Oprah: Which character did you start with?
Shonda: I began with Meredith. Cristina was second, simply because she's the kind of woman I know really well, and I like her. There's something interesting about a person who is that driven, a little bit emotionally disconnected but still a caring, sweet, and smart individual you could be friends with.
Oprah: Why did you begin calling Patrick Dempsey's character McDreamy?
Shonda: When we were shooting the pilot, Patrick was seriously the most adorable man we'd ever seen on camera. We'd watch the monitor and think, "Look at his dreamy eyes!" So we started calling him Patrick McDreamy, and it stuck. It's like the time I heard one of our assistants using "va-jay-jay" in place of "vagina." It was the greatest phrase I'd ever heard.
Oprah: That's cute.
Shonda: The network said we were using the word "vagina" too much. I kept saying, "It's a medical show! We can't say "vagina," but we can say "penis" a million times in an episode?" In one of our first shows, we used the word "penis" about 32 times—but when we said "vagina" twice, the broadcast-standards people blinked. We fought that and won—but "va-jay-jay" is our favorite alternate term.
Oprah: When you created McDreamy, who did you imagine him to be?
Shonda: In some ways, he's a man who doesn't exist. In the first eight episodes, he seems like a perfect guy who's into Meredith—and the audience falls in love with him. But then it is revealed that he has a huge flaw: He has a wife. Isn't that the way it often happens in life? You get hooked before you discover the truth?
Oprah: Yes. You took a risk—people could have turned against him forever.
Shonda: Right. But we made the first 13 episodes in a void, because we hadn't aired anything yet. I thought, "If I'm going to write a series, I'm putting in everything I can think of." Why not have McDreamy's wife show up in the ninth episode and see what happens?
Oprah: I know you're not going to tell me, but do you have a preference for the man Meredith should end up with—McDreamy or Finn [the young, single veterinarian played by Chris O'Donnell]?
Shonda: I definitely have a preference. Your head tells you Finn, and your heart says McDreamy.
Oprah: Then she should definitely be with McDreamy—though he was wrong for cheating.
Shonda: They're all wrong. That's the point. No one gets to be the saint. [Meredith chose McDreamy as O went to press.]
Oprah: Where were you when the idea for Meredith popped into your head?
Shonda: In my pajamas at home, which is where I spent a lot of time writing. My daughter was still fairly small, so she was hanging out in a basket on my office floor. I kept asking myself, "What kind of woman should the heroine be?" I thought she should be someone who had made some big mistakes. As it turns out, Meredith also has another problem: She is trying to live up to her mother's renowned career in surgery. Meredith is the daughter of a mother who basically never spent any time with her—the daughter of a mother who now has Alzheimer's and doesn't even remember her.