After just six episodes, Grey's Anatomy Season 17 is going off the air again. Following the winter finale, Deadline reports that Grey's Anatomy will return on March 4 — the latest midseason air date the show has ever had. Usually, the fall half of a Grey's season ends in mid-November and returns in late January. This year, the coronavirus pandemic shifted production, resulting in a delayed premiere date and now a delayed return date.
That's not the only major way this season differs from past ones, though. According to TVLine, Season 17 could also be one of the shortest seasons ever. ABC has not confirmed an episode count yet, but TVLine reported that they'd heard about 16 episodes was the plan. That would be the second-shortest episode order next to the nine-episode first season. Of course, that could always shift to include more or fewer episodes as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
The pandemic is also affecting the storylines on the show, as the series grapples with including the coronavirus as a major part of the season. So far all of the episodes have heavily featured the virus' impact on the hospital and its patients, and since the virus isn't going away quickly, that storyline might not be, either. Unlike The Good Doctor, which did a time jump to a post-coronavirus future, Grey's is seemingly planning to stay in the thick of it for as long as we're dealing with the pandemic in real life.
"I was hoping by the time these episodes aired, we would be talking about the past," actor Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey) told Variety when asked how long the show planned to feature Covid storylines. "But we are so present right now, in sort of a frightening way. So that's been really unexpected for me." It's been unexpected for the writers too, who have had to adapt to the real world circumstances while writing the series.
"I'm not sure how much the current circumstances are changing our overall arc," Wilson added. "Our arc has had to remain very fluid this season, based on even if we're allowed to work at a certain point, depending on how our national numbers do. The relevance grows episode by episode, and I think it makes for an interesting journey for our writers right now to figure out where the arc goes, because I think it's about as fluid as the times are right now."
According to another Variety article, initially Grey's Anatomy had considered not addressing the pandemic at all, with showrunner Krista Vernoff suggesting that many people tune into the show for a break from real life. However, in the end it was decided that "the biggest medical story of our lifetime" couldn't be ignored.
When Grey's does return, it could potentially do a time jump to later in the pandemic. Right now, the show is dealing with the early stages of the pandemic in April and May. But for as stressed at the doctors are now, viewers at home know that things are only going to get worse. And the show could come back to an even more difficult stage of the pandemic as it continues to explore this story.