When ABC's "Private Practice" was launched in 2007, it had unforeseen obstacles such as having its first season consist of only nine episodes due to the WGA strike as well as less-than-stellar ratings and fan response to the spin-off from the popular "Grey's Anatomy." Now, as the third season begins tonight, the medical drama is coming off an intense cliffhanger with the life of Amy Brenneman's Violet (not to mention the life of her stolen-from-the-womb baby) hanging in the balance. To get the lowdown on what viewers can expect from the revitalized series, our Jim Halterman talked with executive producer Betsy Beers on the controversial baby-snatching storyline, the sense of family within the show and having the show stand on its own apart from its parent series.
Jim Halterman: I have to tell you I needed a stiff drink after watching the season premiere. Talk about intense!
Betsy Beers: I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I think what I find really wonderful about the season premiere is the past and present aspect of it which gives you a whole other approach and perspective on who these people are. I thought it was a really ingenious thing for our fine writers to do and also giving the history of Pete (Tim Daly) and Violet makes it all mean so much more at the end of the first episode.
JH: The show really seemed to have a fresh start in many ways from the "Private Practice" I've seen in the past.
BB: Exactly. I think what we're hoping is that the season finale last season got a lot of attention in that we'll have some tune-in from people who might not have seen every episode last season and want to know the beginning of the practice and the genus of it. As we move into season 3, things really start to change in terms of the upstairs and downstairs dynamics.
JH: When you came up with the Violet cliffhanger, was there any trepidation that maybe this was too much? I know it really happens but stealing a baby while still in the womb is a really horrific thing to do with a regular cast member.
BB: It was something that Shonda [Rhimes] became absolutely compelled to do. She came up with the idea and I remember her talking about it and thinking it was the most amazingly emotional and real idea. I don't actually think that it was a concern that it wasn't organic with the show because it made so much sense coming out of where we'd been. So much of that final episode is about everybody having their own baby so it bleeds into every single one of those storylines with the feeling like your baby isn't your baby. The thing that Shonda was absolutely intent upon was she said 'I want to make sure when we do this that it's clear that it's happening. It's not a Perils of Pauline moment where Cooper (Paul Adelstein) does break in or one of the other characters comes and rescues her. This is something that we're committing to and this is what we're doing.' That's what feels true to the show. If we're going to do it then see it through and you honestly commit to the moment.
JH: The season opener is justifiably heavy but do things lighten up after the season premiere?
BB: I think absolutely. The great thing is that it's still 'Private Practice' and we're still almost always dealing with relatively intense emotional issues for all of our characters as well as the moral and ethical dilemmas, which I think are the backbone of the show. We talk about it and say the show should really make you feel as you're watching it 'Oh my God, what would I do?' I think our characters are all going to go through a range of things in the first episodes here. Some of them are funny, some of them are really, really intense and some of them are pretty emotional but all of them, I think, feel truly real for where they are. When you think about it, obviously Violet has some ground to make up and some recovery ahead of her and that's going to be intriguing to watch. I think you're going to see some things that rarely have been portrayed like this on network TV. Naomi (Audra McDonald) was leaving upstairs for downstairs and there will be transition there and there are other folks who might be looking at other jobs and there may be people with new jobs. Sheldon (Brian Benben) will be back and I think Sheldon is a source of pure joy for all of us. I think we also have Addison (Kate Walsh) dealing with the loss of Noah and realizing that once again she was in a relationship that wasn't really working for her. We're also going to be exploring the medical proficiency and expertise of some of our doctors and expanding that world as well.
JH: Going into year three, do you still feel like "Private Practice" is a show that can now stand on its own instead of being labeled a spin-off?
BB: We really feel like it's its own show with its own tone. It's always connected to 'Grey's' and that became obvious certainly when we did the crossover [last season] and there's always that link because there's that history and it's terrific. But we feel like this show has really earned its own moniker as a show of its own. It's a really real world that is growing and changing every season. Addison's character is growing into its environment in a very, very different way. It's sort of like when she was back and forth to Seattle Grace last year you really had a feeling that when you watched her operate that there were particular things in terms of relationships that she was putting to bed. It really does feel as though Oceanside Wellness is kind of a place of its own.
JH: Pete and Violet as a couple really seems to work. When you put them together, did you see something that maybe wasn't there when Pete was paired with Addison?
BB: We felt like there was actually chemistry with Pete and Addison. It just felt that they each needed to be exploring different relationships. We felt there was a chemistry between Violet and Pete at a particular point and Shonda and Cowan & Rovner and all the writers kind of responded to it and I think really, really wrote to it. There's a familial ease between the two of them which is just kind of unbelievable and unavoidable and they picked up on it kind of early and wove it into a really great relationship, which really does feel real. One of the great things of the premiere episode is you get to track the growth of that familial quality. I think we knew initially it was something that people would react one way or another to but I think you really grow into it and I love the triangle with Sheldon, Pete and Violet.
JH: Tim Daly has some powerful scenes in the opener that are some of the best I've ever seen him do in his career.
BB: Right? That is one of the most amazing performances certainly I've seen on either show over the course of the six years that I've been working with Shonda. I just think he's incredible and he brings so much range and depth to his work. He can be super funny and super cavalier and sarcastic but he can also be so intense and loving and great. You really see there's a depth to him, which is such a treat to find in an actor. I think you're going to see some really surprising stuff from everybody this year. They are really playing with their A-game.
JH: There's another crossover coming up with "Grey's." What's the storyline?
BB: Bailey (Chandra Wilson) will be visiting Oceanside Wellness and dealing with a very specific patient and it will involve a very large moral and ethical dilemma where she will be actually on one very specific side and there will be another one of our doctors on another very specific side and it's really fun to watch. She's formidable and they're formidable.
JH: Any other big name guest stars coming up this season?
BB: Kellie Martin is going to be in an episode that is pretty early on, Amanda Foreman will be back as Katie, the psych patient, and, of course, Chandra from 'Grey's.'
JH: The fans are so passionate for your show and "Grey's" but when the critics were beating up "Private Practice" in the early days what were you hearing from the fans.
BB: All fans feel differently. Some fans love everything. Some fans don't love everything but everybody feels really strongly about one thing or another. What I can always say is there is always a debate, which is what we always want. There are things that systematically everyone responds to in a positive way like people love watching people get married but I think there's always a range and that's really the fun of it. One of the great things about the season finale of 'Private Practice' was everyone was moved and everybody had a strong feeling about it and everyone's emotions were on edge and it was excellent because there were real debates going on. We've really done our jobs if you can actually have an active conversation and you feel differently than the other people you talk to.
"Private Practice" kicks off year three tonight on ABC at 10:00/9:00c.