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Rebel's Krista Vernoff Explains How the Erin Brockovich-Inspired Show Explores the Messy Side of Its 'Powerhouse Female Lead'

Plus, she explains why Katey Sagal was born for this part

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Megan Vick

Krista Vernoff is a very busy woman. She's the showrunner of both Grey's Anatomy and Station 19, as well as a wife and mother. Yet last year she decided to add a third show to her plate, the Katey Sagal-starring dramedy Rebel. When asked what about the show inspired her to take on a third series to run, Vernoff's answer was simple. It was the show's inspiration for existing in the first place: Erin Brockovich

"I mean, you meet Erin Brockovich and she just changes your DNA," Vernoff told TV Guide ahead of Thursday's series premiere. "I walked in thinking, I'll supervise somebody on this because I love Erin Brockovich, the movie,' and I walked out, knowing I absolutely had to write this myself because I loved her and I understood her. We just talked for hours, and I knew I had to do it." 

While most people are familiar with the Brockovich biopic that won Julia Roberts an Oscar in 2001, Rebel is inspired by Brockovich's current life after several big wins. She's barging into corporate dinners and big lawyer conference rooms rather than trying to get her foot in the door. 

"That is such a different world than when she was 30 and barely could afford childcare, barely could keep a roof over her head and was struggling, and fighting, and working 100 hours a week to try to break this case," Vernoff explained. "We all saw that movie. Now, she's closing in on 60 and famous. When she lends her name to a situation, an injustice, it tends to get more attention. It's just such a different life. The show is very different from the movie, and that happens easily and organically." 

Katey Sagal, Rebel

ABC

Brockovich is also an executive producer on the series, but Rebel is not strictly about her life. Sagal plays the show's titular legal advocate, Annie "Rebel" Bello, who, like Brockovich, specializes in class-action lawsuits against corporations that have wronged their customers. When it came to someone who could embody a character with Rebel's fortitude and have fun with the messier sides of the character, Vernoff says Sagal was a perfect choice. 

"Katey was born to play this role. Katey has such a powerful resume of both comedy and drama, and this show is very animated sometimes, and very dramatic sometimes. It takes a certain caliber of talent to thread that needle, and Katey just brings all of it. She's amazing," the producer said. 

That balance is key when it comes to this show, because it's not just a comedy or drama, and Rebel isn't just a great advocate or a sarcastic mom. She contains multitudes. Just as she does with the characters on Grey's Anatomy and Station 19, Vernoff is excited to show off all of Rebel's dimensions -- and entertain people in the process. 

"She is a powerhouse female lead because she's an entire human being," Vernoff said of Sagal's character. "She's messy and funny and real, and always running running in six different directions, frequently disappointing people in her personal life because she's still busy with her work. [She] is failing in her third marriage because her romantic ticker is broken. She has three kids with three different husbands, and there's a messiness in all of that."

"She is by no stretch of the imagination like a perfect superhero, and because of that she's even more of a superhero to me in all that she accomplishes," Vernoff continued. "[The show] falls right into that Thursday night TGIT energy in that it focuses on a powerhouse female lead. It's funny and dramatic, which both of those other shows are. It's first and foremost entertaining, which the Shondaland shows are, absolutely." 

Rebel premieres Thursday, April 8 at 10/9c on ABC.