Having entered its 15th season earlier this year, there is little ground that hasn’t been covered by Grey’s Anatomy. From the beginning, this series hooked audiences with epic romance, impossibly quotable dialogue, and fascinating medical cases set to an unforgettable soundtrack. Grey’s made household names of pretty much everyone involved and laid the groundwork for Shondaland to eventually take over television. It also reminded the world that 80s heartthrob, Patrick Dempsey, was still incredibly dreamy.
By this point, the doctors at Seattle Grace (now Grey Sloan Memorial) have been through every trauma imaginable. Whether it was the result of natural disasters, a plane crash, or a gun-toting madman, many doctors have come and gone over the years. Grey’s may excel in soap-operatics, but there was always so much more to the show than suds. For all its undeniably engaging melodrama, the series has never shied away from facing major issues, which elevated it over many of its contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, there have been many changes from page to screen throughout the course of the series. One example is the fact that Alex Karev wasn't in Rhimes’ original pitch. He was digitally added into the pilot after it had already been shot. At this point, he and Meredith are the only doctors who began as interns in season one who have remained at the hospital. Despite this, the show has proven repeatedly that it can survive regardless of who comes and goes. The writers often chose wisely, but the way that some stories were set to unfold may surprise you.
Here are 14 Canceled Twists That Would’ve Hurt The Show (And 6 That Would’ve Saved It).
Although George O’Malley was a fan favorite throughout the first few seasons of Grey’s, it is true that he was given increasingly less to do as the series progressed. For this reason, T.R. Knight ultimately chose to move on. Many fans were left dissatisfied by the way in which he was written out, and apparently, Shonda Rhimes had a different plan.
Rhimes asked Knight to return for the season six premiere in order to give George the sendoff she felt he deserved. The episode was originally planned to include flashbacks of the doctor during his final hours, seeing George’s split-second decision to give his life for someone else’s. There is no denying that this would have given a better sense of closure to George’s five-year arc, however, Knight decided not to return, leaving George to succumb to his injuries.
The surprise twist that Derek was married was one of the greatest tricks that Grey’s Anatomy ever played on viewers. No one saw it coming. Even the actors themselves were kept in the dark until the last possible moment. As much of a surprise as meeting Derek’s wife was, the neurosurgeon was initially intended to come with even more baggage.
Rhimes’ original idea also included Derek having a teenage daughter. She would've been the one who convinced him to take the job at Seattle Grace and much of the story was set to revolve around him trying to repair their fractured relationship. Derek already had a lot going on, and ultimately, this added layer of drama was too much. It likely could’ve detracted from his burgeoning romance with Meredith, which was one of the most compelling aspects of those early seasons.
Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t always found the best ways to write out characters, and Callie Torres was a prime example of this. However, in this case, the decision was simply out of the writers’ hands. Sara Ramirez’s desire to leave was as much of a surprise to Rhimes as it was to fans and it left her in dire need of a new plan for Callie.
Callie went to New York at the end of season 12 and never returned, but that was not her original trajectory. It’s unclear what Rhimes intended to do moving forward, but surely, it was better than this lackluster ending. It’s nice that Callie was able to make it to the end alive, unlike so many other Seattle Grace employees, but she deserved better than disappearing to New York with Penny, who was kind of the worst.
Rhimes’ original blueprint for Grey’s was quite different than what actually made it to the screen. There were several romances that wound up being central to the show’s early seasons, but all of them were almost completely different. The relationship between Denny Duquette Jr. and Izzie Stevens was one of the most unforgettable ever featured in the series, but initially, it was Cristina who was destined to fall for a patient with a looming expiration date.
This is incredibly difficult to imagine, but there was such intense chemistry between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Katherine Heigl. Aside from that, Cristina likely wouldn't succumb to romantic feelings for a patient, no matter how charming he was. It’s good that once the characters were a bit more developed, the decision was made to give this storyline to Izzie instead.
After Katherine Heigl’s infamous trash-talking about the material written for her character not warranting an Emmy nomination, many fans suspected Izzie might meet an early demise. Izzie survived her experiences at Seattle Grace, but she did exit the show during its sixth season. By the time she left, most viewers were ready to see her go.
As keen as Heigl seemed initially to leave Grey’s, she eventually made it clear to Rhimes that she would be happy to return. Heigl had expressed regret over her comments on more than one occasion and seemed to want to find a way to wrap up Izzie’s story. By the time Heigl made this clear, however, it was too late. Fans had moved on and so had Rhimes. At that point, bringing Izzie back would’ve been more disruptive than anything else anyway.
There was a time when there weren’t really any plans for McDreamy’s wife beyond her “showing up, all leggy and fabulous.” Kate Walsh’s original deal with the show was only for a multi-episode arc. Luckily, the writers saw the incredible potential in Addison Montgomery and chose to make her so much more than just Derek’s jilted ex.
