Oprah: Sandra, how on earth did you shoot that scene when you had the nervous breakdown?
Shonda: Sandra came to me and said, "I think I can pull off a scene in which I can't stop crying." I wasn't sure how we'd work that in, but I started thinking, "This is the perfect way to handle the fact that Cristina Yang never deals with her feelings." There had to be a point where we see someone who's deeply in control just come apart. We thought that could be funny.
Oprah: It was hysterical.
Sandra: They're calling for me on the set.
Oprah: Pleasure to meet you.
Shonda: She's honestly one of the smartest women I know.
Oprah: I can tell she's intelligent. All the show's actors and actresses seem really smart.
Shonda: Isaiah Washington learns all his surgeries before he performs them on TV. Scarily enough, I think if he stopped at an accident on the street, he'd know exactly what to do. He has pulled shifts at hospitals where he follows the surgeons around for 48 hours.
Oprah: Earlier you began telling me how you got the idea for the series.
Shonda: I was obsessed with the surgery channels. A few years ago, I did a pilot for ABC. It was about journalists covering a war. I really loved it, but then we went to war in Iraq, and the pilot suddenly felt like poor taste because the characters were having too good a time. Real soldiers were dying. It would have been weird to air it. Later ABC wanted another pilot—and I'd had so much fun with the first one. Writing for television is completely different from movie scriptwriting. A movie is all about the director's vision, but television is a writer's medium. When a show airs, it's exactly as I imagined it.
So anyway, back to my obsession with surgery: My sisters and I would call each other up and talk about operations we'd seen on the Discovery Channel. There's something fascinating about the medical world—you see things you'd never imagine, like the fact that doctors talk about their boyfriends or their day while they're cutting somebody open. So when ABC asked me to write another pilot, the OR seemed like the natural setting.
Oprah: How did you differentiate Grey's Anatomy from ER?
Shonda: ER is high-speed medicine. The camera flies around, adrenaline is rushing. My show is more personal. The idea for the series began when a doctor told me it was incredibly hard to shave her legs in the hospital shower. At first that seemed like a silly detail. But then I thought about the fact that it was the only time and place this woman might have to shave her legs. That's how hard the work is.
Oprah: How did each character evolve in your mind?
Shonda: That's a tough one. I wanted to create a world in which you felt as if you were watching very real women. Most of the women I saw on TV didn't seem like people I actually knew. They felt like ideas of what women are. They never got to be nasty or competitive or hungry or angry. They were often just the loving wife or the nice friend. But who gets to be the bitch? Who gets to be the three-dimensional woman?