El Dorado News-Times
Longtime lead leaves ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
The time has come to say goodbye to one of television’s longest-serving characters. Ellen Pompeo (“Old School,” 2003) makes her final appearance as a series regular in a new episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” Thursday, Feb. 23, on ABC. Having starred in over 400 episodes since the show’s debut in 2005, Pompeo has seen her character, Meredith Grey, grow from surgical intern to chief of surgery at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital over 19 seasons of the medical drama.
Pompeo announced her upcoming departure from “Grey’s Anatomy” via her Instagram last November, when she thanked loyal viewers, saying, “through it all ... none of it ... would have been possible without the best fans in the world.” News of Pompeo appearing in only eight episodes of Season 19 broke last summer when it was also announced that she would be focusing on, starring in and executive producing a limited series based on the 2009 horror film “Orphan” for Hulu.
Throughout her time on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Pompeo’s character, Meredith, has arguably had two loves in her life. The first — the one that kicked off the series — is Derek Shepherd, or “McDreamy” as he came to be known. Portrayed by Patrick Dempsey (“Disenchanted,” 2022), Derek was meant to be a one-night stand to Meredith — someone who left in the morning, never to be seen again. Of course, he is seen again, many times, in what turned into an 11-season-long saga: they fall in love; he gets a divorce; they form a family and begin to grow apart; and finally, they reconcile before he is tragically killed in a car accident. Meredith’s second love is her best friend, Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”), who meets Meredith as a fellow intern and eventually becomes a cardiothoracic surgeon. The two form a deep friendship, with the pair regularly referring to each other as their “person” throughout the series. Oh left “Grey’s Anatomy” in Season 10 when Cristina left Grey-Sloan Memorial to run a research hospital in Zurich, Switzerland.
Now, with Pompeo making her onscreen exit, two other longtime cast members are poised to pull ahead in total number of series appearances.
Chandra Wilson (“Frankie & Alice,” 2010) and James Pickens Jr. (“42,” 2013) have also been a part of “Grey’s Anatomy” since its very first episode. Wilson stars as Dr. Miranda Bailey, a surgeon at Grey-Sloan Memorial who started the series as an intimidating resident who showed she could separate her personal and professional lives to an impressive degree — keeping a husband and pregnancy to herself at one point — while working at the world’s most gossipy hospital. For Wilson’s part, she told Variety in 2020 that she will be a part of “Grey’s Anatomy” “until the wheels come off.” Wilson went on to add, “I keep showing up when they call me and tell me that we’re doing another one.”
Pickens Jr. is Richard Webber, MD, a surgeon who maintains his position of chief of surgery throughout most of the series. Webber had a close relationship with Meredith’s mother, surgeon Ellis Grey, portrayed by Kate Burton (“Big Trouble in Little China,” 1986). While his character has talked about retirement being on the horizon several times over 19 seasons, Pickens Jr. hasn’t said anything about putting “Grey’s Anatomy” and Dr. Webber behind him.
With prolific, 400-plus episode regulars out of the way, it would be a disservice to talk about “Grey’s Anatomy” without mentioning some of its most memorable past cast members. Former series regular Justin Chambers (“The Offer”) portrayed Dr.Alex Karev in over 350 episodes of the series, beginning as a fellow intern alongside Meredith and exiting the series in Season 16, having reached the career high of chief of surgery, to be with Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl, “Firefly Lane”). Current cast member Kevin McKidd (“Trainspotting” 1996) has directed over 30 episodes of the series in addition to starring as Dr. Owen Hunt, a surgeon with a past life in the Army and who has now served for 15 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
As for Pompeo, she will remain part of the show as executive producer and voiceover narrator for all of Season 19, but there has been no word yet from ABC about whether “Grey’s Anatomy” will continue on for a 20th season without the titular Grey. In recent years, series creator and super-producer Shonda Rhimes has taken a step back from the show that started it all for her, as she develops more projects for Netflix after landing a massive deal in 2017. Rhimes has already had massive successes on the streamer, with the smash hit romantic drama series “Bridgerton” and the grifter drama miniseries “Inventing Anna.” But when it comes to the series finale of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Rhimes told Variety in November 2021, “Am I the person who decides when the show is over? Yes. And I take full responsibility for that when or if everybody gets mad at me.”
Don’t miss one of the biggest moments in TV history as Meredith waves goodbye to Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital when Season 19 of “Grey’s Anatomy” resumes Thursday, Feb. 23, on ABC.