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Naomi Bennett is a fictional character on the Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice. She was played by Merrin Dungey in the backdoor pilot episode "The Other Side of This Life", but was replaced by Audra McDonald prior to the show's first season. Naomi is a fertility specialist and founding partner of the Oceanside Wellness Centre in Los Angeles, where the series is set. She is the best friend of central character Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), and was married to the practice's internalist Sam (Taye Diggs), with whom she has a daughter.
Naomi is a founding partner of the Oceanside Wellness Centre in Los Angeles, California, where she works as a fertility specialist, board-certified in reproductive endocrinology, obstetrics and gynecology. She attended Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the Society of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She works alongside her health guru ex-husband, Sam (Taye Diggs) who divorced her prior to the beginning of the series. Together they have a teenage daughter named Maya (Geffri Maya Hightower), whose godmother is Naomi's best friend from medical school, Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh). The latter seeks medical advice from Naomi as she wants to get pregnant. After running some tests, Naomi concludes that Addison is unable to have children because her antral follicle count is of two.
Naomi's relationship with Sam is relatively amicable but often strained. The reasons for their divorce are relatively unclear, with Sam saying he was "unhappy", but also that he had "no good reason" for asking for a divorce, with Naomi seemingly resentful of this. However, in "In Which Sam Gets Taken For A Ride", the two have sex in the conference room at the practice, after Sam is involved in a hostage situation. Naomi later calls this incident a "slip-up" but the two have sex again in the episode "In Which Cooper Finds A Port In His Storm".
Dell, the office receptionist, has a crush on Naomi, and often shows it by getting her coffee, bringing her home-baked chocolate cake and generally complimenting and adoring her. Naomi doesn't take his crush too seriously, calling him a "child". In "Down the Rabbit Hole," Naomi has her first date since college, which doesn't go that well because all she can talk about is her job. For a short time, she also dates Addison's brother, Archer Montgomery (Grant Show).
In "Another Second Chance" and then later in "Best Laid Plans" it is revealed that her daughter Maya is pregnant. Naomi is at first unable to deal with this, and walks out on her daughter, leaving Sam to deal with it. Later she storms back and even slaps her when Maya refuses to have an abortion. Violet and Addison are worried about her, as Naomi was always very much against abortion, but Maya finally agrees to have it. When Addison is about the perform the abortion Maya changes her mind, which further upsets Naomi.
Naomi was created by Shonda Rhimes, who wanted the show's central character Addison to have a close friend from her college days. The character is based on a friend of Rhimes', who "married her college sweetheart and is strong and smart and funny." Naomi was played by Merrin Dungey in the backdoor pilot episode "The Other Side of This Life", but was replaced by Audra McDonald prior to the show's first season. Rhimes explained that the production team "wanted to put an edge on Naomi that we could define more clearly." McDonald assessed that Dungey's dismissal was hard as a result of its having been so public, but commented that she herself had once been similarly replaced, having played Bill Cosby's daughter in the pilot episode of Cosby, only to be replaced thereafter.
Discussing the first episode of the show following the pilot, Variety's Cynthia Littleton observed: "I can definitely see why creator/exec producer Shonda Rhimes made the call to recast Audra McDonald in the key role of Naomi Bennett". Fellow Variety critic Brian Lowry was more negative in his consideration of the episode, noting that Naomi and Sam's "'No, you left me first' interaction already feels tedious." Jon Caramanica of the Los Angeles Times has criticized McDonald's performance as Naomi in the show's first season, writing that: "she was rigorously firm, almost dispassionate. As people bed-hopped and were emotionally flimsy around her, she remained stern at the center [...] McDonald is a strong, vivid actress, but such gravity felt at odds with the breezy tone of Private Practice."  Caramancia opined that "the tougher Naomi became, the lighter Addison had to be to keep the show's balance", and that as a result the series "regularly felt unmoored and became something of a critical punching bag". He was much more positive regarding her performance in the second season premiere episode "A Family Thing", observing: "Toward the end of the episode, there is a brief scene in which she, beleaguered and on her last leg, utterly melts into Sam. In those 15 seconds, McDonald's genius as an actress is clear, communicating with just a few facial movements and shading of the eyes a world of hurt and letdown. [...] And later in the episode, when she thinks things are falling back into place, her soft, knowing, warm smile is one of the show's greatest victories, even though it comes just before everything goes wrong once again."
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