'Grey's' Must Go On, With Or Without McDreamy

A few weeks ago, when beloved Doctor Derek Shepherd died tragically in a car accident, many Grey's Anatomy fans were likely flummoxed. "Is the show ending?" more than one viewer must have thought. After all, Patrick Dempsey's character was an integral part of ABC's medical soap from day one — it's hard to imagine the future of the show without him. When Derek's death aired, Grey's had yet to be officially renewed by the network, so it wasn't a stretch to imagine that producer Shonda Rhimes was writing her landmark series to a quiet conclusion. But no — at their upfronts presentation this week, ABC president Paul Lee confirmed that Grey's Anatomy is renewed for Season 12. [UPDATE: ABC has announced that Grey's Anatomy will premiere on Sep. 24.]

The show must go on — even without McDreamy, it seems. Season 11 won't be the end of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, but how much longer will the show last? The original cast of nine who were series regulars in Season 1 is down to four: Ellen Pompeo (Meredith), Justin Chambers (Alex), Chandra Wilson (Bailey), and James Pickens, Jr. (Webber). After Season 10, the main cast renewed their contracts for two more years, which means they'll be up again at the end of Season 12. So will Rhimes wrap up the show after one more year of Meredith getting back on her feet post-Derek?

Not a chance! Don't forget, this is still one of ABC's highest-rated shows, so there's no reason for the network to part with it anytime soon. Sure, four out of nine original cast members going into Season 12 may not seem like a lot, but compare that to ER, whose last remaining original cast member (Noah Wyle) left at the end of that show's eleventh season, and it ran for four more years. And although Grey's may not be the ratings juggernaut it once was back in Seasons 2 and 3, it still regularly comes in second in its time slot on Thursdays, behind only CBS' The Big Bang Theory — the highest-rated scripted program on broadcast television. So really, things aren't dire. (Well, except for Derek. He's still dead.)

In fact, Lee specifically declared at the upfronts that Season 12 will not be the show's swan song. "[It's] not the final season of either," he confirmed, according to TVLine, when asked about the fates of both Grey's and Castle. "And I would like to see them run for many, many years to come. They're both powerful, vibrant brands with incredibly passionate audiences." Of course, nothing is ever written in stone when it comes to television. If ratings suddenly tank or Pompeo decides she wants out, Lee could still pull the plug. But the former seems unlikely and Pompeo herself has publicly stated how happy she is with her current employment.

"Actors always think the grass is greener somewhere else," Pomeo said when asked by the New York Post about her departed co-stars during the show's 200th episode celebration last season. "I didn't want to do that. I have an amazing life. I have a house five minutes from the studio, I have a house in the Hamptons, a house in Malibu, a beautiful daughter whom I see every night, and it's all because I didn't leave Grey's Anatomy." Sounds like she's in it for the long haul.

Following next year's confirmed Season 12, Rhimes' show will only have to run for four more seasons to surpass ER as the longest-running primetime medical drama in American television history. Say it with me, Grey's fans: "Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!"

Speaking of the upcoming twelfth season, when can we expect it to premiere? (It's good to know exactly how long we have to wait so we can mark off the days in our calendar, right?) The past eight seasons in a row have all started on the fourth Thursday of September, so if that pattern holds true, you can expect Grey's to air its Season 12 premiere on Sept. 24, 2015. That's 132 days from this Thursday's Season 11 finale, FYI. Start counting.

Images: Mitchell Haaseth/ABC (3); Giphy