The showrunner of "Station 19" was struggling to put together the story arc for a powerful episode addressing the impact of George Floyd's murder, so she asked her cast and writers for help.
Krista Vernoff wanted to credit all of them for writing Thursday night's poignant episode of the ABC drama, but since the studio said that wasn't possible, she made sure everyone knew the contributions of 25 writers and cast members who collaborated on the special effort.
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At the end of the episode, a graphic appeared listing all 25 people whose experiences and perspective "informed and enriched" the story. It also noted that Vernoff donated her script fee to the Color of Change Education Fund.
Vernoff spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how the group created an episode that cast member Danielle Savre tweeted was "emotional, raw, and relevant" and Vernoff tweeted was her "most powerful hour of TV in a 22-year career."
"I think it feels like we found a way to do it – a way that feels reverent and respectful of George Floyd," Vernoff said. "He wasn’t just an idea, he was a human being and his death had a massive impact. And now I guess my hope is that people see their experiences represented in a way that makes them feel more seen and heard."
The hour-long episode depicts the show's firefighters reflecting to a therapist played by Tracie Thoms about their hopelessness, anger, pain and confusion in the wake of Floyd's death.
Vernoff solicited help from the cast in addition to the writers in coming up with the episode's story arc and conversations.
"It’s a very diverse room and a very diverse support staff and I said, 'I’m a middle-aged white lady, I need your lived experiences here,''' Vernoff said.
Cast members sent her deeply personal emails about their own experiences and ideas for the episode.
"I just sat crying," she said. "The same way I sat crying when I watched the episode come to life. The profundity of everyone’s lived experiences and the pain, it was a lot to take in. And it felt like a beautiful privilege to get to create this hour on TV.
"Every email I opened, I got some new understanding, and my hope was that in packaging it and putting it on TV, everyone might get some new understanding."
Cast member Jason Winston George also shared that it came together quickly.
"Tonight’s @station19 is #powerful," he tweeted Thursday. "The story behind the story is incredible too. This episode wasn’t even conceived until shortly before we shot it. Keep the conversation going. The more we talk about it, the more we’ll do about it."
Making the episode even more relevant is that it came just days after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for murdering Floyd last year after kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
"One of my big notes was, 'Please let's not use his name as a shorthand or a shortcut. If we're saying George Floyd in this episode, please be referring to George Floyd, the man,''' Vernoff's director of diversity, equity and inclusion Kasha Foster told The Hollywood Reporter.
"He's not even a year gone; his family could see this and just out of respect, if we use his name, please be talking about him. And my other thought was that this is recording a moment in history. Yes, yes, it's a TV show, but how is this show going to play in a year? How is it going to play in five years? So, I read the draft and looked at it with an eye to, 'Let's use this opportunity to show the complicated truth of this moment -- the messy, painful and emotional time that it was, especially for Black people.'"