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How Grey's Anatomy Star Ellen Pompeo Knows She's Been Working On The Show 'For Too Long'

17 years is a pretty impressive amount of time to hold down a job, and if you’re an A-list Hollywood actor, it’s extremely rare to spend that many years on one project. Ellen Pompeo has kept ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy viewers invested for an incredible 18 seasons now, and apparently her longevity on the show is catching up with her in amusing ways. The actress recently had a slip-up when pitching story ideas to a Grey’s Anatomy writer, sparking her to think maybe she’s been on the show for too long.

On her podcast Tell Me, Ellen Pompeo spoke to author and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell about having a terrible memory (unlike longtime fans who remember everything). She relayed a story about pitching a scene in which her character, Meredith, would be walking through the woods with someone else. The problem, she later realized, was that the scene she’d pitched was one she’d already taken part in with Patrick Dempsey — who played her love interest and iconic-scene-sharer Derek Shepherd — in Season 2 or 3! 

Ellen Pompeo said she realized her mistake when, shortly after the pitch, a photo from that very same episode popped up on her phone, showing Meredith and McDreamy in the woods. The actress laughed at herself, telling Malcolm Gladwell that maybe the incident was a sign:

Anyway, my phone was on me when I pitched this scene of me walking on the woods, and then sure enough, three hours later, this image pops up on my phone of me walking through the woods with another character, and I didn’t remember that scene at all! And I texted the writer, and I said, ‘How is it now 16 years, 17 years later, I’m pitching ideas for scenes that I’ve already shot that I have no memory of?’ And I said, ‘Is that a memory that I didn’t remember I had? And I’m rehashing ideas?’ So it was really kind of wild. And then I said, you know, this tells me something. I don’t know what it tells me. But it tells me something. That I’ve been doing something for too long, I suppose.

Malcolm Gladwell reassured the host that it was a perfectly normal phenomenon, especially for someone who’s made nearly two dozen years of memories on Grey’s Anatomy. But this is far from the first time Ellen Pompeo has hinted that she’s ready to move on, and it seems to be a season-by-season decision regarding whether or not she'll continue Shonda Rhimes’ iconic medical drama. It’s not like Rhimes hasn’t been preparing for that moment herself in some ways.

I'm just curious about the current-day storyline Pompeo pitched! If the original scene was one she’d shared with Patrick Dempsey’s Derek, does that mean Pompeo was thinking about taking a woodsy stroll with Scott Speedman’s Dr. Nick Marsh, who returned in a Season 18 premiere surprise and shared a sweet first kiss with Meredith at the end of “Bottle Up and Explode!”? 

Meredith’s relationship with McWidow fizzled out in an anti-climactic way, so I can’t wait to see what happens between her and McTransplant — as long as they’re not disrupting the sacred ground that is MerDer, of course. Assuming Pompeo doesn't stay on the show long enough to forget that Derek existed. Never that. 

Grey’s Anatomy airs at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays on ABC. Check out our 2021 TV Schedule to see what’s premiering through the end of the year.

Heidi Venable

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.