The staff at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital has had a very rough time of it in Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy. Not only is the facility overflowing with dozens upon dozens of patients due to the worsening pandemic, but two of their own have been struck down by the illness, with Ellen Pompeo's Meredith being very close to the point of no return when the show signed off for its winter hiatus. Now we're hearing some potential bad news that might mean the long-running hit will be cancelled before fans get to see Grey's Anatomy Season 18 come to fruition.
Here's what's going on. According to The Hollywood Reporter, for the first time in a few years, Grey's Anatomy's showrunner, Krista Vernoff, her team of writers and the rest of the crew and cast are heading into the back half of their current season without a clear picture of what the future holds for the show on ABC. Talks to renew the series for at least Season 18 have, apparently, already been underway for several months, but the network hasn't come to any agreement with executive producer and series lead Pompeo. This has left Vernoff and her staff in a tough spot, as she noted:
I'm planning a season and a finale that could function as either a season finale or a series finale. I'm planning for both contingencies and it's hard and it's not ideal. It's not where I wish we were. I've told [ABC executives] that I have to know before I'm making the finale what we're making. Because there are a couple of character threads that will change...Either there will be closure or I will build something in that allows me to have a bit of a cliffhanger and a thread for next season.
If it seems surprising to you that ABC would let the showrunner and everyone else behind Grey's Anatomy hang right now, know that you are surely not the only fan thinking that way. Even though the medical drama is quite long in the tooth at this stage, it hasn't lost its appeal to the fans, who still tune in weekly and have made sure that, 17 seasons in, the show is the network's number one drama in both total viewers and in the very important advertising demographic of adults aged 18-49. The show also brings in a lot of money via a streaming deal with Netflix, where it's consistently one of the most-watched series licensed by the streamer, and through international airings.
Disney, ABC's parent company, and Ellen Pompeo signed a new deal in late 2017 which both kept her around for Seasons 15 and 16, and made her the highest paid actress on a primetime drama. That deal was extended in 2019 to cover Pompeo's return for Season 17, but now that we're nearing the spring premiere of the latter half of that season, it appears that the show's future is becoming a bit trickier to pin down.
While creator Shonda Rhimes has always said that the show will continue as long as Pompeo wants to come back and lead the on-screen charge, the actress herself recently spoke about the show potentially ending soon and noted that "we’re really trying to figure it out right now," with regards to how they'd wrap up a show this iconic in a way that will do the series justice and satisfy the fans. And, whether that end comes at the end of Season 17 or further down the road, Pompeo said simply hadn't been decided on yet.
I cannot imagine that ABC would be at all eager to let a guaranteed breadwinner like Grey's Anatomy go without a serious fight, so it seems a lot like Ellen Pompeo's participation as Meredith Grey is what might be the true deciding factor as to whether or not the show keeps going into Season 18. The series is unlikely to receive a swift cancellation which will leave fans without storyline resolutions, but that doesn't mean that all parties won't simply decide that the Season 17 finale is the best place to wrap everything up.
Until we know more about the future of Grey's Anatomy, be sure to keep up with the show when it returns with new episodes this Thursday, March 11, at 9 p.m. EST.