Shonda Rhimes is one of the most accomplished screenwriters of our time. Creating a slew of television shows and recently signing a landmark $100 million deal with Netflix, she’s somebody we imagine will continue to make an incredible impact on the entertainment industry for the foreseeable future, and we’re not mad about it.
Every time a new Shondaland show makes its debut, we tune in in our millions to watch the action go down. She’s a woman who guarantees thrills, spills, and plenty of twists along the way, surprising her audiences even when they thought they’d seen it all.
Of course, Rhimes is just one woman, and without her roster of incredible talents, Shondaland would be an empty vessel. Fortunately, she’s brought some brilliance to the small screen with her casting choices in shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and Scandal, to name just three. With the good, however, does also come the bad.
Though there are plenty of talented stars making up Shondaland’s past, present, and future, there have also been a number of cast members we wish had never made it past the audition process.
With all of that in mind, we’re here looking at the 8 Casting Decisions That Saved Shondaland Shows (And 7 That Ruined Them).
15. Saved: Chyler Leigh As Lexie Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)
It was 2007 when Chyler Leigh made her first appearance as Lexie Grey in Grey’s Anatomy. As the half-sister to Meredith, she faced instant dismissal from her sibling because of her love for her father; a man who had been cruel to Meredith all of her life.
In bringing Leigh onto the show, Shonda Rhimes managed to inject a massively emotional narrative arc for the Grey family and those closest to them.
As is the case with all good things, however, Leigh’s time on Grey’s did come to an end in the traumatic season 8 finale.
She confessed her love for Mark Sloan before boarding a plane with her fellow surgeons, only for it to come crashing down and for her to be crushed under some of its structure. They’re scenes that will stick with us forever.
14. Ruined: Alfred Enoch As Wes Gibbons (How To Get Away With Murder)
There are plenty of great people involved in How To Get Away With Murder, but someone who always rubbed audiences the wrong way was Wes Gibbons.
Given some of the most interesting storylines, Wes was somebody who we were all supposed to instantly get behind, but Alfred Enoch’s performance just didn’t encourage those watching at home to ever fully invest.
In fact, plenty of viewers were put off completely by the actor.
When Wes was killed off in the third season of the show, the series was given a renewed sense of life. He was somebody who drained it of any energy it managed to muster up. The real shame is that if somebody else was given the task of bringing Wes to life, he may have actually become somebody worth rooting for.
13. Saved: Kerry Washington As Olivia Pope (Scandal)
Though the role of Olivia Pope is one we could now only ever associate with Kerry Washington, Scandal network ABC actually wanted another star to front the hit series.
In fact, it was Connie Britton who the network was eyeing up for the role, according to a report published in celebration of the show’s 100th episode. Fortunately, Rhimes stuck to her guns in casting a black woman as the Washington fixer, and has never looked back.
Imagining anybody but Washington as Olivia is now near-impossible to do, and it is with some certainty that we can say Scandal would not have made the same impression had she not been involved from the start.
12. Ruined: Sarah Drew As April Kepner (Grey’s Anatomy)
April Kepner isn’t a Grey’s Anatomy character who we can tolerate in big doses. In fact, there have only been a few times we’ve actually enjoyed April on the series, and one of them was when she was blackout drunk, dancing on tables after failing her boards.
It’s unclear whether anybody else would have been able to make April more of a tolerable force on Grey’s.
However, Sarah Drew’s performance just isn’t something we can really get behind.
Perhaps this is more a case of a bad character than bad casting, but as we’ll explore more in a future entry of this list, members of the Grey’s family who would appear incredibly annoying on paper have actually gone on to be fan-favorites.
11. Saved: Kate Walsh As Addison Montgomery (Private Practice)
There were plenty of flaws with Private Practice throughout its six-season run, but one thing that kept many tuning in was Kate Walsh’s performance as Addison Montgomery.
Initially introduced as part of Grey’s Anatomy, Addison was a character who worked her way into the hearts of viewers, despite being a love rival to Meredith Grey.
She was so loved in fact, that Shonda Rhimes decided to kick-start a new show, with Addison front and center.
Without Walsh, Private Practice would never have worked. She was without a doubt the glue holding everything together, radiating off screen and ensuring that viewers would keep coming back for more.
10. Ruined: Scott Foley As Jake Ballard (Scandal)
Let us start off by saying that Scott Foley is an incredible actor. He especially made a good impression when he starred in Grey’s Anatomy as Henry Burton, but his time in the series was cut short in some hugely emotional scenes.
Foley made such a good impression on Shonda Rhimes, however, that he made his debut in Scandal back in season 2 before becoming a series regular in the show’s third outing.
The problem here lies in the character who Foley has been given to play. Jake Ballard is cold-blooded and vicious, willing to do whatever it takes to further his own agenda — not dissimilar to many of the other characters in the show.
9. Saved: Conrad Ricamora As Oliver Hampton (How To Get Away With Murder)
Jack Falahee often gets a lot of praise for his portrayal of Connor in How To Get Away With Murder, but what would he be without his on-off partner Oliver, who turned the crazed character into more of a loveable rogue type?
Casting directors really did their best work when bringing Conrad Ricamora on board to take on the challenge of bringing Oliver to life.
provided some of HTGAWM‘s most poignant and compelling scenes to-date — particularly with his HIV diagnosis.
Now a fully-fledged member of Annalise’s team of murder-hiding students, Oliver is getting in dark and murky waters. Ricamora’s performance is always believable, and he brings an air of relatability to the character’s most vulnerable moments. We can’t wait to see what the series’ future holds for him.
