Ellen Pompeo on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Longevity and Future: ‘Why Walk Away From a Hit?’

Grey's Anatomy
Courtesy of ABC

“Grey’s Anatomy” has seen many faces come and go, but could the series ever exist without Meredith Grey?

Lucky enough, that question won’t have to be answered for quite some time because star Ellen Pompeo, who has played the titular character since “Grey’s Anatomy” debuted in 2005, isn’t going anywhere just yet.

“Shonda [Rhimes] and I have both said that when I’m ready to stop, we’re going to stop the show,” Pompeo tells Variety, revealing that the series will not ever carry on without her character. “The story is about Meredith Grey’s journey and when I’m done, the show will end.”

With a laugh, she adds, “As far as how much longer I want to do the show, I’m mulling that over as we speak.”

“Grey’s Anatomy” has already been renewed for Season 14 for the 2017-2018 television season, and impressively ranks as ABC’s top-rated drama — quite the feat for a show in its 13th season. The forecast for “Grey’s” looks like sunny skies of many renewals ahead, but when asked how long the show can remain on air, Pompeo says the future will be up to the fans.

“I’m really open to whatever the universe presents,” Pompeo says. “I don’t know how long the show will go on. I know the network and the studio like to say they see no end in sight, but I think the audience will tell us when the show is no-longer a fan favorite. I think it’s quite arrogant to assume the show can go on forever — I don’t like that approach. Right now, we’re very lucky to have the fans still hanging on, and I think the fans will let us know when it’s time to stop the show.”

Fans globally are hanging on to “Grey’s Anatomy” and heading to Netflix helped the show find new life among younger viewers, who discovered it later on in its run. The success has not gone unnoticed by Pompeo.


Ellen Pompeo

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“I have to say, it’s pretty invigorating — these numbers and this fan appreciation and how much this show touches people, for a silly little primetime soap opera,” Pompeo chuckles. “It’s this weird anomaly that we’re this silly nighttime soap opera and no one can figure out how we keep going and why the numbers are so huge, but the show really makes a difference in people’s lives. Everywhere I go, the admiration, and the touching stories that I hear, and the people come up with tears in their eyes and want to hug me, it’s as much as it was in the beginning of the show.”

Pompeo beams with excitement, explaining that just this week, she received two emails from female viewers who watched last week’s episode of “Grey’s,” which highlighted the issue of inflammatory breast cancer. She says the women wrote her to share that they had been dismissed by doctors, after finding a rash on their breast, and turns out, both went back to their doctors and did indeed have inflammatory breast cancer. “There’s a good chance that they will survive because of how early they’ve caught it because both of them saw last week’s episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and because of this silly nighttime soap opera!” Pompeo exclaims.

“As a performer and as an artist, your goal is to move people and touch people, and we’re still doing that 13 years later, so it’s pretty hard to stop when you feel that you are moving people that much,” she continues. “As long as the audience is still so interested and so moved, it helps me keep going. It really does. I’m really doing it, at this point, because the people keep inspiring me to do it. They really do.”

Pompeo has stayed loyal to the show, despite departures of long-standing stars such as Katherine Heigl, Sara Ramirez, and most notably, Patrick Dempsey.

“Why walk away from a hit?” she says. “You don’t walk away from something for nothing. And with the track record out there, I’m good to keep doing it for now,” she adds with a laugh.

Whenever the day does come that “Grey’s Anatomy” wraps up, Pompeo says she wants to focus on producing through her production company Calamity Jane and possibly add some more directing gigs to her resume, following her directorial debut on this week’s episode. She attributes her heightened skills to observing others on the “Grey’s” set.

“Shonda has been incredible in letting me evolve with the show. I’m much more involved now, creatively in my storytelling and where the show is going. The longer I stay, the more she empowers me,” Pompeo says. “I’ve learned so much about producing, so much about directing, so much about running a show, that I have a whole other bag of tricks now and a whole other skill set that I’ve learned, so it goes beyond acting for me. I’ve taken a much bigger role now and I’m learning a lot. I’m still engaged there.”

One thing you can rule out from Pompeo’s post-“Grey’s” future is another broadcast series.

“I’d never do another 24-episode per season show ever again, no,” she admits. “But I have the luxury of not doing that again. I’ll probably do a shorter series — Netflix or Hulu or Amazon with a 10-episode run. Something like that. I would do a shorter run, for sure, but never this many episodes again. I’m very lucky and grateful to be able to say that I don’t have to.”

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  1. Shayna loftis says:

    Derek shepard literally inspired me to become a Neurologist so I can do Sergury with brains ♡ i honestly hope this show NEVER ends!!

  2. Sherry Specht says:


  3. Bella says:


  4. Scuba Steve says:

    For the love! Thank you, Ellen! Amazing!

