Grey’s Anatomy would just be... Anatomy. She’s the better half of one of TV’s most iconic (and volatile) couples, an expert monologist with a knack for surviving every near-death experience that comes her way. So it’s no wonder that Ellen Pompeo leaving Grey’s could very much mean the end of the show. The network’s teased as much officially — as former ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke told Deadline in 2020, “ Grey’s Anatomy will live as long as Ellen is interested in playing Meredith Grey. ... We will let her lead the pace on that.”
For her part, Pompeo’s been vocal about her desire to end the series somewhat soon — or at least, her involvement in it. When asked by
Entertainment Tonight in October whether the show could go on sans its titular surgeon, she left things pretty open-ended. “That’s not for me to decide,” she said. “It’s not my show in that way.”
Beg to disagree! But whether or not
it’s worth knowing how the beloved actor feels about her role these days. Here’s a recap of nine times Pompeo talked quitting Grey’s continues without Pompeo in the future, plus the many reasons she’s given for wanting out. Grey’s Anatomy — “I still care very much about the show and I think that it takes a lot of energy. So at some point I have to wrap it up.”
2018 interview with , Pompeo expressed her desire to “do some new things” and “mix it up” when asked about her contract ending. She looked forward to leaning more into the producing side of her career, especially as her children are getting older — “I can’t be an absentee mom if they’re teenagers,” she explained. But don’t mistake Pompeo’s openness about leaving with disliking Entertainment Weekly Grey’s. Churning out so many episodes is just... a lot. “I still care very much about the show and I think that it takes a lot of energy. So at some point I have to wrap it up,” she said. “I keep saying, ‘I’m ready to move on and I want to stop the show before the ratings go down,’ but the ratings never go down!”
It’s hard to think seriously about
Grey’s Anatomy ending when so many people are still tuning in every #TGIT. Pompeo acknowledged the show’s success (and how it’s complicating her exit plan) in a 2019 interview with TVLine. “I keep saying, ‘I’m ready to move on and I want to stop the show before the ratings go down,’ but the ratings never go down!” “The first 10 years we had serious culture issues. Very bad behavior, really toxic work environment.” Donato Sardella/WireImage/Getty Images
a with Taraji P. Henson, Pompeo reflected on her history with the show — and while her family is one of the reasons she’d like to leave Variety Actors on Actors conversation Grey’s, it’s also a major reason why she never did. Let her explain. “The first 10 years we had serious culture issues. Very bad behavior, really toxic work environment,” she said. But when Pompeo had her first child in 2009, she “had someone other than [herself] to think about,” and decided to stay.
Pompeo said the culture started to improve after Season 10, and she opted to stick around longer to cultivate a positive legacy. “My mission became, ‘This can’t be all the show was. Just, fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes ... we want to turn a page and start a new chapter,’” she said.
“I didn’t think the storytelling was particularly interesting. It wasn’t anything I wanted to continue with any longer.”
Another time Pompeo considered hanging up her white coat? Before current showrunner Krista Vernoff took the creative reins in Season 14. “The direction the show was going in prior to [Vernoff] coming on, I was
seriously contemplating that it was the end,” Pompeo revealed in a 2020 . “I was not inspired. I was not having fun. I didn’t think the storytelling was particularly interesting. It wasn’t anything I wanted to continue with any longer.” Variety interview “I’m not trying to stay on the show forever. No way.”
Grey’s Anatomy might sometimes feel like it’s been on (and will go on) for all time, that’s definitely not the plan for Pompeo. In a 2020 appearance on Dax Shepard’s , she reflected on the challenge of watching herself grow up on screen — “the way I see myself aging, that’s a motherf*cker” — and voiced her plans to exit the show. “I’m not trying to stay on the show forever. No way,” she said. “The truth is, if I get too aggravated and I’m no longer grateful there, I should not be there.” Armchair Expert podcast “I’m not super excited about continuing my acting career.”
In a 2021 appearance on
, Pompeo talked about a future beyond Grey Sloan Memorial. Spoiler alert, she’s not rushing to book her next role. “I’m not saying I’ll never act again, I very well may,” she explained, “ Ladies First with Laura Brown but I’m not super excited about continuing my acting career.”
Though it wasn’t a
Grey’s-specific callout, Pompeo’s remarks suggest that being on screen is less of a priority these days. Rather, she’s feeling “more entrepreneurial,” embracing next steps like her Tell Me podcast — so it may not be long before those interests outweigh the benefits of being TV’s favorite surgeon. “I’ve been trying to get away for years.”
Pompeo was laughing (but probably not joking)
when she dropped another exit hint at the 2021 Emmys, ahead of Season 18. “I’ve been trying to get away for years,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “It’s not because I haven’t been trying.” But, Pompeo noted, “strong relationships” at ABC — plus the creative collaboration of Debbie Allen — have compelled her to stick around. “I was like, ‘Oh why do I have to stay here? I gotta go now, everyone’s gone. Sandra’s gone. Patrick’s gone. I gotta go, too.’”
Once her onscreen husband
and her person left the Grey’s party early, Pompeo wondered if it was time for her to bow out as well. “After you left, I was like, ‘Oh why do I have to stay here? I gotta go now, everyone’s gone. Sandra [Oh]’s gone. Patrick [Dempsey]’s gone. I gotta go, too,’” she told her longstanding fictional flame, Dempsey, in a 2021 podcast conversation.
Allen convinced Pompeo to stay put by inviting Denzel Washington to direct an episode of
Grey’s — and even though Pompeo was later criticized for how she handled a creative spat with the star, it looks like the special hire was enough to reinvigorate Pompeo’s passion for the show. Fences “I feel like I’m the super naive one who keeps saying, ‘But what’s the story going to be, what story are we going to tell?’” Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Meredith has nearly died
at least, like, seven times (but who’s counting?) — and her fellow surgeons have been through a bunch of misfortune too, from cancer to exploding buses to car crash-induced musical numbers. So when Pompeo says she thinks the show is running out of storylines, she might be onto something. “I feel like I’m the super naive one who keeps saying, ‘But what’s the story going to be, what story are we going to tell?’” she told Insider in December. “And everyone’s like, ‘Who cares, Ellen? It makes a gazillion dollars.’”
Because the ending of
Grey’s Anatomy is such a constant, looming threat, fans are at the ready with series finale theories and hopes for a spinoff when that day finally comes — but here’s hoping it’s still far away.