How ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Plans to Keep Pulses Racing in Season 20

New episodes of Grey’s Anatomy are just what the doctor ordered.

Grey’s Anatomy—the longest-running primetime medical drama in television history—returns for its landmark 20th season Thursday, March 14, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, picking up in the immediate aftermath of the two-part Season 19 finale. “It’s been quite a while since our cliffhanger,” says showrunner Meg Marinis. “We handle in a great way that will help people feel like they just watched the last episode. I’m pretty proud of how we did it.”

With Dr. Meredith Grey (Disney Legend Ellen Pompeo) rethinking her research plans, Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) struggling with his sobriety, Dr. Teddy Altman (Kim Raver) collapsing in the middle of surgery, and the interns losing a patient, the season premiere covers a lot of ground. “We do not abandon any of the mess that we left,” says Marinis. “I didn’t foresee the break [between seasons] being as long as it was, but we intentionally left things in messy places because we were excited to pick things back up.”

As previously announced, Season 20 will feature the return of two-fan favorite doctors, Arizona Robbins (guest star Jessica Capshaw) and Nico Kim (guest star Alex Landi). That’s because Grey’s Anatomy has an “open-door policy” for former cast members to return, Marinis explains. “In our minds, the characters keep in touch offscreen, just like real people do.” In the case of Dr. Robbins, “You’re going to get everything that you loved Arizona for: You’re going to see her laugh, you’re going to see her challenge people, and you’re going to see her practicing amazing medicine. People will be really satisfied to see her. When I heard her laugh on set, it was like, ‘Oh! She’s home.’ It was so nice to have her for a visit.”

Season 20 will also introduce new characters, including Monica Beltran (guest star Natalie Morales), a best-in-class pediatric surgeon whose willingness to push boundaries can be both admirable and aggravating. “This no-nonsense, very practical, pragmatic surgeon walks into a hospital that’s filled with emotional doctors, so it’s really fun to see them butt heads,” Marinis says. Introducing new characters like Dr. Beltran 20 seasons into the series’ run is “so important,” she adds, “because that new dynamic brings things out from our existing characters that we’ve never seen before. It’s so amazing to discover new things about characters who’ve been there for so long, just by putting a new person in the room.”

Thanks to its ensemble cast—which includes Chandra Wilson, Kevin McKidd, Caterina Scorsone, Camilla Luddington, Jake Borelli, Chris Carmack, Anthony Hill, Scott Speedman, Alexis Floyd, Harry Shum Jr., Adelaide Kane, Midori Francis, and Niko Terho—the Grey’s Anatomy writers have no shortage of stories to tell heading into Season 20.

In addition to consistently being ABC’s No. 1 scripted series, Grey’s Anatomy has regularly been one of Hulu’s top performing next-day titles. Thanks to streaming—all 420 episodes are now exclusively available on Hulu—the series continues to grow its fanbase. “It boils down to the characters that Shonda Rhimes created,” Marinis says. “Those relationships, dating back to Season 1, are timeless. They’ll always hold up. Being at the start of your career, competing with people, working so hard that you don’t have time to do your laundry or go on dates so you’re just hanging out with the people you’re going through fire with—that’s relatable in any field, and in any generation. Romantic relationships are timeless. Mentor/mentee relationships are timeless. There is so much that people can identify with.”