Why It's Not the End of the World If Ellen Pompeo Leaves Grey's Anatomy After Season 16—Even If It's the End of the Show

All good things must come to a conclusion, after all.

By Billy Nilles Oct 11, 2018 10:00 AMTags
Watch: How "Grey's Anatomy" Will Honor Ellen Pompeo & Shonda Rhimes

So you're worried about the future of Grey's Anatomy.

After Ellen Pompeo's eyebrow-raising comments last month regarding her own future with the long-running ABC medical drama that made her a star, how could you not be?

"I'm clearly not prepared right now to make any kind of formal announcement about what my future is on the show, but I am really feeling like we have told the majority of the stories we can tell," she told Entertainment Weekly ahead of the premiere of Grey's' landmark 15th season. "It's about time that I mix it up. I'm definitely looking for a change."

With a $20 million-a-year blockbuster contract only keeping her in Dr. Meredith Grey's scrubs through season 16, it's clear that some decisions are going to be made in the not-too-distant future. And should Pompeo decide it's time to check out of Grey Sloan Memorial for good, that very well could trigger the end of Grey's Anatomy as well.

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After all, when creator Shonda Rhimes spoke with E! News last year as the show that helped her build her empire celebrated its 300th episode, she made it abundantly clear that when her leading lady's done, so's the show. 

"Ellen and I have a pact that I'm going to do the show as long as she's going to do the show," the uber-producer told us. "So, the show will exist as long as both of us want to do it. If she wants to stop, we're stopping. So, I don't know if we'll see 600, but I want to keep it feeling fresh. As long as there are fresh stories to tell and as long as we're both excited about the stories being told, we're in. So, we'll see where that takes us."

Naturally, just the idea of a world without Grey's has many fans—not to mention ABC execs—reaching for a paper bag to hyperventilate into, wondering how they'll fill their Thursday nights. But the thing is, should the worst come to pass and Pompeo decide it's time to move on—and to be sure, we're speaking in pure hypotheticals here—it wouldn't exactly be the end of the world. Hear us out on this.

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By the time Grey's Anatomy wraps up its 16th season in the spring of 2020—a season that has yet to be ordered, but is pretty much a given—it will have supplanted ER as the longest-running medical drama in the history of television. And let's say that season receives a 24-episode order, as has been the case for the last six out of seven seasons. That'll mean the entire series would be comprised of 365 hours of television, making a one-episode-per-day series re-watch last an entire calendar year. How's that for serendipity?

Already, it's become the longest-running scripted primetime show currently airing on ABC, as well as the network's longest-running scripted primetime series ever. The show has gone from buzzy breakout hit to cultural institution, weathering periods of fallow storytelling and dramatic cast departures along the way to remain ABC's highest-rated drama 15 seasons in—a feat that's almost entirely unheard of in today's crowded TV landscape.

So what we're saying is: Can you really blame Pompeo if she wants to go out on top?


And can you really blame her for thinking she might be ready for a new beginning? Or even just a break? After 16 seasons playing the show's titular heroine, she'll have had the opportunity to really do it all. She's nearly died more times than one can really count. She's played Meredith through the love triangle stuff of early seasons, married life in those middle years, and now widowhood and a re-entrance into the dating world. She's shown us Meredith as an inexperienced intern and Meredith as a kick-ass Harper Avery Award-winning surgeon at the top of her game. She'll have outlasted every original cast member she started this nearly two-decade ride with save for three—thank you for your service, Justin Chambers, Chandra Wilson, and James Pickens Jr.

She's Done. It. All. And if she wants to finally slip into some new character's skin or follow her new passions of directing and producing, maybe the time is right to let her.

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This isn't the first time Pompeo has admitted she's begun to look at life post-Grey's. "I don't know. I know that we want to try to—," she said in 2017—nearly a year before signing that massive deal that's locked her in through 2020—stopping herself. "Well, let's just see, you know? I don't like to take things for granted. You can't just assume the show can go on forever. It's up to the fans. And the fans will let us know how long they want the show to air."

So, there's always the chance that history will repeat itself when ABC invariably begins backing up the Brinks trucks full of cash to her front door in hopes of keeping her for the rest of her life.

Already, she's begun to softly backpedal on her comment last month, telling Entertainment Tonight just last weekend that though she's "been doing it a long time" and she does "get restless...the fans are just still so passionate about the show." So when will she and Rhimes decide to officially call it quits? 

"I think the fans will let us know," she said. "When the numbers start to drop and people aren't watching the same, people aren't as passionate about it... it's time to call it." 

But if that doesn't happen and she does have to make that decision she clearly seems to be considering these days on her own, we have to be OK with that too. After all, if there's one thing all great stories need, it's a proper ending. And that's nothing to flatline over. Not after everything she and the show have already accomplished.