The recent seasons of Grey’s Anatomy have only built the show’s legacy as a historic medical drama, but they may also inspire fans to revisit older episodes featuring actors who hung up their scrubs ages ago. I love a throwback as much as the next gal, but apparently those early years of Grey’s Anatomy weren’t as comfy and loving for the cast as they were for viewers. Ellen Pompeo’s quotes about Patrick Dempsey’s Grey’s Anatomy departure hint at past troubles, but her message behind them is super inspiring.
If you’ve kept up with secrets from behind the scenes of Grey’s Anatomy, you probably have an inkling of the drama Pompeo has seen as one of its few remaining original actors. In 2007, reports of anti-gay slurs from cast member Isaiah Washington hit headlines, claiming that Washington had aimed his comments at co-star T.R. Knight, who then publicly announced he was gay. Washington didn’t return to the show the following season, and other controversial events leading up to Katherine Heigl’s 2010 departure from the show are still a big talking point for fans.
"The first 10 years we had serious culture issues, very bad behavior, really toxic work environment," Pompeo told Taraji P. Henson in a conversation published by Variety. "But once I started having kids, it became no longer about me. I need to provide for my family."
"After Season 10, we had some big shifts in front of the camera, behind the camera," Pompeo said. "It became my goal to have an experience there that I could be happy and proud about, because we had so much turmoil for 10 years. My mission became, this can’t be fantastic to the public and a disaster behind the scenes."
Pompeo might have been enjoying herself more, but the series would experience another upheaval when Patrick Dempsey, aka Derek Shepherd, chose to leave Grey’s Anatomy in 2015. The exit of Meredith Grey’s longtime love interest prompted Pompeo and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes to assert Meredith’s importance in the story amidst worries of how Dempsey’s departure would affect the show.
"Shonda Rhimes and I decided to rewrite the ending of this story. That’s what’s kept me," Pompeo said. "Patrick Dempsey left the show in Season 11, and the studio and network believed the show could not go on without the male lead. So I had a mission to prove that it could. I was on a double mission."
It’s safe to say she’s definitely exceeded exceptions of that mission. Halfway through Season 15, Grey’s Anatomy surpassed ER as the longest-running primetime medical drama, and it was later renewed for record-breaking Seasons 16 and 17. Pompeo is proud of herself for being a part of this, telling Henson, "I now have three kids. And we turned the culture around. I’ve hit some marks that have made me feel accomplished in a different way. Shonda Rhimes has been amazing. She lets us be mothers. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to go anywhere."
Kudos to Pompeo for turning something unsettling into a rewarding, special experience. Plus, let’s not forget that she’s proven Meredith can survive and thrive without a McDreamy at her side. Season 16 of Grey’s Anatomy premieres on ABC this fall.
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