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‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Showrunner Krista Vernoff Compares Her Relationship With Shonda Rhimes to Izzie and Cristina

Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff got candid about her relationship with creator Shonda Rhimes in a new interview.

Related: Grey’s Anatomy’s Exits: Who Quit? Who Was Fired? Who Is Down to Come Back?

“Shonda was scary, but she wasn’t as scary as my mother, and I’d say that to her,” Vernoff, 49, told The Hollywood Reporter in a profile published on Thursday, April 1. ”If I’d allowed myself to see and feel and know what was happening around me [growing up], I don’t know that I could have survived.”

Vernoff originally worked on seasons 1 through 7 of the ABC drama. In Thursday’s profile, the writer revealed that she identified with Katherine Heigl‘s character, Izzie Stevens, and struggled to write for Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang.

Grey's Anatomy Showrunner Krista Vernoff Compares Her Relationship With Shonda Rhimes to Izzie Katherine Heigl and Cristina Sandra Oh
Krista Vernoff, Shonda Rhimes, Katherine Heigl and Sandra Oh. Shutterstock (4)

“It’s funny because Shonda and I had a relationship not dissimilar to Izzie and Cristina, where my feelings were always hurt by her and she was always irritated with me,” she explained. “But anytime anyone came at us, or when I went through my divorce or had my baby, Shonda always, always had my back.”

After seven seasons, Vernoff left Grey’s Anatomy. “There was this feeling of, ‘I need my own. I need credit,’” she explained.

Related: TV Stars Who Left Hit Shows

Rhimes, 51, added of her exit, ”I don’t know Krista’s frustration because I literally stepped in lightning the first pilot I wrote, so I had a hard time understanding why you’d leave — but I also understood the desire to want something that was yours.”

Years later, Rhimes enlisted Vernoff to lead Grey’s Anatomy ahead of season 14 after the Bridgerton producer left ABC for Netflix.

Grey’s was a show I was personally rewriting forever — I’d sit at every table read and look at every edit, and it was killing me,” Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter. “And not because I didn’t love the show, but because I had so much other work and I knew the only person I could hand it over to and trust to write it was Krista. So every year I’d check in with her, like, ‘Is your deal up?’ And finally, one year it was.”

Vernoff subsequently approached Rhimes with “20 bullet points of autonomy” to ensure she would actually be in control of Grey’s Anatomy if she accepted the role.

“It was literally like, ‘I will have full autonomy in the editing room, including music.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I will have full autonomy over the scripts.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I will have full autonomy over casting’ — with what we agreed was the exception of series regulars and Meredith’s love interests,” she recalled.

Related: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Behind-the-Scenes Drama: a Timeline

Rhimes concluded that Vernoff was the right person to bring back the “joy” and the “funny” to Grey’s Anatomy after so many seasons.

“I’d been saying for a couple of years to my head writers, ‘I find this depressing,’” she recalled. “This just feels painful.”

In May 2020, Vernoff opened up exclusively to Us Weekly about lightening up the show.

”There had been so many tragic deaths for so many years on Grey’s Anatomy that I felt like the most surprising thing I could do, repeatedly, was to not kill someone,” she said at the time. “On [Grey’s Anatomy] everyone was so used to the shock death that they were always looking for shock death! So I felt like the more surprising thing was to bring the joy and turn up the humor and the playfulness that had, a little bit, fallen out of the show in the wake of Derek’s death. That is how I feel like Grey’s has changed a little since I came back — a lot of characters who might have been dead by now are still alive!”

Season 17 of Grey’s Anatomy is currently airing on ABC Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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