Grey's Anatomy, Grey's Anatomy Season 12

ABC

I'm about to make an argument that you and a handful of TV critics may initially scoff at. And I'm OK with that because I know I'm right—and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to convince you I am as well. Are you ready for it? OK, here goes: As it prepares to close out its landmark 12th season tonight, Grey's Anatomy has cemented its place as one of TV's most powerful shows. 

You'd be hard pressed to find another series that, in its 12th year, has managed to remain in the zeitgeist the way Shonda Rhimes' creations has. Not only is Grey's Anatomy well on its way to being ABC's top-rated series for the 2015-2016 TV season—a rather remarkable feat on its own—but it has found a way to keep us obsessing over its every twist and turn after over a decade on the air. Of the two series currently on the air that are older than Grey's (Law & Order: SVU and NCIS), while both are ratings forces in their own right, they only really get the entire nation talking with a cast member departs. (Talking about you, Michael Weatherly.)

Grey's Anatomy, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

ABC

That's not to say that Grey's Anatomy hasn't benefited from the departure of cast members in the past. Last year's decision to kill off McDreamy in light of Patrick Dempsey's exit from the series after 11 years dominated the conversation at the close of the 2014-2015 TV season. But it's what the show did after that loss that truly cemented its position of power. 

While much handwringing went on in the press over whether the show could survive the loss of Dempsey, Rhimes and her leading lady Ellen Pompeo knew what we soon would, and set out to prove that no one character was too big to take down the cultural institution they'd built. (Well, maybe except for Pompeo's Meredith, but we'll likely never have to worry about that doomsday scenario.)

With a sprawling cast of characters and their varied relationships creating plenty of drama around her, a renewed focus on Meredith Grey explored what life after loss is like. We've remained riveted as we've watched Mer find a new family (with sister-in-law Amelia [Caterina Scorscone] and half-sister Maggie [Kelly McCreary]) while also opening herself to the possibility of new love, finally sparking with Martin Henderson's Riggs in last week's penultimate episode like we all thought she would when he was added to the cast. And while the ghost of Derek certainly looms large in Meredith's life, Dempsey has hardly been missed.

His departure isn't the first time the series had to rebound from the exit of a series regular—when a show's been on for over a decade, you're bound to lose a few here and there—but time and again, Rhimes and Co. have found a way to pivot the show, incorporate the loss in a way that dramatically enriched the narrative moving forward, and just kept on trucking.

Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy

ABC

As it heads into its 13th season, Grey's Anatomy finds itself in rarefied company. The list of shows that have managed to live as long or longer than the ABC hit is monumentally small, totaling around six, with many of those shows leaving the air with but a whimper. You don't believe me? Look no further than last year's CSI sign-off after 15 seasons—and the world's collective shrug in response—for proof. 

Grey's, however, shows no signs of slowing down. Where once-red-hot shows like fellow Shondaland properties Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder have begun to trend down year-over-year in the coveted 18-49 demo, Grey's is holding steady—which, in this day and age, is the new up. 

When the dust settles on this Golden Age of TV, shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos will certainly remain the crowning artistic achievements, but none will be able come to close to the sustained cultural significance and longevity of Grey's Anatomy. And for that alone, Shonda Rhimes deserves her crown as reigning Queen of TV.

Do you agree that Grey's Anatomy has proven itself to be one of TV's most powerful shows? Sound off in the comments below.

Grey's Anatomy's 12th season finale airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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