Tuned In: 'Grey's Anatomy' vs. 'CSI' just what the creator ordered

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HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Some TV producers are secretive about their upcoming plots, but most are willing to leak out a few morsels to get viewers eager for the new season. Not Shonda Rhimes, creator and executive producer of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," which moves to 9 pm. Thursday to challenge CBS's "CSI" when it returns with new episodes Sept. 21.

On the Seattle Grace Hospital set Thursday, Rhimes offered just a few nuggets, including news that Diahann Carroll will guest star.

"I can't tell you who she's playing, what disease she's got, if she's got a disease at all," Rhimes said, explaining that she simply dislikes spoilers.

"Grey's Anatomy" ended in May with plenty of questions: Izzie (Katherine Heigl) quit the surgical intern program after the death of Denny and some unprofessional behavior; will she return? Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) found she had to choose between her love for the married Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), with whom she had a steamy tryst, and veterinarian Finn Dandridge (Chris O'Donnell). Which one will she pick?

Rhimes won't discuss the storylines, only to say the season premiere picks up just a few hours after the season finale, but some cast members were eager to share what they think should happen.

"There's too much history with Addison, and they need to move on," Dempsey said. "It would be more interesting to explore a couple in the workplace than to go in the opposite direction. He should explore the relationship [with Meredith], but I don't know if he necessarily ends up with her."

Dempsey said he wants Shepherd to end it with Addison (Kate Walsh) so that he can be with Meredith instead of just following her around like a puppy.

"I think it castrates him too much," Dempsey said, standing in scrubs on the show's locker-lined break-room set. "He needs to get his masculinity back."

That prompted an amusing response from his TV wife, played by Walsh, who brought up his hunky status as gauged by People magazine.

"Aw, boo hoo," she said. "The second sexiest man in America is feeling castrated."

But Walsh, too, is ready for a change.

"I think it's played itself out, and I'm looking forward to the exciting conclusion," she said.

Meredith herself has less of an opinion on what should happen.

"You can't control things," Pompeo said. "As long as I have a job, I'm happy."

The "Grey's" set, located at The Prospect Studios near the Los Feliz neighborhood, came alive again this week as production began on season three. The show is nominated in 11 Emmy categories, including supporting actress nods for Sandra Oh, who plays Cristina Yang, and Chandra Wilson, the interns' boss, Dr. Miranda "The Nazi" Bailey.

"The thing I'm most pleased with is to be sharing the nomination spot with Chandra Wilson," Oh said. "That was actually the thing I was most excited about."

Wilson said she was surprised her character didn't yell at the interns more after Izzie's dangerous attempts to save Denny's life. That whole story made star Heigel uncomfortable.

"I was pretty horrified," Heigel said. "I felt like I needed to stop her myself. This isn't just years of this internship, this is years of medical school, years of putting herself through college and throwing it away for a boy she hardly knew. But I think Izzie has a difficult time emotionally detaching herself from people."

Heigel hopes the show will give Izzie time to heal while truthfully portraying the aftermath of the emotional loss of Denny.

"Grey's" certainly let poor George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) stew for weeks after his ill-advised bedding of Meredith (it ended with her in tears). Standing in the operating room, beneath the observation gallery, Knight rocked from foot to foot as he answered questions.

"He wasn't a gentleman about it; he wasn't very honorable," Knight said of George's "exceedingly human" reaction. "You saw an uglier side of him, which you hadn't really seen before. He was kind of petulant; his ego was bruised."

Down the faux hospital hallway, her interviews done, Pompeo munched a cupcake as TV writers began to depart and the "Grey's" cast returned to work. There will be some cleanup to do: Someone poured a cup of coffee into a sink -- but this being a TV show set, the sink was not plumbed, so the coffee ran down the drain and onto the floor.

A little spilled coffee won't deter Rhimes, who's eager to compete with "CSI," which CBS executives disingenuously positioned as the underdog in that ratings fight.

"I love the concept that 'CSI,' the No. 1 drama on television, is the underdog," Rhimes said, laughing. "We're gonna take our shot. I'm a competitive person, and I think Thursday is a competitive night."

NBC struggles

NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, a great fan of the strained metaphor, compared his foundering network's misfortunes to sailing without a tailwind.

"When the wind dies, you have to work like a dog," he said. "That's what it's been like the past couple of seasons at NBC. We've been sweating like pigs trying to get out of a stiff headwind."

Reilly sees a shift in the wind coming, and he may be right. NBC had the best development and has the best series this fall, including Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," a new drama from the creator of "The West Wing."

"Studio 60" follows what happens behind the scenes at a "Saturday Night Live"-type TV show, but Reilly said, "It's not navel-gazing television, it's a character drama."

Sorkin said the heart of "Studio 60" is the same as the heart of "The West Wing" and another of his shows, "Sports Night."

"It's about a group of people committed to their profession, committed to each other, committed to what they're doing and, hopefully, we enjoy watching them every week," Sorkin said.

Just as "West Wing" dealt with politics, Sorkin said "Studio 60" is "tooled up to deal with issues of the culture wars in an interesting ways."

"Studio 60" isn't the only NBC newcomer to go behind the scenes of an "SNL"-type show. Tina Fey's half-hour comedy "30 Rock" does, too.

"It was one of those weird show-business coincidences," Reilly said. "You've got Tina Fey and Aaron Sorkin, and I couldn't imagine saying, 'One of you will have to go elsewhere.' Not surprisingly, they were both worthy of getting on the air. It's a very different tone and feel to the shows, and, as they go on, [each] will only become more distinctive."

Sorkin said he hasn't seen "30 Rock" yet.

"My intention is to take Tina's ideas, use twice as many words, and turn them into our show," Sorkin quipped.

Channel surfing

NBC will air episodes of "Psych," a hit for sister-network USA, on Aug. 7 and 14. ... A two-hour, recorded Madonna concert will air on NBC in November. ... Andre Braugher will guest in a six-episode arc on "ER" this fall. ... "Last Comic Standing" will return for another season next June and "America's Got Talent" will return for a second run in January.

  
RELATED COVERAGE
Rob Owen's Tuned In Journal   

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com .


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