Over the past couple of days, we have been discussing the possibility that Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey could leave Grey’s Anatomy at the end of the current season, when their contracts end. Near the end of 2011, TVLine reported that ABC is in negotiations with castmembers for a new contract. Based on those comments, it does seem like the two leads could come back. But that doesn’t mean they won’t end up leaving sometime during, or at the end of, season 9.

How Do Mer-Der Say Goodbye?
If Pompeo and Dempsey both leave at the end of the current season (or at least sometime before Grey’s Anatomy ends its run), how will show creator Shonda Rhimes write them off? This is why it’s a little tricky because either they both have to stay or they both have to go. Their characters have already gone through turmoil together and now they’re together and married. If one goes, do they get a divorce? Or will it be that someone like Derek is offered a big position at some other hospital, leaving Meredith to stay in Seattle?

Or worse yet, would Rhimes do the unthinkable and kill them off (or at least one, leading to the other’s exit)? Is it going to be a sudden departure or drawn out? They’ve already done the sudden departure with Preston Burke and sort of with Izzie Stevens. They’ve already gone down the Grim Reaper route with George O’Malley. Can Rhimes come up with something new for their exits? There’s too many questions and not enough answers, but it is fun to speculate on what could potentially happen.

The Future of Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey
So what happens if the two leads do leave (whether this season or next)? Do these two have lasting power in Hollywood? The three biggest movies that Dempsey has starred in since being on Grey’s Anatomy are Enchanted, Valentine’s Day and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Looking at this, it does appear that he would like to become a full-time movie actor.

I hate to make comparisons here, but I’m going to. Look at Steve Carell. While on The Office, he went off and did some movies. So it didn’t come as a total surprise when he left his show because you could tell that he had already made that transition from being a TV star to being a movie star. And I can see the same trajectory already with Dempsey as well.

Katherine Heigl, who played Izzie on Grey’s Anatomy, went through the same thing. She was in a couple big movies while still on the show, then she left to focus on movies more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like she’s become as big a movie star as she probably thought she would be. So it really is too early to tell if Dempsey will succeed or fail at this.

Now let’s look at Ellen Pompeo’s future post-Grey’s Anatomy. I recently looked over her filmography recently. She’s done both TV shows and movies over the years. But I don’t see anything that she’s done that has rivaled Grey’s. So her future, in front of the screen at least, seems a little murky.

But she still could have continued success in the business, just not as an actor. In October, Deadline reported that Pompeo had sold a project to ABC (nothing like keeping it in the family, right?). Again, it is still too early to tell how a behind-the-scenes role may work in her favor. Maybe Shonda Rhimes should let her direct an episode of Grey’s. We’ve seen other cast members like Chandra Wilson and Kevin McKidd do that. Maybe doing something like that could help her with the production side of things.

What do you think? If Ellen Pompeo and/or Patrick Dempsey leave Grey’s Anatomy while the show continues on without them, how should they be written out? And once leaving, where do you see their careers headed?

Grey’s Anatomy returns tonight at 9pm on ABC.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

Jeff Dodge

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jeff Dodge, a graduate of Western Washington University, has been a TV news editor for many years and has had the chance to interview multiple reality show stars, including Randy Jackson, Nick Cannon, Heidi Klum, Mel B and John Cena.