Walsh transformed Addison from the witch who cruised McDreamy to one of the most beloved characters on ''Grey's Anatomy.'' Now, EW goes behind the scenes of her spin-off ''Private Practice,'' the most anticipated new show of the season
''Oh, God. Are you kidding me?'' Unfortunately for Dr. Addison Montgomery, the answer to that question is ''No.'' Inside the slick offices of Oceanside Wellness — the setting for ABC's highly anticipated Grey's Anatomy spin-off, Private Practice (debuting at 9 p.m. Sept. 26) — Addison (Kate Walsh) is shocked that her pregnant patient has requested a holistic birth from sexy alternative-medicine practitioner Dr. Pete Wilder (played by sexy Tim Daly). She nervously pivots in her wine-colored scrubs. ''People have babies in hospitals,'' says Addison. ''That's normal! This is...'' ''A change of pace?'' asks Pete.
You can certainly say that. When Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes first conceived Practice, a dramedy about a consortium of sexed-up, not-getting-younger medical careerists in Santa Monica, she had one hope for her second baby: that it not look identical to her first. ''I feel like it's lighter than Grey's,'' says Rhimes. ''It's got all the drama without the surgery! Grey's has always been high school kids with scalpels. These people are a little bit more grown-up.''
Funny, Walsh isn't feeling like the picture of maturity right now. Outside a hideaway café in Los Feliz, Calif. — not far from the house she shares with her new husband, Alex Young, a 20th Century Fox exec — she's arriving 30 minutes late for a meeting. After rushing through the door, she apologizes repeatedly and sheepishly admits she forgot her wallet. The 39-year-old actress mutters something about making a bad impression, but that's hardly the case given the commotion she's caused around her. Dressed in a simple sundress, her face free of makeup, Walsh is an absolute stunner — a throwback to '40s Hollywood, with her Rita Hayworth hair and Katharine Hepburn charm. Customers strain to watch her every move.
Oblivious to her surroundings, Walsh settles at a table to reflect on her timing. ''I definitely like writing down goals, where I want to be, how I imagine it. But I didn't write this down,'' she says. ''I didn't write down I'd like my own spin-off.''
No one did at first. When Rhimes cast the actress in the first season of Grey's, the plan was to have her around for a handful of episodes, as the no-good tramp who cheated on McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey). Even Walsh had planned for a hasty departure. ''After the initial five episodes, I shot another pilot for ABC,'' says Walsh, who, until Grey's, was best known for playing a fat-suited suitor of Drew Carey on his eponymous sitcom.
''There were always a lot of half-hour shows to do, so I thought, That's probably going to be my life.''
And then a crazy thing happened in the Seattle Grace elevator: Addison changed from the adulterous bitch who broke Derek's heart to the winsome beauty who stole ours. ''The more I spent time with her and the audience got to know her, she became somebody we all really identified with,'' explains Rhimes, who singularly credits Walsh for making Addison one of the most popular Grey's characters. ''She looks amazing. She's smart. She has great comedic timing, but can also get the big serious moments. Plus, she's great to work with.''
A handful of episodes turned to 53, and by September 2006, when Rhimes was editing the Grey's two-parter from January 2007 in which Addison tells McSteamy (Eric Dane) ''I did want a baby, I did. I just didn't want one with you,'' she began envisioning a spin-off for her accidental star. ''I was trying to figure out a way to complete the character for season 3, and give her the journey that had been waiting for her,'' says Rhimes.
Confident she had a viable idea, Rhimes requested an impromptu meeting in November with ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson and head of drama development Suzanne Patmore Gibbs at the East L.A. production lot of Grey's. Thinking they were attending a briefing on plotlines, the network duo were blown away by Rhimes' pitch: a two-hour spring episode of Grey's that would serve as a pilot for Practice. ''I think I tried to make out with her at one point, I was so happy,'' recalls McPherson. ''I had joked about a Grey's: Miami spin-off at an industry luncheon, but that's all the discussion there was. Shonda had singular focus that was already well-thought-out.''
Soon after Rhimes shared her idea, ABC execs? — to cover their bases — inserted a spin-off clause into cast members' contracts. (At that time, the Grey's players were negotiating for hefty salary hikes.) ''We all believed Addison was the right character, but there are others you could spin off legitimately,'' explains one ABC insider. ''We never got into a full discussion about who would be the second or third candidate, but a good planner always has a plan B and C.''
Though initially surprised, Walsh said she didn't read too much into the clause because none of the cast knew about Rhimes' plans. ''We were like, What's this? We had never seen it before,'' she says. ''We just thought it was a part of negotiating.'' That is, until Rhimes beckoned Walsh into her office in February. ''It was like I was being called to the principal's office,'' Walsh recalls. ''She told me she wanted to spin off my character, and then I slowly started to leave my body. I was very excited about it, obviously, totally thrilled! But my first thought was 'Oh, God, what if it doesn't work?'''
Indeed, there were definitely risks. First and foremost: Would the move rankle the rest of the cast? Grey's costar Patrick Dempsey suggests that it wasn't exactly a kumbaya moment when Rhimes notified each cast member individually last spring about the plans. ''I'm continually surprised about the decisions they make around here,'' says Dempsey. ''Quite honestly it was an interesting ride because no one knew what was happening. It was more of an issue of them defining what the [spin-off launching] episode was about.'' (Once the news leaked to the other actors, execs removed the spin-off clauses from their contracts.)
