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Everyone was shocked when fan favorite Sara Ramirez (Callie Torres) announced her departure from Grey’s Anatomy recently, but today we learned that her exit seems to be an anomaly and is not indicative of any big overhaul to the show. Series lead Ellen Pompeo signed a deal today for her 13th season as the titular Meredith Grey, a role for which, Deadline reports, she earns more than $300,000 per episode.
Most of the series leads signed two-year deals back in 2014 which expired at the end of the just-wrapped season 12. The other three original cast members, Justin Chambers (Alex Karev), James Pickens Jr. (Richard Webber), and Chandra Wilson (Miranda Bailey) are also expected to re with Kevin McKidd (Owen Hunt). Though ratings have declined from their highest seasonal average of 19.4 million viewers during season 2, the series is still one of the top 5 most popular broadcast dramas with a healthy 3.9 rating in the 18-49 demo. And it was ABC’s highest rated drama this season. There’s little reason to believe the rest of the Sloan-Grey Memorial crew won’t be signing on for another year too.
Grey’s was the first show created by Shonda Rhimes and brought a smart, young kind of soapy drama to prime time television in 2005. Meredith Grey was a real woman’s Carrie Bradshaw, delivering doses of pithy insight and friendship wrapped in the deep sighs and laughter of the hard-working middle class.
Though the show leaned heavily on the chemistry of its original nine-member lead cast, Rhimes was unafraid to add even more players and also make some surprising cuts in order to keep the storyline fresh. In doing so she proved that the show was bigger than any single star.
That was particularly important when behind the scenes drama led her to cut Patrick Dempsey (Derek Shepherd) from the show last season. Despite the absence of essentially the two main characters—as Meredith Grey dropped out of life to mourn her husband—the stories seemed to become even more interesting. Grey’s earned critical praise, a bump in viewers, and proved that its greatest strength has been the ability to grow into a true ensemble affair. Last season featured sixteen major roles.
The next year will be critical for Grey’s so its unsurprising that Pompeo seems to have signed just a one-year contract. How long can a show go on? This is the point where many of the most popular dramas have started to peter out and limp into a last season or two. ER and CSI both hung on for 15 seasons, Dallas and Knotts Landing for 14. NCIS just finished season 13 and is holding strong while Law & Order: SVU is starting to stumble a tad after season 17.
And each season new and promising dramas compete with the old shows and gobble up primetime attention. Empire, Blindspot, and Chicago PD were breakout hits this year while fellow Shondaland productions Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder also boast strong fanbases and relatively steady ratings. Rhimes will add another drama to the lineup next year with The Catch, can Grey’s keep reinventing itself? For now, yes. There is something about this moody, dedicated, very human crop of Seattle’s unluckiest doctors that is keeping viewers, and the cast, coming back. At least for one more year.