Why Grey’s Anatomy Is ‘Unlikely’ To Work Without Ellen Pompeo, According To Jesse Williams

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Gray and Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery on Grey's Anatomy.
(Image credit: NBC)

Grey’s Anatomy will return to ABC this fall for Season 19, but its future past that is a big question mark. While everyone from network executives to longtime fans to the actors themselves seem very interested in keeping the hit medical drama going, series star Ellen Pompeo has made it known for a while now that she’s ready to leave when the time comes. It’s even apparently reached the point where the Meredith Grey actress, who also serves as executive producer, has had conversations about whether or not Grey’s Anatomy could outlive her. At least one of her former co-stars, however, doesn’t seem optimistic about that idea.

Jesse Williams played Jackson Avery on the ABC hit for 12 seasons before exiting in Season 17. He made a guest appearance in the Season 18 finale, however, making fans very happy with the reveal that Jackson had reunited with April Kepner (played by fellow returning star Sarah Drew). Fans might not be quite as thrilled with his take on Grey’s Anatomy’s chances of survival in the event that Ellen Pompeo decides to walk away. Acknowledging his lack of say-so in the situation, he told Access Hollywood:

I don't know, it would be a different show. She's the heart of that show. She's Grey. So, unlikely. But again, I don't work there anymore. So it doesn't matter what I think.

It seems Jesse Williams has similar views to those of Jackson, who in the season finale confronted Meredith over her decision to accept a new job in Minnesota. She pointed out that if he was able to leave for new opportunities; why couldn’t she? Jackson responded by saying she couldn’t leave because her name was on the hospital. Wow, that’s not meta at all. 

The actor’s opinions weren’t as strong as his character’s, however — he pointed out that his opinion doesn’t really count — but he sounds doubtful about the chances that Grey’s Anatomy would be able to carry on long-term without its namesake. 

Jackson Avery noting that the hospital bared her name — her sister’s name, actually, as Meredith pointed out — it wasn’t the first time the star surgeon’s story seemed a little “art imitating life.” In the episode “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” Meredith went on a rant asking why it was considered disloyal that she wanted to leave Seattle, despite everything she’d done for the hospital over the course of her career. She argued that she'd earned the right to leave after working so hard for so many years.

Ellen Pompeo has been discussing the end of Grey’s Anatomy for years now, and in December 2021 she said she’d been trying to “convince everybody that it should end.” Her passion to continue to tell good stories and do right by the characters is unquestioned, but she’s expressed concern about recycling storylines after being on the show “too long” — though showrunner Krista Vernoff has explained why she doesn’t think that’s an issue.

As we wait for any updates regarding how many more seasons we can expect, fans can relive all the drama on streaming. Seasons 1-17 of Grey’s Anatomy are available to Netflix subscribers, while Season 18 is available in full with a Hulu subscription

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.