'Grey's Anatomy' Season 17 Begins 'Month and a Half Into COVID' Pandemic, Giacomo Gianniotti Says (Exclusive)

The actor tells ET the ABC medical drama is eyeing a September start date and discusses inclusion of Black Lives Matter movement.

Grey's Anatomy has yet to begin production on season 17, but details are starting to trickle in on how the the series will unfold creatively. Series star Giacomo Gianniotti revealed to ET's Katie Krause that the new season, which will feature a coronavirus storyline, will kick off "a month and a half" into the pandemic as the doctors of Grey Sloan adapt to their new reality.

"We're going to start the season about a month and a half [into] full COVID, so it's going to take place a little beyond where we left off in the last season," Gianniotti said, though he hasn't received any season 17 scripts. "We might have some flashbacks. We might have some things where we're referencing last season, just to have context leading up. But we are going to have a little leap when we start this season in terms of time. We're not picking up right where we left off."

The months-long time jump follows the events of the makeshift season 16 finale, which ended with Gianniotti's Andrew DeLuca having another bipolar episode after correctly diagnosing Richard Webber's condition and Meredith taking him home. 

Asked how DeLuca would be faring in a COVID world, Gianniotti believes the chief resident would do well under pressure. "I think he thrives in chaos and he certainly proved that in past seasons that when there's a lot going on, he steps up," the 31-year-old actor said. "This is going to be an obviously stressful situation, but I think an exciting one where he can really shine and then thrive."

According to Gianniotti, Grey's is hoping to begin filming in September. But the actor cautions that given the fluidity of the situation, anything can happen. He shared that production was originally being eyed for the end of August before it was "pushed." (No official start date has been given for Grey's.) He offered an preview of what the new normal may look like once they do receive the green light to start filming. 

"Our producers are all rapidly trying to implement all of these protocols to keep everybody safe. We're obviously going to be tested multiple times a week and sort of separated in zones. We're going to have a lot less personnel on set. We're going to be wearing full PPE [personal protective equipment] of course," Gianniotti reaffirmed. "It's a new world."

"There's a learning curve for any show. We're uniquely lucky that we get to wear PPE because we play doctors, so for other shows that aren't in the doctor world I really feel for them because that's an added challenge that they have to face," he said, remaining optimistic. "But I'm really hoping that we can figure it out and keep producing this amazing show that so many fans love to watch."

Grey's hasn't been shy about touching on complex issues and Gianniotti hinted that the Black Lives Matter movement could also play into the season 17. "There's been no shortage of incredible stories that have been going around this time, both in the hospital walls and in the streets of cities protesting," he said, "so we hope to tell all those stories this season."

"I'm just speculating at this point -- all the writers and producers have said they're really interested in telling the stories of everything that has been going on with the Black Lives Matter movement during this time and it's certainly something that, whether it's the first episode or the second... they're very interested in telling people those stories," Gianniotti added.

Starting this weekend, a non-profit close to Gianniotti's heart, My Friend's Place, will hold a five-day virtual festival, featuring performances by artists like JoJo and Mario, an auction, guest speakers and more. It culminates in a hosted gala by Gianniotti on the last day celebrating what the organization was accomplished in the past year. 

"My Friend's Place is a drop-in resource center for homeless youth in Los Angeles. We serve ages 12 to 25, as well as their children [and] their dogs and their cats. But when this crisis hit, A) it forced a lot of people who were on the line into homelessness and it put people who had homes and were normally able to get by with food and supplies into a food insecure home, into a food scarce bracket, which means that the food pantries, the shelters, the drop-in resource centers were all having more demand. My Friend's Place very quickly realized they were being overwhelmed; [they] did a very noble thing and lifted their age bracket and started welcoming anyone of any age to come to their doors," Gianniotti said of the charity organization, which has been serving homeless youth for three decades and whom he's partnered with for the past five years.

"I'm just so so proud of the work that they do and how they performed in this unprecedented time and rose to the challenge, and it certainly was a challenge," he added. "I love what they do. I love what they continue to do."

For more Grey's scoop from Gianniotti, keep your eyes peeled on ETonline.com.

My Friend's Place Summer Festival virtual gala will kick off with Standing Together: A Virtual Concert on Sunday, Aug. 9, which will be streamed on ET Live at 5 p.m. PT, and close with A Night United, hosted by Giacomo Gianniotti, on Thursday, Aug. 13.

To learn more about My Friend's Place and how to help, including with its COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, visit myfriendsplace.org.

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