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Created by Shonda Rhimes for ABC, Grey’s Anatomy became the top-grossing US network show of 2005 and has won many awards for writing, acting and direction, including a Golden Globe in 2007 for best drama series. With the fifth series of Grey’s Anatomy attracting more than 15 million viewers and battling it out with House M.D. (NBC/Fox, 2004–date and The mentalist (Warners/CBS, 2008–date) to displace CSI: Miami (CBS, 2002–date) at the top of the US Nielsen ratings in February 2009, it has become one of the most successful TV shows of recent years. Rivals such as House M.D. continue to attract audiences of around 14 to 15 million, while ER (NBC, 1994–2009), once the bastion of prime-time Thursday nights, is struggling to attract more than 8 million viewers and has announced its final season.
In the 1990s, medical drama offered traumatised bodies and graphic realism and debated controversial ethical issues; now it offers surgical heroics, sexual shenanigans and a chat between friends over a quick caffé latte. Grey’s Anatomy is escapist drama for credit-crunch times, for people weary of bleak realities and depressed by reality TV. A generic infusion of some of the most successful aspects of popular comedy dramas of recent years—Friends (NBC, 1994–2004), Ally McBeal (Fox, 1997–2002), Sex and the City (HBO, 1998–2004), Scrubs (NBC, 2001–date)—has given the familiar “interns” formula a new twist, targeted at keeping the young professional female demographic tuned to NBC after its weekly dose of Desperate Housewives (ABC, 2004–date). The series began with a focus on the personal life and loves of Dr Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and …