Grey's Anatomy · Television

Dead McDreams: The Hubris of Television

greys-openerThere is a quote from The Patriot that has been rolling around in my head for a while now, Mel Gibson’s character says at the start of the movie, “I have long feared that my sins would return to visit me, and the cost is more than I can bear.” You may wonder, “Why is he thinking about this?” I have been thinking about it in terms of television shows and so the quote, in my mind is altered slightly; ” I have long feared that the number of seasons would return to haunt me and the cost is than I can bear.”

Television shows start out with an idea, characters and a vision for how they should evolve as the show progresses. If you are a good creative, you may have an outline that stretches quite far into your character’s future and hopefully you have some ideas where they land in the end. On American television there is an inherent difficulty involved because our television seasons tend to last 23 to 24 episodes. As writers, you are required to fill these episodes, so you create drama through problems between the characters and from outside them to drive story lines, while hopefully creating something people want to actually watch. It’s never easy.

As a show grows and becomes successful, it becomes a balancing act to keep it all together. How does the story keep going strong and at the same time remain true to the premise and arc for each character and not just devolve into another stat for the rule of diminishing returns? This is the struggle. For every show that has been a hit for 7-10 seasons there are a plethora of others that have just fizzed out, the fire died and therefore they did as well. There are some prime examples of shows that stayed beyond their time, ER and The X-Files are two of the most prominent. Each one wore out it’s welcome and failed to end satisfactorily for it’s fans; so much so that The X-Files is about to be brought back after 13 years for a short stint. They both failed to economically tell their stories so that characters arcs and show mythologies had a clear beginning and ending.

This happens a lot, creatives have a successful show, that should only have 4-5 seasons, yet because of it’s popularity they stretch it out. Like Bilbo with the ring in Lord of the Rings, the story lines become like too little butter on too much toast. On top of that, outside influences begin to affect the story being told. Instead of doing things for creative reasons, the real world intrudes on the make-believe and dictates terms. Actors want to move on to other things, actors die, creatives get famous and create other shows and the original show begins to suffer. It’s no longer driven by the story of the characters and where they need to go it’s driven by the quota of the season and who’s still left in the cast to tell it. It is the hubris of continuing to extend television shows past their true story potential.

For a show to be popular and to last in the in maelstrom of Hollywood, it must connect with people. The characters and story must reach them on a fundamental level. If they don’t, people will just not watch. If a show does make it and succeed, it takes the commitment of the fans to keep it on the air. As we watch we get invested in the characters and what happens to them. It might not be real, but it does have an impact. After watching a show for ten or more years, it’s a part of you, there is an investment there, you care what happens. Television is also the place we go to escape. When it comes down to it, we want the happy ending because we know that real life isn’t like that. The problem becomes that when you continue to make show for so many seasons you begin to loose the ability to end on the right terms. Characters die that shouldn’t and story lines don’t conclude to anyone’s satisfaction because the resources to do so aren’t around anymore.

6d9fb990-cc4e-0132-45c3-0ebc4eccb42fThis is what has happened to Grey’s Anatomy. It has lost the ability to give us the happy ending and the resolution we all want because it’s outlived it’s actors. Seriously, this show starts with two people, Meredith and Derek. From the first seconds of the show we can tell that no matter what other stories they tell, this is the important one, it’s the beating heart of the show. With all that they went through, there was one constant, we knew they would be together. Callie Torres said it best in a recent episode, “…Look, you and Derek are living proof that love exists, that it works, that there is hope. You guys are a freaking romance novel. And I, for one, am rooting for you two. Team MerDer!”.

Because Grey’s is in it’s 11th season there has always been a looming danger that each successive season would ruin the previous more that help the whole. This is possibly the biggest danger of having a show endure past it’s optimum end, that it will taint the previously loved story lines. I believe this is what has happened to Grey’s. Now the entire show will forever be altered because of the knowledge that there is no happy ending for the first two people we see on screen. In fact, Meredith’s story is a tragedy of epic Greek proportions. The amount of death that surrounds her is astounding. Someone on Facebook posted, “Grey’s Anatomy, this is not what I signed up for”, and I can’t help but agree. I don’t need this show to remind me that life is not fair or that bad things happen. What I did want was there to be a good payoff to my years of investment in the characters.

What gives it that bitterness is that there have been great exists on this show, none more celebrated than Sandra Oh. She had a whole season to celebrate her character and it was deserved. She had been such a major part of the story from the beginning. What is most frustrating in this loss of Derek Shepherd is that there was no celebration of this character. He spend most of the season away from the show, fighting with Meredith, had a heart-warming realization of what was important in life and came home finally, only to be killed unceremoniously. In fact his death and the way it happened is so similar to George O’Malley that his loss stings all the more. Seriously, this is the second character we see on screen in the pilot (well his butt is) and this is the best we can do sending him off?