The cast wouldn't be Rhimes' only challenge. A shy and secretive writer (think Fort Knox), Rhimes insisted that the new show be developed under a shroud of secrecy (''I really felt like it was The Thing That Should Not Be Named''). She even hoped to cast her drama before she wrote the script. ''Because we were sort of the fairly heightened face of attention at that point,'' she says, obliquely referring to the media coverage brought on by the Isaiah Washington imbroglio, ''I wanted the chance to write something the way I had written Grey's — in the vacuum of it not being looked at.'' She didn't exactly get her way: The press got wind of the spin-off by the end of February. Fortunately, Grey's reputation — that, and a seemingly bottomless bank account from ABC Studios — helped Rhimes attract a slew of TV veterans, such as Daly, Amy Brenneman, and Taye Diggs, all of whom command $100,000 or more per episode. Daly was awaiting final word on whether his struggling ABC hostage drama The Nine would get a second-season pickup when Rhimes called him about playing widower Dr. Pete Wilder — a.k.a. the ''quack'' who flirts with Addison. ''Some people were talking like The Nine would be relaunched,'' recalls Daly, 51. ''I was like, 'Are you kidding?' I just felt lucky to be able to continue working.'' Diggs had just wrapped his ill-fated ABC drama Day Break and was mulling over an offer to guest-star on Ugly Betty when Rhimes recruited him to play internist Sam Bennett, the Dr. Phil of Oceanside Wellness who can fix everyone's lives but his own. ''Shonda didn't tell me much,'' says the actor, 36. ''Though I thought, 'How bad could it be?'''
Paul Adelstein was already on Rhimes' radar when he was lured to play sentimental pediatrician Cooper Freedman; Prison Break's rogue agent was originally cast as Preston Burke in the Grey's pilot — a role he had to forgo because of a shooting conflict with Be Cool. (''Shonda is very strong at writing to the actors she has, so I think my Burke would have been a completely different animal,'' Adelstein says.) Completing the high-profile cast were Brenneman (Judging Amy) as psychiatrist Violet Turner, Merrin Dungey (Francie from Alias) as Naomi, a fertility specialist (and Sam's ex), and Chris Lowell (Veronica Mars) as cutie-pie surfer William ''Dell'' Parker, who manboys the front desk. ''I didn't think of it as an all-star ensemble,'' says Rhimes. ''There's something to the fact that this group is older. Finding a bunch of unknowns at that stage of life felt hard to do.''
That collection of names, however, wasn't enough to impress Grey's fans: Though the two-parter that aired on May 3 attracted 23 million viewers — 17 percent more than the drama's season average — angry posters lit up Grey's-related blogs with complaints about Addison's uncharacteristic flightiness. ''I thought I was going to DIE waiting for that show to end...'' grumbled one poster on EW.com. ''Grey's has imploded with greed.... Sad.'' Another fired off this missive: ''I've got one word: Joey.'' (LOL)
Walsh disagreed with the criticism. ''It felt like Shonda was peeling off the layers to Addison's tender underbelly. It felt very real to me — ?taking a trip to see an old friend, and everything just comes out like 'I'm a mess!' I don't think it made Addison weak.'' Though Rhimes admits she was a ''little naive'' to think fans would embrace the ''enhanced episode,'' she has no regrets. ''I really want Private Practice to have its own identity,'' insists Rhimes (in fact, she's happy ABC chose to air the drama on Wednesdays, not Thursdays after Grey's).''I really don't want it to be Grey's 2.0.''
Walsh will certainly see to that. Back on Practice's set, she is trying to deliver a simple line about childbirth, but she inadvertently twists the words into something out of Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital. ''Let's help her have her baby in pieces.... Let's help get a piece of her baby out.'' Giggling off camera, Adelstein jumps at the chance to rib his costar. ''Piece of baby? Yes, we do things differently at the Oceanside Wellness Center!''
Even more so since they shot the pilot. KaDee Strickland (Fox's The Wedding Bells) joined the cast as Charlotte King, a by-the-book physician from a nearby hospital who frowns on Oceanside's touchy-feely ways. And Broadway veteran Audra McDonald replaced Dungey after Rhimes ''reenvisioned'' the role of Naomi. For McDonald, it was a case of better late than never. ''When they were casting back in February, I was a little upset that I couldn't come in to audition,'' said McDonald, 37, who had already committed to starring in 110 in the Shade on Broadway. ''There are not many three-dimensional African-American roles out there in television, so I thought, Everybody's going to want to go out for that.''
So far, Rhimes has scrapped the much-ballyhooed talking elevator from the pilot, choosing instead to get laughs from Walsh dancing naked in her new beachfront home, and trying to avoid come-hither glances from Pete. But that's as far as the hanky-panky will go. For now. ''I don't think anybody wants to see Addison jump into a relationship,'' says Rhimes. ''I don't think she's ready for that.'' Especially since she still has some emotional ties to Seattle Grace, which is why we'll see her return to her old workplace one last time on the Grey's Sept. 27 season premiere. This is where it gets a little sad for Walsh. ''I'm friends with all of them [at Grey's], but even as my character, I'm thinking, 'Wait, can't I just take a friend with me to California?''' (Unfortunately for Addison, Rhimes has no further crossover plans at this time.)
''There's definitely real melancholy, and a loss,'' continues Walsh, on her big move. ''But I also feel like it was right, just like when it's time to go off to college. This is the right time for me to go.''SOURCE
Edit: The article is long but it reveals that had Kate Walsh said no, ABC would still have moved forward with a "Grey's" spin-off with another cast member. Who do you think that was? Oh and creator Shonda Rhimes say no crossovers are planned. Sorry but Eric Dane is not going to be getting any Addison lovin' yet.