Note: Visiting the set of Grey’s Anatomy and talking with its propmaster were part of a press junket I attended that was paid for by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.

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