In the end, it is just a show and life will go on. It’s unfortunate that a show I’ve enjoyed for ten years has irrevocably been changed for the worse, all because it forged ahead when it should have found resolution a long time ago. Ferry boats crash and so do our McDreams of a happy ending. derek-meredith-bar-pg

I’m on The Seriously Grey’s Podcast discussing the episode as well.


12 thoughts on “Dead McDreams: The Hubris of Television

  1. Sad to hear about this development on the show. I dropped out awhile ago because I saw something like this coming and didn’t want to be around for it. Kind of glad they let Lexi and Mark go at the same time so I can pretend they had a happy ending.

  2. Matt;

    I have to tell you, I listened to the podcast and every time that you almost lost it, I did too because I feel like you do. The character of Derek Sheperd and Patrick Dempsey and their legacy and all that they brought to 11 Seasons of Grey’s, deserved so much more than they both got.

    I’m in agreement that Derek and Meredith were the first two people we saw in the pilot and all through the pilot, we got that they were going to be the primary couple. The whole MerDer of it all. And this is how they end?

    There were two core relationships on Grey’s. Derek and Meredith and Meredith and Cristina. Why is it that that Cristina and the Meredith/Cristina friendship, got its due? I didn’t agree with the first half of last season and the writing of their friendship. That came out of the blue and was WTF too. But, where Cristina was on board with the dark and twisty Meredith and fostered that it in her, Derek was the optimistic side of her. The side that gave her hope.

    When she “died” is Season 3 and Denny said to her, do you know what a miracle he is, that he still believes in true love and soul mates, that he’s an optimist.

    The thing is Derek also got her dark and twisty side too. He got Meredith and Cristina. He got them. Just as much as Alex did. Why do people think it was Derek that pulled Cristina out of her PTSD in Season 7? He got Cristina. He got what it’s like to see someone shot in front of you. His father was shot and killed in front of he and his baby sister. He understood Cristina in a way that even Owen didn’t.

    We went from Meredith telling Derek in Season 6, you die, I die, she can’t live without him. To she can live without him, she just doesn’t want to. I guess, we’ll see that now that it’s a reality, he’s gone and he’s not coming back, if that still holds true. Yes, she’s got two children and life will have to go on for her, for them. It’s different when you think you have a choice vs. when that choice is ripped right out from under you.

    It was just so pointless. I feel like the past 11 Seasons have now become so pointless. And I’m also with you in that, they should have known when to fold on the show. And gone out on a high note.

    Sandra Oh, said that she signed through the 10th Season because she didn’t honestly think that they’d go beyond the 10th Season. And she’d reconciled that she was leaving. So, Shonda and Co., that includes ABC knew that they’re going to be losing one of their 3 co-leads because there were three of them, Ellen, Patrick and Sandra, they know that Patrick is heading towards the door, so they’ll be losing two of their three leads, why not end the show at an even 10?

    Patrick signed on for two more years, yes, he’s wanted to leave, wanted to do other things, but, he signed because he was going to ride the series out, give the fans what they wanted, a happy ending and because Shonda and Co., don’t have an end game. A stop date because they’ve become greedy and Grey’s has now become a victim of corporate greed, A cog in the system. it’s now irrevocably ruined for many, many fans. It’s never going to be the same.

    In a 60 minute period, they wiped out 11 years for many, many people.

    The thing is, I have no problem with Patrick wanting to leave, it’s the way that they had him go out. If they wanted to kill him off, give he and his character the respect that they deserve. Have him die of a terminal illness. Give him his time to say goodbye to his loved ones, give them time to say goodbye. Give the audience time to say goodbye and get prepared. Now, that’s all been taken away in one broad pen stroke.

    They screwed with their ‘post it’. The part where they said, no matter what happens, nobody runs, nobody walks out, nobody leaves. They had him leave to D.C. in anger with Meredith pushing him out the door. Now, if she gets Alzheimer’s he won’t be there to remind her everyday, who he is. I get that was his biggest fear is that happening to her. Her biggest fear was Derek getting killed in a car accident. Well, her biggest fear came true. Will his for her? They ruined, this is, forever.

    Patrick didn’t want to leave, he didn’t want Derek to die. He had no say so in how his character left the show. A character that was as much his as he was Shonda’s or the writers. He gets told, well, you’re dead. The hell?

