Driving Mr. Dempsey


I’m sitting next to Patrick Dempsey in the back seat of a black SUV as it races us toward a helicopter that is waiting to take off into the sunset.

Well, in full disclosure, the helicopter is just for Dempsey, who is taking it to JFK airport where he has to catch a plane to Los Angeles to resume shooting of Grey’s Anatomy. And since we’re in midtown Manhattan at rush hour, we’re not so much racing as creeping, putting the manager and publicist seated behind us into a slight panic over the possibility of a missed flight.

Dempsey has just left Discovery Communications’ upfront presentation where he appeared on stage to introduce his new Velocity series Road to LeMans before manning a photo booth swarmed with adoring female ad buyers. The four-part docuseries, which will follow Dempsey and his auto racing team as they prepare to drive the legendary 24 Hours of LeMans, is the highlight of the six-month-old network’s upcoming programming slate and represents its largest financial commitment to a series yet.

The Grey’s Anatomy star, who raced LeMans in a Ferrari three years ago, says the idea of doing a series about racing was creatively really satisfying. “I’m a big fan of documentaries. All of the things I really enjoy doing and watching came together and it was a great opportunity.”

The series, which will premiere in 2013, will follow what it’s like for Dempsey to train physically in the car (this time an LMP2) and the work of running a racing team and acquiring sponsorship. The upscale male-targeted Velocity is careful not to pander to faux-reality tropes in its programming, and Dempsey says Road will be no different.

“There’s enough drama within everything that goes on at the track and just managing a lot of people anyway that it’s not going to be like that,” he says. “It’s just going to be straightforward and very sincere, it’s going to play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Because Dempsey brings some high-profile star power to the recently rebranded network, he’s taking his role as executive producer on the series seriously and says it will be fun for him to play with a camera and is already planning the type of lighting and composition he wants for the series. “It’s really important for us to really define the look in many ways of Velocity and really change it up a little bit and make it much more cinematic than what we’re used to seeing.”

Dempsey, a fan of documentaries and PBS (yes ladies, he’s even a fan of Downton Abbey) hopes he learns a lot from the experience of the series that he can apply to other documentary projects he’d like to do, perhaps on American racing legends Phil Hill or Dan Gurney or on cycling, another interest of his.

As for Road to LeMans, Dempsey hopes it is a series that even people who aren’t familiar with the racing world can enjoy because of the emotional experience.

“Ideally you want to win the race, but there’s going to be the journey and getting there and what that means, and who knows where we end up,” he says. “There will be a clear beginning, middle and an end, and hopefully the end is positive.”