8. Ruined: Zach Gilford As Dr. Tommy Fuller (Off The Map)
Zach Gilford is an actor known for being “Mr. Nice Guy.” That’s something he hoped to shake off completely when he joined the cast of Off The Map in the role of Dr. Tommy Fuller, but his performance actually saw him do the complete opposite.
His scenes were unbelievable and it became immediately obvious that he just wasn’t the right person for the role.
Perhaps if someone else starred as Dr. Tommy, Off The Map may have lasted for more than a single season.
Tommy was to Off The Map what Mark Sloan was to Grey’s Anatomy. He started off as a man who would would be deemed promiscuous and uncaring, sleeping with whoever made themselves available.
7. Saved: Sandra Oh As Cristina Yang (Grey’s Anatomy)
When Sandra Oh announced that she would be hanging up her surgical coat and leaving the world of Grey’s Anatomy, the fan base were inconsolable.
The actress had provided throughout her performance as Cristina Yang a variety of emotional standout moments, whether it be being stood up at her own wedding, saving Derek’s life during a mass shooting in the hospital, or frantically searching for a lost shoe whilst in a state of shock following a plane crash.
What Oh did best in Grey’s, however, was make its titular character, Meredith Grey, easier to swallow.
Back in its earliest days, many found it hard to warm to Meredith. Her monologues over each episode sometimes grated, and her needy personality rubbed many viewers up the wrong way.
6. Ruined: Isaiah Washington As Preston Burke (Grey’s Anatomy)
Isaiah Washington’s performance as Preston Burke in Grey’s Anatomy isn’t ever something talked about when fans pick their most memorable moments about the series to-date.
Though he was given a few great storylines to chew through, the casting isn’t something that would stick in the minds of those watching at home.
Then came a pair of incidents where Washington would use homophobic slurs twice in public, and show bosses made the decision to cut him from the show for good.
Though he was forced out because of his ignorant comments, one of which he levelled at co-star T.R. Knight during filming on the series, it’s hard to imagine Washington lasting too much longer in the series even if he hadn’t made the remarks.
5. Saved: Audra McDonald As Dr. Naomi Bennett (Private Practice)
When Private Practice‘s pilot episode first debuted, it was actually Merrin Dungey who starred in the role of Dr. Naomi Bennett. Unfortunately for the actress, she failed to connect with her fellow co-stars, and it was something that was picked up on by the majority of people who watched.
With that in mind, something drastic had to be done if Private Practice was to survive, and that came in the form of recasting the role entirely, bringing in the brilliant Audra McDonald to play Naomi instead.
Though the series only lasted for six seasons, McDonald’s performance throughout is one that stuck with viewers.
4. Ruined: Famke Janssen As Eve Rothlow (How To Get Away With Murder)
Famke Janssen is one of the most recognizable stars of the modern day, and so when it was revealed she’d be joining the cast of How To Get Away With Murder, audiences were noisy in their delight.
Unfortunately for them, she just wasn’t the right person to step into the role of Annalise’s former lover, Eve Rothlow.
While Viola Davis did everything in her power to bring chemistry to her scenes with Janssen, she didn’t get much back. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Janssen looked uncomfortable in her romantic scenes with Davis, because that opens the door for all other sorts of conversations that she’s undeserving of being at the center of, but there was definitely a spark missing.
3. Saved: Jessica Capshaw As Arizona Robbins (Grey’s Anatomy)
Arizona Robbins is a woman who has been through a lot. She’s imperfect, as is the case for most of the characters in Grey’s Anatomy, but she’s also somebody who audiences have been able to stand behind no matter what goes down.
That is hugely thanks to the brilliance in casting the role, with the infectious Jessica Capshaw lending her talents to the series and becoming a mainstay of Grey’s ever since some of its earliest days.
When we first met Arizona, she threatened to be an irritating and distracting presence, wheeling around the hospital in her Heelies and being terminally delightful.
Her charisma proved to be too strong to deny, however, and we can’t imagine that would have been the case if another actress had taken on the role.
2. Ruined: Tim Daly As Dr. Pete Wilder (Private Practice)
Private Practice is a show that always struggling to pick up in the ratings, and so when season 5 rolled around, the decision was made to write out Tim Daly’s character, Dr. Pete Wilder.
Arguably done to bring back in any former viewers who may have left the series behind, the storyline would lead to a sixth season without Daly on board — and it was for many the most entertaining and exciting season of all.
It stands to reason that Daly was always the wrong person to play Dr. Pete.
The character isn’t one who was hated by audiences, but when you try and think back to some of your favorite Private Practice moments, the star fails to stand out amongst the crowd. It’s a shame, as he’s not a bad actor at all. He just wasn’t right for this role.
1. Saved: Viola Davis As Annalise Keating (How To Get Away With Murder)
There’s so much good that can be said about Viola Davis in the role of Annalise Keating. She’s a compelling, believable, relatable, realistic, grounded, talented actress, who brings all of those traits to How To Get Away With Murder and, at times, uses them to carry the show on her back.
Davis is one of those stars who you would never really know how to approach in real life if you had seen her performance as Annalise, because she’s just so darn good in the role.
Four seasons in, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else bringing Annalise to life. Shonda Rhimes really hit the nail on the head when she brought Davis into the Shondaland family, so long may she continue to entertain us.
Can you think of any other incredible or terrible Shondaland casting decisions? Sound off in the comment section!
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