TV URBAN LEGEND: One of the original cast members of “Grey's Anatomy” was added to the show's pilot through digital effects.
The technology behind film and the television keeps getting better and better, particularly when it comes to digital effects. Shows like “Supergirl” and “The Flash” feature action sequences that couldn't have been imagined 20 years ago, let alone in the days of “The Adventures of Superman,” the same flying sequences were used repeatedly. One of the big advances in CGI is the ability to add actors to scenes digitally, which was famously used in “Gladiator”to allow Oliver Reed to appear in the film even after the actor died during production. Similar technology would be used five years later for the “Grey’s Anatomy” pilot, which added an actor who wasn’t originally in the episode.
At the start, the long-running ABC drama was centered a group of surgical interns at a teaching hospital, particularly Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), whose mother was a famous surgeon now suffering from Alzheimer's. Meredith sleeps with a stranger at a bar and is mortified to find out on her first day of work that he’s a renowned surgeon at Seattle Grace (Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd, or "Doctor McDreamy"). Meredith's closest friends are Christina (Sandra Oh), Izzy (Katherine Heigl) and George (T.R. Knight).
Written by the show's creator Shonda Rhimes, the pilot was filmed in March 2004 and purchased by the network, but the series didn’t make it onto the fall schedule. It was instead held as a midseason replacement, airing in March 2005 (where it instantly became a massive success). The delay between the filming of the series and its airing gave Rhimes a lot of time to tinker with the series; for instance, she added the voiceover narration by Pompeo as Meredith.
She also added another intern: Meredith was so friendly with Christina, Izzy and George that Rhimes felt there needed to be a different element. Enter Justin Chambers, who told TV Guide about the situation:
"They had shot the pilot a year before it aired. They felt they needed to tinker with it a little more. I had done a pilot for ABC, [‘Secret Service’], that didn't get picked up. They liked what I did in that, and they brought me in to do a screen test with Ellen. I guess they felt they needed a jerk, so they brought in this jerk. It worked out."
Adding major characters to a series after a pilot is pretty common. Kookie, the breakout character of “77 Sunset Strip,” didn't appear until the second episode (under bizarre circumstances). The same thing with Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld.” However, in this instance the technology was available to actually digitally insert Justin Chamber's Alex Karev into the pilot.
There's a sequence where George is assisting Isiah Washington's Preston Burke in a surgery. All the other interns gather to watch George (while sort of rooting for him to fail to help their own advancement). In a wide shot of the scene, you can see them all in the room.
However, in close-ups Chambers is digitally added to the group. There's a brilliant piece of editing here as well. Originally, after George screws up, there’s murmuring in the group that George is "007," which, as Meredith explains to Izzy, means he has a "license to kill” (in other words, he’s a bad surgeon). However, in the aired episode, Chambers' character Karev is spliced into the scene right before the murmuring and he says "007.” It nicely establishes Karev is a jerk.
The show didn't only use CGI, however; it also filmed a new scene between Karev and Meredith that is added to the episode. But for the most part, Karev is barely in the pilot. In the second episode, he’s fully integrated into “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The legend is...
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