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

“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.

“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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