Call it 'McStreamy': After 20 seasons, 'Grey's Anatomy' is a hit on Netflix and Hulu


When ABC’s enduring medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” made its debut in March 2005, Netflix was still a DVD-by-mail company. There were plenty of pagers but not an iPhone in sight when viewers met Meredith Grey and the show’s first set of surgical interns.

This week, “Grey’s” finishes its 20th season with apparently no end in sight for the crew at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Star Ellen Pompeo announced at Walt Disney Co.’s recent advertiser presentation that “Grey’s Anatomy” is the Burbank-based entertainment giant’s most streamed program globally.

To date, the signature series from producer Shonda Rhimes has garnered 3.2 billion hours streamed on Disney services Disney+, Hulu and Star+ around the world.

“Grey’s Anatomy” is also a powerful draw on Netflix, which has been its streaming home in the U.S. since 2009. In March, the streamer started sharing the series with Hulu, which now offers the entire library and carries the newest episodes. The recently completed Season 20 arrives on Netflix in the fall.

“Grey’s” is a prime example of what has long been the not-so-secret sauce that helped propel Netflix’s success. Although new original series and movies are often what lure viewers to the service, audiences end up immersed in the libraries of established programs that got their first exposure on traditional cable and broadcast TV.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” renewed for a 21st season on ABC, has 430 episodes, making it a binge-viewing mother lode.

Nielsen’s ranking of last year’s most streamed programs showed eight of the top 10 series were long-running hits from broadcast and cable networks. “Suits,” which originally aired on USA Network from 2011-19, was No.1, while the CBS stalwart “NCIS” ranked third. “Grey’s Anatomy” was fourth with 38.6 billion minutes viewed.

Nielsen in a January report suggested library shows may have benefited from a shortage of new content to binge throughout much of 2023 due to the strikes by writers and actors that halted production for months.

Although companies such as Disney are stingy with detailed information on their streaming audiences, Nielsen data indicates that Hulu has recently given “Grey’s” a boost. During the last three weeks of April, “Grey’s” was the third most streamed program, just behind the new original series “Fallout” on Amazon’s Prime Video and the animated phenomenon “Bluey” on Disney+.

Veteran network executive Mark Pedowitz, who ran Disney’s TV studio when “Grey’s” launched, said the series was made for binge watching, the viewing method of choice for younger audiences. Streaming has provided a way for generations to bond over the series.

“The women who first discovered the show are now watching with their daughters,” said Pedowitz.

When “Grey’s Anatomy” first emerged, it attracted massive audiences on ABC, including 38 million viewers for a post-Super Bowl airing in 2006. But highly serialized dramas of that era that required habitual viewing tended not to perform well in repeats, limiting their value in the syndication market.

That changed as technology gave viewers more ways to watch on demand. Once the digital video recorder gained wide consumer acceptance, “Grey’s” often ranked among the most played-back shows. Remember TiVo? “Grey’s Anatomy” was the most watched show on the device in 2010.

Nonetheless, “Grey’s” nearly got caught in the financial squeeze that can end long-lasting hits. Salaries for its stars had risen while ratings were taking a dip, as tends to happen with aging shows. There was talk inside ABC during the 2013-14 season about wrapping up the series.

But executives ultimately realized the show was a victim of the systemic decline in linear TV audiences, as younger viewers started cutting the cord and migrating to streaming video. Today, they are the audience discovering “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix and Hulu.

Younger viewers sometimes respond to past seasons of the show on social media as if it were brand-new. A quick search on TikTok turns up reactions to plot points that occurred years ago, such as the death of T.R. Knight’s character, George O’Malley, in Season 5.

Disney Television Group President Craig Erwich isn’t surprised.

“New fans continue to be drawn to timeless stories of high-stakes medical cases, original and relatable characters and deeply romantic stories,” he told The Times. “And the world they see in ‘Grey’s’ is the world they are growing up in.”





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