  5. Ashleen Drummond says:

    Hey I am a teenager, I started to watch this movie on Netflix before I start to watch it I read what the movie is about while reading it I can remember one day I turn to my mom and say mom I want to be a doctor my mom say okay go ahead with your dream I am here with you I said okay mom so when I start to watch this movie the rolled that Meredith Grey played it just inspired me to become a doctor just like she I look up to her has my role model I love her and I want to be just like you an extra-ordinary surgeon. You drop back and you get right back up I would really and truly want to meet all the characters in Grey’s Anatomy if you guy’s every think of give me this chance you can send a message to my gmail and I live in Jamaica. I love this movie and all the characters in this movie show and teach me a lot of inspiration and I thank you for that

  6. Please please please dont ever stop filming this show. Even if for some impssible reason the fan numbers go down i will never stop loving or watching this show it has become a part of my life, it has changed me, and it has helped fuel my dream to pursue a career in medicine and help save lives. Dont ever forget how much this impacts, changes, and meansto people and their lives.

  7. Please dont ever stop even if there arent alot of fans left i will never stop loving or watching this show it has changed my life and helped fuel my dream to pursue a career in medicine and help save lives i can thank you enough.so please dont stop

  8. Amy Smith says:

    Ellen Pompeo id a dynamic and inspiring actress. Her portrayal of Meredith is a testament that pedigree does not always make you bright and shiny. This character has come a long way from her “dark and twisty” days. She can be very intense but she can also throw her head back and laugh. It is not easy for an actor/actress to do such a range. She inspires me. Between her and Born-Again Christian, April, I think the show depicts woman phenomenally!

  9. Smile says:

    Love the show. Bring back some of the old characters that didn’t die in the show would be great. Characters like Christina & Callie.

  10. Lisa garrett says:

    Love the show and you wish they wouldn’t have killed Derek off but the show is still good I wait every Thursday night for it to come on can’t wait till it comes on again

  11. Audrey says:

    Hi I only started watching Greys anatomy a few months ago…thanks to netflicks….love loved it…binged watched and caught up to current season….now cannt wait until season 14 sees sooo long away……The show cannot go on without Meredith Grey! Loved how her character evolved on the show! And yes losing Derek was devastating…but now rooting for her to hook up with Nathan!!!! Miss Cristina!!!

  12. lori says:

    I think it’s all due to the writers

  13. buffy1962 says:

    I started watching greys right after Katherine Hegel went through her boyfriend dieing on the table back in 2005 or 2006. I have been watching it ever since and I look forward to my Thursday fix of Greys and look for many more years! I wasn’t sure how the show would be after McDreamy died and their love story but I have to say that now the time has come for Meredith to shine and she sure has…please continue Greys Anatomy!!!

  14. Desiree says:

    Grey’s Anatomy is an awesome show. I look forward to it weekly. I would be lost without it. Yes killing off Derrick, Mark, Lexi I think was bad. But the show is still unremarkable. This is definitely a keeper hopefully for many many more seasons.

  15. jessf35 says:

    I really thought I would stop watching after Sandra Oh left, to me that was more of a trauma than Patrick Dempsey. S11 ended well and S12 was also good. But S13, yikes! Awful! I do not know if it is that Rymes is more focused on her other shows or if it is simply the hollywood wide idea of focusing on 2 characters an episode that has made it not worth watching live. S14 needs a major tweak if they ever expect to get back to the S1-S10 qualtity. At this point in good if it gets cancelled.

  16. Terra says:

    I agree with Emma and the others. I look forward to this show every week. And I agree that people die, it’s real life. Sometimes it doesn’t always end in a happily ever after. Sure I was very sad when Derrick died, but the show is still amazing. It still makes me cry, and I love all the characters, I hope the show will continue on!!!!

  17. Judy says:

    It’s time to end the show story lines are slow and relationships between characters seems forced. I say end it and go out with a bang. Definitely bring back all the great characters that weren’t killed and make a series finale your dedicated fans will never foreget

  18. Vickie L Goble says:

    Will not watch any of Shonda shows after Derek was taken off. Found on Netflix and was great until she killed off Derek and all of the good actors are gone. It is just a bunch of cry baby’s and fighting now. Wish Patrick would get his own show on TV. Can’t wait for his movie The Postcard Killings to come out in 2018 hope it stays on track for 2018 release.

    • Terra says:

      Jeez that’s a little dramatic don’t you think. Just because she took off an actor??? If you read up on the show it was a mutual agreement between Patrick and shonda to take him off the show. Shonda has created and directed a show that will go down in history. I def do not agree that the show died with Derrick, sure it was def sad but it’s realistic, these things happen in real life.

  19. Nance says:

    No way this show ever ends on a “high”. It’s past that point, unless you’re counting ratings and numbers. Grey’s “high” would’ve been Meredith ending happy with Derek and their kids. The love of her life is gone, her best friend is gone, the newer characters aren’t as engaging as the older ones. When does quality trump money? I guess in Grey’s Anatomy’s case, it doesn’t.

    • Emma says:

      ^ in your opinion. Myself and many others still enjoy it and tune in to watch Meredith’s journey. People die, people move, life isn’t perfect and I like Greys for that.

      • buffy1962 says:

        That’s reality yes Dereck and Meredith were supposed to have a happy ever after but that’s life . I think the show is as good as ever giving other characters a chance to shine like Alex..

      • Thenayan says:

        I like that they didn’t just end it earlier with a happily ever after ending. I’m glad they showed the phases and trauma Mer went through after Derek passed away that was in S12. What’s a bit disappointing is that S13 hasn’t quite lived up to the quality of S12 but if Shonda and the other writers listen to criticism, they could maybe tune S14 a bit and increase the quality.

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