Addison was one of the best surprises of Grey’s Anatomy, a character who could’ve easily been one-note, but was instead given the opportunity to really come into her own. Interestingly, it didn’t take too long for Addison to become a fan favorite, especially once she was no longer an obstacle for Derek and Meredith. Viewers even followed Addison on her journey to L.A. when she spun off into her own series, Private Practice.
Although Cristina ended an unwanted pregnancy during the show’s eighth season, the initial plan was for her to do so during Grey’s freshman outing. However, Rhimes experienced a lot of pushback from the network, cautioning her against such a controversial storyline. Considering the fact that the show hadn’t even begun airing yet, Rhimes chose to make Cristina’s pregnancy ectopic instead.
This was a disappointment for Rhimes and Sandra Oh, both of whom felt that it was an important story to tell. Years later, when Cristina found herself once again debating ending a pregnancy, she chose differently. Rhimes had a lot more freedom to tackle the issue head on by that point and the subject had been addressed multiple times on Private Practice. Still, it’s a shame that the original story couldn’t play out the way that it was intended to.
This is another romance that would’ve made Grey’s Anatomy completely different, and not for the better. Even if Meredith developed feelings for Preston Burke instead of Derek Shepherd, their relationship could never have been so long-lasting. Isaiah Washington’s contract was famously not renewed for season four after he used slurs on multiple occasions.
It was actually Ellen Pompeo herself who initially nixed the idea. She felt that the storyline “hit too close to home” – her husband, Chris Ivery, is an African American music producer – so Pompeo suggested that her character fall for Patrick Dempsey’s instead. Derek and Meredith became such a huge part of the narrative and it’s difficult to imagine Pompeo having the chemistry with Washington that she had in abundance with Dempsey. Plus, that also would’ve robbed audiences of the relationship between Burke and Cristina.
Rhimes has proven time and again that she has no problem ending the lives of beloved characters. The list of Grey’s fatalities has become so numerous that it seems surprising that the hospital ever manages to attract new doctors to employ. The time came when Mark Sloan had to be written out, but Rhimes desperately wanted him to survive.
Private Practice was wrapping up and one idea was that Mark could head over to L.A. to find happiness with Addison. However, he was still grieving the love of his life, Lexie, who didn’t survive the plane crash. Plus, Mark wouldn’t just leave Callie and Sophia, especially not in the aftermath of Arizona's injury. Even still, on a show so full of tragic endings, it could’ve been nice to see McSteamy find a good one.
As if the relationship between Cristina and Burke wasn’t already complicated enough, the cardiothoracic surgeon was originally intended to be married with children. Apparently, this made Burke feel “trapped,” and his storyline would spend a lot of time on his desire to leave his wife. So, his entire relationship with Cristina would’ve been an extramarital situation.
Sure, there is plenty of “involvement” that goes down on Grey’s, but this particular plot point could’ve damaged both characters involved, rendering them quite unlikable. Aside from that, it would’ve made the romance between Burke and Cristina so much heavier to begin with, taking away much of the fun of watching it unfold. It definitely worked out much better having these two single people connect without all that added drama.
When a star gets pregnant mid-season, there are only two options: write it into the story or get creative in hiding it. Interestingly, April Kepner’s pregnancy was written in very shortly before actress Sarah Drew discovered that she was going to have a baby in real life. Grey’s has also hidden multiple pregnancies throughout the course of the show.
There was a time in Meredith’s story when it made sense for her to have kids. That time was not when Ellen Pompeo got pregnant in real life during Grey’s Anatomy’s sixth season. The pregnancy could’ve been written into her storyline, but instead, the writers found a way to take Meredith out of the game for a while by having her donate part of her liver to Thatcher. It was definitely the right call at that point in time.
This might’ve worked in the storyline of a different character, but definitely not in Cristina Yang’s. Not much is said about Cristina’s dad, but we know that she lost him at a young age. Her stepfather, Saul Rubenstein, is also rarely mentioned. All we’ve ever really seen of Cristina’s family is her strained relationship with her mother and that’s just fine.
Cristina’s trajectory would’ve most definitely been altered if her father had become a major donor to the hospital where she worked, and it also could’ve potentially really changed who she was as a person. Cristina was incredibly self-sufficient and worked super hard for everything that she got. That entire aspect of her character could’ve been very different if her dad was involved behind-the-scenes of her job.
As poor as Callie’s sendoff was, Arizona’s may have been even worse. The decision to lose both Arizona and April prior to season 15 was one that many fans were upset by. Oddly, both characters were written off into happily ever afters, but neither rang particularly true.
