Keck's Exclusives: Shonda Rhimes on Private Practice's Big Death
Spoiler alert! If you haven't watched last night's Private Practice, stop reading now, as this story addresses the death of a major character.
It was no secret that Tim Daly was leaving ABC's Private Practice. Over the summer, the disgruntled actor expressed his obvious disappointment about his dismissal through tweets to his followers. Still, some fans were holding out hope that creator Shonda Rhimes might send his character, Dr. Pete Wilder, off into the sunset just as she did when Audra McDonald (Naomi) elected to return to Broadway at the end of the 2010-2011 season. Instead, Rhimes chose the same fate she crafted for Chris Lowell's Dell in 2010. Here's why.
TV Guide Magazine: I feel like I should address you as the Grim Reaper.
Shona Rhimes: Why?
TV Guide Magazine: Well, it has been quite a bloody time for you between Private Practice and Grey's Anatomy.
Rhimes: I guess it has. It was a little bit bloody.
TV Guide Magazine: Many shows just write characters off when their time comes. But more often than not it seems you kill your people, which is obviously the more dramatic approach. Why do you opt for blood?
Rhimes: We're talking about medical shows where the stakes are life and death. That's what the shows are about. For me, the most interesting thing to watch is when our characters are being tested on everything they've learned. Cristina, with a gun to her head, operating on Derek after he's been shot [on Grey's Anatomy]. And everything that happened in the woods [after the plane crash]. I think that stuff is interesting. Worst case scenario is always better than medium case scenario.
TV Guide Magazine: What was the table read like when Pete's death was revealed. Did the cast already know?
Rhimes: Amy Brenneman [who plays Pete's widow, Violet] knew, because we spoke about it ahead of time. Because he was her acting partner, I wanted her to know what was going on. Everybody else knew Tim wasn't coming back, but no one knew exactly what we were doing.
TV Guide Magazine: So when the death was revealed in that reading, what was it like?
Rhimes: It was a pretty big moment for everybody. This season there's been a lot of laughter and tears. People got it in a way that was really emotional.
TV Guide Magazine: So far your major victims have included Dell and Pete on Private Practice, and George and Lexie on Grey's. Any deaths you've regretted writing?
Rhimes: No, actually. Not so far. The only two I've really ever regretted killing are Denny [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] and Bomb Squad Guy [Kyle Chandler], only because I just loved both of those actors. I loved getting to work with them so much. Those were the only two where I had been like, 'I really wish that we weren't killing them.' And I felt very strongly about not killing off Naomi [Audra McDonald]. I knew I wanted to see her again if possible. Plus, as Addison's best friend and Sam's ex-wife, that wasn't possible for me.
TV Guide Magazine: Let's talk about Pete's death, which happened in the last moments of the premiere when he failed to show up for court and Violet feared he had run. Only later does she learn he's suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging through Runyon Canyon. Why didn't you have Tim back to play the scenes?
Rhimes: Part of the picture in my head was the idea of a person missing, and the characters having different assumptions about why that person is not around. So we don't see him at all. It wasn't part of the plan of how I wanted to do it, so we didn't approach him.
TV Guide Magazine: Why was Tim cut? Was he a victim of budget cuts?
Rhimes: Yeah. I love Tim Daly. We spent a long time working together. But yeah, there were budgetary reasons. We wanted to afford to keep the show going and that was not necessarily an easy choice to make. But in a lot of ways, there already was an end for Pete.
TV Guide Magazine: Anything you want to say about Tim's tweets to his fans that suggested this was not his choice and he would have rather continued on the series?
Rhimes: I think often an actor does want to continue on a show when they are asked to not continue on the show.
TV Guide Magazine: How will Pete's death ripple through future storylines?
Rhimes: What I love is it's a jumping-off point for a lot of our characters to reexamine their lives and priorities. For Violet especially, there is going to be something intriguing to see her coping with the loss of a husband in a marriage she wasn't even sure was steady in the first place. The episode after the premiere is everybody dealing with loss in a very interesting way. You get to see our characters do something they have never done before, which I think is going to be great.
TV Guide Magazine: Can you give us something specific about Violet?
Rhimes: There is a really amazing karaoke scene coming up in the second episode where Amy has to run the gamut of every possible emotion you can imagine. And she's incredible. It's wonderful to get to see her work that way.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you have a funeral for Pete?
Rhimes: In a way we do. We definitely commemorate the passing of Pete in a special way.
TV Guide Magazine: Any Pete flashbacks?
Rhimes: No. In this instance, I feel like the loss of a person that feels sudden and striking is more impactful with them gone.
TV Guide Magazine: Any chance Naomi comes back for this memorial?
Rhimes: I would have loved to see her come back for this, but [Audra] is on Broadway. We are still trying to work out the details of trying to get her back at some point in the season.
TV Guide Magazine: Does anybody from the past come back to pay their respects?
Rhimes: We definitely see the lives of people Pete has affected, but they're not necessarily people we've seen before.
TV Guide Magazine: You've mentioned that you'll be playing with time in a different way this season. How so?
Rhimes: It's hard to say. We're doing it episode by episode. In one episode we're going back to the day that Addison first came home with her baby, and then we're stepping forward a little into the future. Charlotte's episode takes place over a series of months.
TV Guide Magazine: Kate Walsh has said she'd like to see Addison go out in a big way after she completes her 13 episodes. Have you decided yet how she'll be going out?
Rhimes: Although I change my mind a lot, I think I have decided. She's definitely not going to die.
TV Guide Magazine: How did Addison escape the Grim Reaper?
Rhimes: I feel like I have been on the world's longest journey with this character. She started out on Grey's Anatomy as somebody a lot of people hated. We watched her evolve into someone people really loved. And we also watched her evolve as a woman. To me, that character deserves a happy ending.
TV Guide Magazine: What about having Addison back on Grey's one last time before Kate takes off?
Rhimes: To me, that is not necessarily relevant. Before Grey's Anatomy itself ends forever, will I go back to Kate and say, 'Put back on your Addison shoes and come on over'? Absolutely! But God knows when that will be.
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