    And he never got to hear from Meredith that he was her person. He and Ellen fought for that for years and Shonda refused to give them that. The fans that.

    Instead we got, she can live without him, she doesn’t want to, but, she could. She didn’t even tell him before he died, before the nurse stopped the vent., that she loved him, it was always him and it will always be him. Nothing.

    I had to stop all life saving measures on my father, I was the one that had his medical proxy. But, I didn’t do so, unilaterally. I also gave family time to come and say their goodbyes. I was numb when we were told that there was nothing more that could be done for him. And I remember holding his hand and whispering in his ear when he was going, that I loved him, that my mother would be OK, that we would be OK, it was OK for him to go. That I loved him and whoever came to get him, to grab their hand and run as fast as he could into the light. And I thanked him for being my dad and for loving me. He would always be the first man that I ever loved.

    So, to see her do what she did, so quickly and without thought to anyone else. That cut and it cut deep.

    She’s been rather cold and selfish this season, I’m going to hope that this was due to shock. Her worse fear, other than something happening to one of their kids, came true. Derek died.

    I think that this is one death too far for Grey’s to recover from. They barely recovered from killing off Lexie and Mark, but, then the thought was, well, they’re together. Wherever they are, they’re together. We don’t get that.

    Shonda always said that Meredith and Derek were the end game. Well, the joke was on us. One for believing her and two believing what we saw on our TV screens for 11 Seasons.

    I also understand why his death wasn’t the final show of the season because even they know if it was, people wouldn’t come back. But, will they come back next year even though we get a supposed goodbye episode for him this week?

    Fans are angry. They are pissed off like I’ve never seen them pissed off before. What Shonda and ABC needed to remember is that it’s the fans of Grey’s that gave them Scandal, etc. And it’s the fans that will ultimately determine Grey’s fate. When Shonda and Co., could have been the ones to do so and not leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Shonda should have cared more than she has in a long while. Now Grey’s has become a show that has definitely outstayed it’s welcome. Good job, Shonda. Good job.

    1. Thank you so much for all your kind words. I’ve never had such an amazing comment left on my blog. Thank you for sharing your feelings about Derek and your story about your personal experiences. I’ve no idea if I’ll be back next season, but I love that I’m not alone in my feelings.

  3. I could not agree more with the entire post. It says EVERYTHING I feel. I would like to add one more thing to the content of the episode that sent my temperature to boiling. Can someone tell me what the point of the daydream of Meredeth’s when she walked into the hospital room and Derek was fine and then she laid down with him? I interpreted that as a very big FU to the fans. It was Shonda’s way of saying, “I know this is what you want to see, but , too bad, this is what you get instead.” It was so unnecessary. I found myself having a glimmer of hope, only to have it ripped away just as quickly as it came. And let’s not forget how ridiculous the cell phone ringing was, where there was no cell service to begin with.

    Fans are not stupid, especially Grey’s fans. We read about each episode, we watch it, we analyze it, some great people do podcasts so that we can all share opinions (thank you Matt), we are passionate about it. I do think they have done irreparable harm. I always watched her shows but did not become attached to any other, so that will be very easy for me to stop watching them altogether. Frankly, the last 5-6 episodes of Grey’s had me so busy tweeting and re-watching afterwards that I missed most of the other 2 shows anyway. I still do not know what I will do about Grey’s next year. My heart is broken.

    I am also so angry at how horrible this episode was to the character and the actor. I read the entire article and my hear felt so heavy when Patrick spoke of how he quietly left after his last day. He filmed the last several days with not a single cast member, just guests and crew. Then on his very last day, nothing at all. That man deserved so much better.

    I am grieving as well as most of the rest of the fan base and I still feel such anger. It is sad to see the younger fan base and the comments they are posting about how depressed they are, and they can’t talk about it to anyone because they will think they are nuts for feeling this way over a tv show. This is something that scares me. I know grief, as I have had to deal with a lot of death in a short period of time, and the one death I had to deal with was, is and always will be monumental. Ironically, 13 years ago today, I found my 12 year old son dead. He had taken his own life. Life saving procedures had been done and we were able to do organ donation. I would not wish that on anyone. The ability of this show to make people feel so sad and depressed so UNNECCESARILY, angers me to my core. I am also grieving my son so my emotions are everywhere right now. I am glad to have some outlet to release it.

    Anyway, I wanted to share my thoughts with you as well. Matt, I am Bernie that Kay speaks of on the podcast.

