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Ellen Pompeo Makes It Sound Like Grey's Anatomy Will Outlive Meredith, And I’m All About It

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy.
(Image credit: ABC)

How long Grey’s Anatomy will continue has been an ongoing discussion for years now. After 18 (going-on-19) seasons, the hit medical drama is a big moneymaker for ABC, whose bosses say they’ll take as much of the series as they can get. Meanwhile, however, series star Ellen Pompeo has been open about being ready to move on. So it's often been pondered: Could Grey’s Anatomy exist without Meredith Grey? The actress makes it sound like there’s a real chance the show could outlive its namesake character, and it sounds like a win-win situation to me. 

Ellen Pompeo is one of three actors to still be with the Shonda Rhimes creation since its 2005 premiere, with James Pickens Jr. and Chandra Wilson being the other beloved stalwarts. In November 2021 Pompeo signed a contract extension to return to Grey’s Anatomy for a 19th season, but how much longer could this year-to-year situation continue? Especially when the actress openly jokes about having been on the show too long. When ET asked if she could see the ABC ratings hit continuing without her, Pompeo said she and Rhimes do indeed want to keep the show going beyond all things Meredith, if possible: 

Shonda and I, I think -- we'll see, we'll see. Trying to reinvent the show and continually trying to reinvent the show is the challenge at this point, and listen, the show speaks to a lot of people, and the young people love the show. It's inspired so many generations of healthcare workers, so, I think for for the young people, it's a really good piece of content and we're going to try to keep it going for the young people, not necessarily with me, but keep it going beyond me.

Ellen Pompeo has spoken about how she never intended to stay on Grey’s Anatomy this long, which is understandable, since nobody could have expected the success the series would still be having 18 seasons later! (The first 17 seasons are currently available with a Netflix subscription, while a Hulu subscription will grant access to Season 18.) But it’s strong enough now, with a dozen or more interesting characters around Meredith, that it could certainly survive without her. 

It’s not just the pure longevity that gets to Ellen Pompeo, though. The actress/executive producer also consistently worries about the quality of the stories they’re telling. She’s talked about maintaining her motivation by staying fully engaged with the entire process to make sure they do right by her character, and the show as a whole, for the fans. 

Other Grey’s Anatomy actors don’t seem to see the situation quite the same way. Kevin McKidd, who’s played Owen Hunt since Season 5, said the medical drama doesn’t have the same issue finding stories as other series do, because they can mine endless stories from the characters who enter the hospital. Not to mention the always dramatic home lives a lot of them have.

The fact remains that Ellen Pompeo isn’t likely to hang around for another decade or two, so if Grey’s Anatomy does outlive Meredith, will they bring in another member of the Grey family to take her place as namesake, or just continue with the bountiful cast the show has developed over the years? That’s another question Pompeo can’t quite answer yet: 

We'll find someone, maybe, or we won’t.

Either way, if Meredith’s rant to Nick during the May 5 episode “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was any kind of art imitating life, let’s just let Ellen Pompeo go! She’s given us nearly two decades of her life, and I’m more than happy to continue without Meredith if that’s what’s best for the actress and what keeps Grey’s on my screen Thursday nights. 

No decision is likely to come soon, however, and right now I’m just looking ahead to the two-hour Season 18 finale, which will see the return of Jesse Williams and Sarah Drew as fan fave couple Japril. If the show continued on with those two at the helm, I'd have no complaints.

Tune into ABC an hour earlier than usual — 8 p.m. ET — on Thursday, May 26, for the big finale, and be sure to check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what premieres are coming soon.

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.