‘Heartbreaker’ is NBC’s not-at-all-copyright-infringing answer to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

NBC gave up Community and Parks and Recs for this??


Aja Romano


Published May 11, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 8:57 pm CDT

Faced with ratings that have declined so far as to be notorious, NBC is just straight up not even trying anymore. Its new series Heartbreaker is being billed as a “unique character-driven medical drama,” but it is, in fact, a by-the-numbers ripoff of ABC‘s Grey’s Anatomy that is so over-the-top and weird that it’s breaking our brains a little bit. 

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What is going on here? Is Heartbreaker a scathing parody? A loving homage? A desperate ratings grab? And why isn’t it listed as “comedy?” Who even knows anymore?

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While Heartbreaker probably (maybe) isn’t straight-up copyright infringement, it is positively dripping with Grey‘s references:

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  • The blonde protagonist played by Melissa George, who looks like a doppelganger of Meredith Grey and seems to be an all-in-one hybrid of Meredith (spunky! blonde!), Christina (into hearts!), and Miranda Bailey (iron-fisted intern and tech supervisor!). George even played a recurring character in season 5 of Grey’s.
  • The gaggle of first-year interns she supervises (Grey’s Anatomy‘s plot concerns medical interns growing into surgeons, working with an iron-fisted supervisor).
  • The incredibly hammy plot involving a minor character holding a heart hostage, a plot trope prominently used in Season 2 of Grey‘s.
  • The romantic leads who have obviously been styled to look like dead ringers for the Grey’s characters of Mark Sloan (oft-deemed “McSteamy”) and Derek Shepherd (“McDreamy”). In fact, at 1:24, the main character has been styled to be a dead ringer for Grey‘s Addison Montgomery, too.
  • The patented indie-rock ballad playing over sweeping montages at the end of every Grey‘s episode kicks in at the end of the Heartbreaker trailer, just as the leads are making soulful eyes at each other over an exposed patient.
  • The set design, for the love of Seattle Grace. Here’s the striking hospital walkway from Grey‘s, above, compared with the set of Heartbreaker, where the walkway appears to be overlooking the outdoor courtyard that’s also part of the Grey’s set:

Aja Romano

What this new “drama” doesn’t seem to have are any of the things that made Shonda Rhimes a household name and made Grey‘s stand out in the long line of hospital dramas that have invaded our televisions over the years.

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For one thing, in contrast to the insistent multiculturalism and diversity on Grey’sHeartbreaker seems relentlessly whitebread. All of its carbon copies represent the white portion of the Grey’s ensemble, while homages to tour de force characters like Christina Yang and Miranda Bailey are nowhere to be found.

Perhaps Heartbreaker knew it couldn’t possibly duplicate what those characters were doing onscreen, so it didn’t even bother trying.

According to the official NBC press release about the show, it’s “inspired by real-life renowned surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato.” But apart from the blurb, Heartbreaker doesn’t seem to be following reality at all. Screenwriter Jill Gordon, who once worked on cultural hallmarks like Laverne and Shirley and The Wonder Years, hasn’t written for a TV series since My So-Called Life, a whole two decades ago. Does that explain the stilted “should we be laughing or is this supposed to be serious” vibe? 

At least when Grey’s was showing us the utter absurdity of two people mutually impaled on a telephone pole, it was doing it so emotionally that it made us cry anyway.

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Things get even weirder. Heartbreaker is executive produced by Amy Brenneman, who played Violet on the Grey‘s spinoff Private Practice. Should we read all the references as loving in-jokes?

Now for the biggest question: Does NBC know the answer to any of these questions, or did they just greenlight something that looked a lot like Grey‘s in the hope that it would give them a much-needed ratings boost?

We give up. We’re already more confused by this show than we were during the whole Izzie-hallucinating-Denny phase of Grey‘s, and this show hasn’t even started yet.

Screengrab via Heartbreaker/YouTube

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*First Published: May 11, 2015, 5:21 pm CDT