  4. Matt, your words have sustained me during my incredulity, anger, and sadness. I have not yet listened to what’s probably the last podcast I’ll listen to because I’m driving home from a weekend away, and I don’t want to be upset.

    Derek Shepherd deserved better. We all know he was a fictional character, and that Shonda Rhimes always had the last say, but the way this was done on her part was filled with anger, cruelty, and vindictiveness. To have the leading man of your lead actress killed in such a way – and let’s not pretend that any of this was not purposeful – was not only sophomoric and nasty, but dismissive to the years Patrick Dempsey spent as probably the main ambassador of this show. I barely watched this episode once, but a few of the things that stood out to me were the injured mother saying the driver of the car that hit them was “a middle-aged man with a mid-life crisis,” that Derek said, “What, I’m not driving fast enough for you?” In addition, there were a few seconds of screen time given to the “Porsche Cayenne” logo on the back of Derek’s car, and I believe there was also a line about “where I spend all my time” insinuating it was in a car. I could be wrong about that last part. So to my way of seeing it, Shonda Rhimes threw a heaping pile of steaming shit onto Patrick Dempsey and had him mortally injured in a Porsche. Who is this unhinged? Did Patrick kill all the puppies and kittens in the world?

    For a moment, let’s imagine he DID kill all the cute puppies and kittens, that he was so horrible that people rejoiced when he left. Let’s imagine that he was the worst actor in the history of the show and that Shonda had had it up to HERE with him. Who are we leaving out in Shonda’s lesson in “I’ll show you who’s the boss!”

    The fans.

    Eleven seasons of loyal viewing. Ten years of appointment television. Grey’s Anatomy was my reward, the present I’d open every Thursday, my ice cream cone to myself for getting through a tough work week. How was I, how were we, those of us who bought DVDs, who retweeted support, who bought magazines and watched through the ups and downs of the ridiculousness of their relationship, through sex and mockery, though Rose, through a post-it while another couple got the gorgeous wedding? What present did Shonda give us after all that time? Well, the same that she covered Patrick in: A heaping pile of steaming shit, which is how I describe the idiocy that I saw last Thursday.

    So, no more Meredith and Derek, no more appointment television. I’m sure Meredith is pregnant with Derek’s baby, the same thing they did with Doug and Carol when Clooney left to keep viewers. Well, this viewer is done. Never, ever again will I watch any show that Shonda Rhimes has any part of. There were a million ways she could have given fans and Meredith a happy ending, and I thought of so many possibilities and I’m not even a professional writer. When you have “problems” with four actors on your show – Isaiah Washington, Katherine Heigl, T.R. Knight, and Patrick Dempsey – you have to wonder who exactly has the diva problem. As a viewer, I know what I’ve always known, that her world view is warped and that she doesn’t care a whit about her fans.

    Goodbye Grey’s Anatomy, and goodbye Meredith and Derek. In my mind, you’re both still alive, both happily raising your family, and I’m forever grateful to Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey for the beautiful story they helped weave, right up until last Thursday night.

    1. I understand wanting to leave after what happened. I’m not sure it will be worth it next year for sure. It’s sad to me that even rewatching the show will never be the same, ever again.

  5. Matt, you’ve done a great job of summarizing my feelings. This was so badly done, so disrespectful of the character, the actor and the fans. I’ve been saying for years that Grey’s has overstayed its welcome. I tuned in to this show in the first place because of Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh. I was immediately captivated by the chemistry between Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey. In the early years, I enjoyed the other characters, but that stopped. The one reason I’ve stayed through all the ups and downs was to see Meredith and Derek’s story play out to the end. Well, I’ve done that now, certainly not the way I expected to.
    Whatever happened/changed behind the scenes (and clearly something did), MerDer’s story deserved a better ending. Patrick Dempsey deserved a better exit and acknowledgment for his ten years of work on this show. This was cheap, sloppy and brutal, and it’s all on Shonda Rhimes. What a slap in the face to the loyal fans who’ve invested 10 years in this show–the fans without whom she would not have the success and power she now wields so callously. I’m done with this show; I have no interest in Meredith as a grieving widow.raising her two fatherless children. I’m done, and will stay far, far away from any future Shonda Rhimes project.

  6. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the post and the podcast! I went back to watch the episode after listening to it as you guys mentioned Chasing Cars being played but I was fairly sure I didn’t hear it and sure enough in the iTunes episode that I downloaded they had played instead: Aron Wright’s “You were supposed to be different” in the last Meredith/Derek scene:
    Not sure why that wasn’t what actually aired and if they have changed their minds at some point but I thought you might like to know.


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