EXCLUSIVE: In the Season 18 finale of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith made a decision not to move to Minnesota. While Meredith is staying at Gray Sloan Memorial as an interim Chief of Surgery, we will see less of her next season. Pompeo will appear in eight episodes of the upcoming 19th season, which is now starting production. She will continue to narrate every episode and to serve as an executive producer on the hugely popular medical drama, which remains ABC’s top scripted series.
The scale-back comes as Pompeo takes on her first role other than Meredith Gray in almost two decades — she is set to star in Hulu’s Orphan limited series inspired by the true story of Ukranian-born Natalia Grace and her US adoptive parents who claimed that she was an adult “sociopath” pretending to be a child.
See photos of Pompeo in Grey’s through the years below.
Pompeo’s desire to branch out and take on new acting challenges is believed to be behind the decision to do fewer episodes of Grey’s. The ABC drama has been keeping her busy as it has been producing as many as 25 episodes a year for a total of 400 to date. (Season 19 will likely consist of about 22 episodes, I hear.)
Pompeo had seen her workload on the show reduced a bit the last two seasons as Meredith spent a sizable part of the pandemic-themed Season 17 in a coma and was in Minnesota for most of Season 19.
While there has been chatter that Pompeo may be wrapping Meredith’s storyline next season, I hear there is no decision yet whether Season 19 would be the last for Pompeo as a star — or the show’s final chapter. Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes has said that she does not see Grey’s continuing without its leading lady. (There had been talk on and off about possibly extending the franchise with a new medical drama spinoff if and when the mothership series comes to an end.)
Pompeo, who had been making the case for ending Grey’s Anatomy over the past couple of years, last October spoke about her post-Grey’s career plans.
“I probably wouldn’t do movies per se, but I probably will do some streaming television,” Pompeo, who had acted primarily in movies until she was cast in Grey’s Anatomy in 2004, said at the time. She had already started expanding into other fields, including audio series with her Tell Me with Ellen Pompeo podcast which debuted in September.
“I’m just trying to play in some different areas and do a few new things but I’m sure I’ll act again,” she said in October.
Shortly after that, ABC and Grey’s Anatomy studio ABC Signature began conversations with Pompeo about continuing on Grey’s. She ultimately agreed to return for Season 19, securing the show’s renewal, which was announced in January.
I hear back then, Pompeo already had decided to do only a portion of the episodes while continuing as narrator and EP as she also takes on new acting challenges. After months of back-and-forth, she and the producers settled on 8 episodes. She started conversations about joining the Orphan series earlier this summer.
Meanwhile, she sparked to Orphan, produced by same studio as Grey’s, ABC Signature, and came on board as star and EP, helping the project secure a green light.
Eighteen years in, Grey’s Anatomy has been able to reinvent itself multiple times as it went through numerous casting changes, with Pompeo as the glue keeping the show together. The highly rated medical drama is headed to another transformational season, with Pompeo stepping back and five new additions joining the cast, Harry Shum Jr., Adelaide Kane, Alexis Floyd, Niko Terho, and Midori Francis.
Here is a look at Pompeo as Meredith Gray in all 18 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy: