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Why Patrick Dempsey Thinks Grey’s Anatomy Can Survive Ellen Pompeo’s Reduced Role In Season 19

It’s been seven years since Patrick Dempsey has been a regular part of Grey’s Anatomy. When the series premiered back in 2005, his character, Derek, and Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith were definitely one of the “it” couples, and fans rode the ups and downs of their relationship until McDreamy’s tragic death in Season 11. Now, as the medical drama enters its 19th season, we’re preparing to see far less of Meredith as well, as Pompeo has announced she’ll only appear in eight episodes this season. Opinions have been circulating about how long Grey’s can survive without its lead, and Patrick Dempsey spoke with CinemaBlend about it at Disney's D23 Expo.

Grey’s Anatomy will reportedly pivot its focus away from Meredith and the rest of the veteran doctors in Season 19 to focus on a new class of interns. Patrick Dempsey, who made several appearances from beyond the grave in Season 17 spoke with CinemaBlend, explaining why he thinks the show could maintain its success on ABC even with Ellen Pompeo not returning full time. He said: 

I think it's always been about the cast and about the ensemble. I think the strength has been in the cast itself and all the characters, and so many different people can relate to the different characters now.

Grey’s Anatomy has certainly seen a lot of actors come and go over the past 18 seasons, including all of its original cast, save for Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr. Patrick Dempsey was a huge part of the first 11 seasons, and the show’s continued success in the past seven years since Derek’s shocking death is a good indication that the series is stronger than any one actor. Let’s also not forget that Meredith spent much of Season 17 in a coma and much of Season 18 outside of the hospital with Minnesota beau Nick Marsh

The original cast of Grey’s Anatomy captured lightning in a bottle, and Patrick Dempsey said we’ll have to see if lightning strikes twice, telling CinemaBlend:

There was a magic to it. There was something special about it. There was plenty of drama. And we'll see if this new sort of freshman class can carry that on.

Grey’s Anatomy vets Caterina Scorsone and Kevin McKidd have voiced their optimism about the five additions to Season 19, with the Owen Hunt actor saying that Alexis Floyd, Niko Terho, Harry Shum Jr., Adelaide Kane and Midori Francis are “brilliant, young, vibrant actors” who are full of passion. Meanwhile, the actress who plays Amelia Shepherd said the new group is “exciting and gorgeous” inside and out.

While we know how many episodes we can expect from Ellen Pompeo, we don’t know where the story will take Meredith, and where she’ll be when she’s not in the Grey Sloan Memorial operating room. Will she follow through with her move to Minnesota, as she wanted to do in Season 18? Or will she go the way of McDreamy and be killed off the series? It does seem unlikely, but given the number of times Meredith has almost died, I’m not making any assumptions.

We don’t have very long to wait now. Grey’s Anatomy is set to return at 9 p.m. ET Thursday, October 6, on ABC, following its Seattle spinoff Station 19. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV schedule to keep up with all of the upcoming premieres. 

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.