How much of the Grey’s Anatomy DNA will be included in the firefighter spinoff?
Creator Stacy McKee noted at ABC’s Television Critics Association press tour that because the midseason show exists in the same universe as the mothership, elements of what’s made the franchise successful remain true. But there will be a heightened energy -- and allows for future visits by familiar faces at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. Quite literally, the firehouse is located just "three blocks down."
“The show is Grey’s Anatomy adjacent. The world takes place in Seattle, the same way that Grey’s Anatomy does. There’s a lot of potential for cross-pollination,” McKee said on Monday. Grey’s vets Ellen Pompeo and Chandra Wilson make brief appearances in the spinoff, when Station 19 -- the fictional firehouse the Seattle firefighters call home base -- cross paths with the Grey-Sloan docs.
“It was a priority for me in thinking of this as a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff that it works hand in hand with Grey’s in tone and intensity and humor and heart. But there’s also the added element to this show that the hospital setting doesn’t allow,” she explained, “which is a lot of our characters on-site. They’re in the middle of action sequences, so there’s a certain level of adrenaline and energy that comes with that that you don’t necessarily find in the same way as Grey’s -- you find it in different ways. It’s very similar in tone and spirit, but also a little bit different as well."
Another way the spinoff will look visually different from Grey's is an act-ending "pre-cap," which will tease what's coming up in the next act, which producers hope to make that a "signature" of the show.
"We had a lot of conversations about that [the tone and look] and where we landed is, we’re in the neighborhood. We’re three blocks down. It should feel like Grey’s Anatomy, certainly, when we’re on the Grey’s Anatomy sets, which is a high quality look," executive producer Paris Barclay said. "But [when we’re at the fire station], we try to make the fires more involving, we try to put you in the fire with the firefighters and make that a little bit more active."
McKee addressed why Jason George’s character, Ben Warren, was the ideal fit to make the move from the hospital hallways to the fighting fires.
“His character seemed like such an organic character to transition into the spinoff, especially when we settled on the idea of firefighting at a fire station. If you’ve followed Ben Warren, as a character, he’s changed careers a couple of times,” McKee said. “He always goes after the thing that he thinks is going to satisfy him most in the moment, and he’s never satisfied if he’s stuck somewhere that isn’t fulfilling him. So it just seemed like a really organic, natural transition -- plus he was fighting a fire in the finale of Grey’s Anatomy last season.”
“It does make it easier because I don’t have to imagine a backstory,” George added, referencing the eight years he’s spent playing the character on Grey’s. “That said, just like Ben was, I personally caught more emotional about leaving the Grey’s family.”
The actor noted that when the Grey’s spinoff kicks off, Ben is again starting from the bottom. (In the first episode, he’s often referred to as the “new guy.”) “It’s humbling for him but that’s a good thing at the end of the day,” George said. “It says a lot that he’ll ride through the tough part to get through the day.”
"We want Grey's Anatomy fans to love this the way they love Grey's Anatomy. Like having dinner at your uncle’s but your mother’s still cooking," Barclay said.
The untitled Grey’s Anatomy spinoff debuts with a two-hour series premiere on Thursday, March 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.