An excerpt from the upcoming book How to Save a Life by EW's Lynette Rice reveals ABC basically treated the show as a low priority.
Grey's Anatomy pilot
BY Lynette Rice
The stakes were relatively low for Shonda Rhimes and her drama about four randy interns working in a Seattle hospital. ABC wasn't in immediate need of another water-cooler drama, having just launched Desperate Housewives and Lost.
The last network to create a must-see medical show was NBC in 1994 when ER gave us a McDreamy in George Clooney before we knew we wanted one. Yet the audaciously confident Rhimes was convinced she had something special on her hands.
“Shonda had done a pilot about female war correspondents that everyone loved... We were really encouraged by Shonda's writing. We thought the television industry was due for a medical drama,” says Stephen Mcpherson, former ABC Entertainment Group President.
ABC didn't look far for its star intern. Pompeo, a former L'Oréal model who broke out in the 2002 comedy, Moonlight Mile, was already roaming the halls of ABC after starring in the network's failed TV pilot called Secret Service.
Katherine Heigl had a little more experience than Pompeo, but not by much. Also a former model, she appeared in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory before co-starring as Isabel Evans in The WB's Roswell for three seasons.
The execs weren't initially looking at stage actress Chandra Wilson to play the role of the cranky Dr. Miranda Bailey. Instead, they targeted Sandra Oh, a Canadian-born actress who'd appeared in HBO's Arliss.