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‘Grey’s Anatomy’ still a hit at 20

By Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times
Published: June 10, 2024, 6:09am

When ABC’s enduring medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” made its debut in March 2005, Netflix was still a DVD-by-mail company. There were plenty of pagers but not an iPhone in sight when viewers met Meredith Grey and the show’s first set of surgical interns.

This week, “Grey’s” finishes its 20th season with apparently no end in sight for the crew at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Star Ellen Pompeo announced at Walt Disney Co.’s recent advertiser presentation that it is the entertainment giant’s most streamed program globally.

To date, the series has garnered 3.2 billion hours streamed on Disney services Disney+, Hulu and Star+ around the world.

“Grey’s Anatomy” is also a powerful draw on Netflix, which has been its streaming home in the U.S. since 2009. In March, the streamer started sharing the series with Hulu, which now offers the entire library and carries the newest episodes. The recently completed Season 20 arrives on Netflix in the fall.

“Grey’s” is a prime example of the not-so-secret sauce that has helped propel Netflix’s success. Although new original series and movies are often what lure viewers to the service, audiences end up immersed in the libraries of established programs that got their first exposure on traditional TV.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” renewed for a 21st season on ABC, has 430 episodes, making it a binge-viewing mother lode.

Nielsen’s ranking of last year’s most-streamed programs showed eight of the top 10 series were long-running hits from broadcast and cable networks. “Suits,” which originally aired on USA Network from 2011-19, was No. 1, while the CBS stalwart “NCIS” ranked third. “Grey’s Anatomy” was fourth with 38.6 billion minutes viewed.

In a January report, Nielsen suggested that library shows may have benefited from a shortage of new content to binge throughout much of 2023 due to the strikes by writers and actors that halted production for months.

Veteran network executive Mark Pedowitz, who ran Disney’s TV studio when “Grey’s” launched, said the series was made for binge watching, the viewing method of choice for younger audiences. Streaming has provided a way for generations to bond over the series.

“The women who first discovered the show are now watching with their daughters,” Pedowitz said.

When “Grey’s Anatomy” first emerged, it attracted massive audiences on ABC, including 38 million viewers for a post-Super Bowl airing in 2006. But highly serialized dramas of that era that required habitual viewing tended not to perform well in repeats, limiting their value in the syndication market.

That changed as technology gave viewers more ways to watch on demand. Once the digital video recorder gained wide consumer acceptance, “Grey’s” often ranked among the most played-back shows. Remember TiVo? “Grey’s Anatomy” was the most-watched show on the device in 2010.

Nonetheless, “Grey’s” nearly got caught in the financial squeeze that can end long-lasting hits. Salaries for its stars had risen while ratings were taking a dip, as tends to happen with aging shows. There was talk inside ABC during the 2013-14 season about wrapping up the series.

But executives ultimately realized the show was a victim of the systemic decline in linear TV audiences, as younger viewers started cutting the cord and migrating to streaming video. Today, they are the audience discovering “Grey’s Anatomy.”