EXCLUSIVE: Grey’s Anatomy executive producers Tony Phelan and Joan Rater have signed a new two-year exclusive deal at ABC. Under the “show-verall”, as such pacts are referred to since they are tied to a show, the Grey’s veterans will serve as No. 2 to creator-executive producer Shonda Rhimes, running the writers room of the ABC medical drama with her. They will succeed another longtime Grey’s producer, Krista Vernoff, who is currently shepherding her second pilot for ABC, Grace. Phelan and Rater joined Grey’s at the beginning of the show’s second season, rising through the ranks to executive producers. “We feel like have really found a home on Grey’s, and it’s has been a great 6 years,” Phelan said.
Phelan and Rater have always been a writing team because they first became a couple in real life before pursuing writing careers. Phelan was a theater director and Rater was a struggling actress in New York when a mutual friend set them up on a date in the late 80s. Phelan then encouraged Rater to try her hand at becoming a monologist after he noticed that the “humiliating stories about her dating life” she was telling on stage were not getting her acting jobs but were captivating the audience. Rater became a successful monologist, touring the country with Phelan. Then they began adapting the short stories into plays. Phelan and Rater took one of plays to Los Angeles for a reading. Four people attended, and one of them, a literary manager, came to them and suggested they try TV writing. Six months later, in January 2000, Phelan and Rater loaded their possessions in an U-Haul truck and drove cross-country to Hollywood. They got a job on their first interview, for USA Network’s short-lived series Cover Me. The trick? People looked at us and said: “They come from New York, wear black and have New York playwright cache,” Phelan quipped.
The duo’s first ABC gig was on Push, Nevada. There, they met veteran showrunner Jim Parriott who took them under his wing and helped them get jobs on other ABC series he worked for, including Grey’s, where he served as an executive producer for the first 2 seasons.
Phelan and Rater, repped by UTA and attorney David Fox, are gearing up for their new duties in the writers room of the show. “The one thing that Shonda provides is a very supportive atmosphere for writers,” Phelan said. “We have a great writers room and spend most of the time telling humiliating stories about ourselves and working them into the show.” Phelan has been using his background as theater director, serving as a liaison between writers and actors on Grey’s and spending more time on the set. He made his TV directing debut on the show and has helmed multiple episodes, including the much-talked about upcoming musical episode, Song Beneath the Song, written by Rhimes. Meanwhile, Rater has been spending more time in the writers room and has become the go-to Grey’s rewrite producer, polishing many of the series’ scripts before production.
As for juggling working and living together, “we spend 3 times more time together than the average couple,” Phelan said. “You miss out on all that coming home at night and telling your spouse: ‘You’ll never believe what happened at work today.”