The idea that Arizona was heading to New York to be with Callie and Sophia in the wake of Callie’s offscreen breakup with Penny was cool in theory. However, seeing Callie and Arizona reunited is what really would have sold it to fans. Rhimes did intend to bring Sara Ramirez back, but unfortunately, CBS would not allow her to appear on Grey’s due to her role on Madame Secretary. It’s no one’s fault, but bringing Callie back for the 14th season finale would’ve given Arizona a far better ending.
As strange as this sounds, it’s important to remember that prior to the casting of Chandra Wilson, Miranda Bailey was going to be radically different. In fact, it was this decision that would go on to inform the way that Rhimes wrote character descriptions from then on. Instead of physical traits, she would write a quality or feeling that should be associated with them. This was due to the fact that Miranda was going to be a “tiny blonde with curls” before Wilson came in and read for the part.
That version, Deborah as she would’ve been called, was going to have an “odd but hot” relationship with George. Seeing as how Miranda and George’s stories actually wound up unfolding, it’s safe to say that leaving this idea out of Grey’s was undoubtedly the right choice.
Many fans complained over the rushed and seemingly nonsensical way that Erica Hahn was written out of Grey’s Anatomy. Even the actress herself was surprised by her dismissal. Some viewers even wondered if it was the character’s orientation that got her the axe, although Rhimes was quick to shoot that idea down.
The truth, according to Rhimes, was that the chemistry between Hahn and Torres simply wasn’t there. It wasn’t Brooke Smith’s fault, but no one was going to be able to fully invest in such a spark-free romance. Although Hahn’s departure felt sudden, it was certainly better than letting her relationship with Callie play out. Luckily, the introduction of Arizona Robbins wasn’t too far behind Hahn’s exit. Callie and Arizona were an excellent example of what good chemistry actually looks like and soon become a fan favorite couple.
Shonda Rhimes herself had previously stated that Derek and Meredith were never going to have children. However, it’s quite possible that when she said this, she had no idea of exactly how long their epic romance would last. It’s not that all great relationships need children in order to fully realize their love, but in Der and Mer’s journey, it makes sense.
At a certain point, the “dark and twisty” Meredith of seasons past had all but disappeared, leaving a confident woman and incredible surgeon in her place. Meredith’s complicated dynamic with her own mother, as well as the evolution of both her as a person and her relationship with Derek, made the narrative decision for her to have children feel earned. In many ways, becoming a mother is also what enabled Meredith to persevere after losing Derek.
Reaching 100 episodes is a huge milestone for a TV series and Grey’s Anatomy hit its 300th last season. It was a love letter to longtime fans that contained plenty of nods to everything that came before, from people to places, to the words themselves. As enjoyable as the landmark installment was, it would’ve been further elevated if the plans to bring back some original cast members could’ve become a reality.
The idea for someone to return to Grey Sloan Memorial never took shape, so the doppelgängers were born out of their absence. It certainly wasn’t a bad call, as it allowed the show to pay tribute to all of the original interns instead of just one or two. Even still, the nostalgia-filled episode could’ve really benefitted from a surprise drop in.
April Kepner is an interesting character. It took many fans quite a while to warm up to her and some never really did. By the time news broke that she was leaving at the end of last season, viewers were worried that her exit would be in a bodybag. Thankfully, Rhimes wrote her off into a happy ending, although it did kind of seem to come from out of nowhere.
There were actually no original plans to bring Kepner back after she was fired from Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital in season six. She was meant to be a part of the series for a mere two episodes. However, shortly after her departure, Sarah Drew was surprised to learn that the show wanted her back as a series regular. By this point, it’s difficult to imagine Grey’s without her.
Cristina’s breakdown may have seemed surprising to some, but it was actually Sandra Oh’s suggestion. Before the actress brought the idea to Rhimes, there were no plans for Cristina to come apart after losing her baby in season two. However, Rhimes decided that it would make perfect sense for someone who never properly dealt with her feelings to find herself unable to stop crying.
The emotional ramifications of the ectopic pregnancy, having her opinions on a medical case completely ignored, and being trapped with a mother who drove her bonkers was enough to make anyone come undone. All in all, it was a scene that not only showed off Oh’s acting skills, but also demonstrated that even Cristina could lose control. Also, it really managed to find the humor in what could’ve been a much more tragic take.
Of all the many losses on Grey’s Anatomy, none hit quite so hard as the untimely demise of Derek Shepherd. Although it has been stated that Dempsey’s decision to exit was a mutual one between him and Rhimes, some fans were so brokenhearted that they quit the show altogether. As gut-wrenching as it was to see Derek go, it was really the only way to write him out that would remain true to his character.
Derek walking out on Meredith and the kids was only briefly considered, but in the end, Rhimes made the only decision that she could. Having him desert his family would’ve kept him alive, but at the cost of negating his entire relationship with Meredith. No one wanted to see McDreamy go, but there really was no other way for Dempsey to leave the series.
What do you think about these canceled Grey's Anatomy plot twists? Let us know in the comments!