We’ve all heard the rumors and talk over the last year or so of the possibility that Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey could leave at the end of the current Grey’s Anatomy season, which is when their contracts end. On Tuesday, I recapped what they and show creator Shonda Rhimes have said on the matter.

One of the things that Rhimes said last summer was this: “We’re looking at [season 8] in segments. We’re planning the first half of the season [now] and then I’ll plan the second half of the season when I know more stuff.

Now that’s it’s January, we’re almost at the halfway mark of season 8. Rhimes has to have mapped out the remaining episodes by now. So does this mean she knows if the cast is returning? Who knows, unless she has an idea where she could easily write the finale with them staying or with them leaving.

The last we heard on the contract negotiations was from TVLine’s Michael Ausiello at the start of December who said, “ABC wants them both back next season. I heard the network has begun preliminary talks with the show’s original castmembers … to extend their contracts beyond the current season. My guess? Dempsey will agree to return for an abbreviated number of episodes; everyone else will be back full-time.” That last statement is what he’s predicting.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that prediction turns out to be true. From Dempsey’s comments over the last year or so, it does seem like he’s ready to move on, so they could have him on for a limited number of episodes to slowly ease his transition out.

Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd are the two lead characters on the show. If you lose them, do you even have a show? There has been speculation that if Pompeo leaves, her character’s half-sister, Lexie, played by Chyler Leigh, could become the title character since she is also a Grey, after all.

Leigh has said, “I would totally take that on — if that were to be the case. I don’t know where Ellen is [with her thinking], but that would seem like the logical next step.” But could she really fill those shoes as the lead? Among fans, it might be debatable at this point.

We’ve seen multiple cast members/characters leave over the years including Burke, George and Izzie. People wondered then if the show could survive their exits. And then the same questions came up when there were all these new cast members joining the show. Grey’s Anatomy has weathered these storms fairly well. So why shouldn’t the exit of Mer/Der be the same? The difference, as mentioned, is that they are the two leads.

There are so many wonderfully unique and well-developed characters on this show that, to me, it’s the supporting cast that really makes up the show. I want to say that it can survive this. But if Pompeo and Dempsey do leave, I would think that the top people at ABC are looking at all the scenarios on how much longer can they really keep the show on the air.

Regardless of if they stay or go, I think the show has one to three more seasons left in it (not counting the current one). When you have an aging show, you want it to end at a point where it still has some dignity. And beyond two or three more years, ABC might seem a little desperate.

What do you think? Should Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey leave Grey’s Anatomy? If they do, how would Rhimes write them off? And can they still have successful careers after departing? Come back on Thursday as I try to answer these last two questions.

Grey’s Anatomy returns this Thursday night 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.