When “Grey’s Anatomy” first premiered in 2005, nobody could have predicted what it would become. In the 17 years since the now-iconic pilot episode aired, the show has become a cultural juggernaut, gathering a whopping 38 Emmy nominations in its 18 — soon to be 19 — seasons on the air.
Besides its sheer stature in pop culture, “Grey’s Anatomy” has also used its power as a force for good in the world. It has increased awareness of the RAINN sexual assault hotline, inspired women to pursue medical careers, and even saved a mother’s life back in 2011.
In short, regardless of its imperfections, “Grey’s Anatomy” has been a good thing overall. However, all good things must eventually end — and for “Grey’s Anatomy,” that time is now.
There are many reasons “Grey’s Anatomy” continues to stay on the air. Leading lady Ellen Pompeo, who plays the titular Meredith Grey, is still under contract, albeit in a reduced capacity for the upcoming Season 19. She has said herself on numerous occasions that she wants the show — or at least her role in it — to end sooner rather than later.
If Pompeo moves on from the show, “Grey’s Anatomy” would only have two actors from the original 2005 cast: James Pickens Jr., who plays Richard Webber, and Chandra Wilson, who plays Miranda Bailey. Both Pickens and Wilson have remained committed to the show all these years, and their characters are still integral pieces of the stories being told. But Pompeo is the star, and there really doesn’t seem to be any viable way forward without her.
Casting is not the only thing to consider, of course. Ratings are important too, and they paint a very clear picture. They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination as the show manages to pull in millions of viewers every week. However, they are far from where they were at their prime, and Pompeo’s diminished screen time in the upcoming Season 19 doesn’t bode well for those numbers.
However, more than reduced viewership and a dwindling number of original cast members, there is one key reason “Grey’s Anatomy” needs to end — it just isn’t that good of a television show anymore.
“Grey’s Anatomy” was always a bit silly. It was a show that leaned into dramatics, one that felt over-the-top and campy without ever losing its powerful human element. It was a show that, while imperfect, felt balanced. “Grey’s Anatomy” had all the romance of a traditional soap opera, the medical drama required by its setting, and the heart and humor to keep everything tied together.
In the early days of “Grey’s Anatomy,” there was balance. Now though, the balance is gone, and with it the quality that made the show worth watching in the first place.
Part of that imbalance comes with running for 17 straight years. The world has changed drastically since 2005, and though Shonda Rhimes is nothing short of magical in the realm of television, it’s difficult to keep anything relevant and fresh for almost two decades. The newer episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” don’t feel dated, per se, but the spark that made the first dozen seasons so enjoyable just isn’t there anymore. Even when the content is new, “Grey’s Anatomy” is still a little old, which makes it less watchable than it was at its inception.
Another obstacle that “Grey’s Anatomy” could not overcome is the loss of its standout characters. As previously mentioned, most of the original cast members have left the show to pursue other opportunities, and the empty spots they left on the show’s roster were filled soon after. However, the primary problem here is that the characters who have left were also the best characters in the show. And for the most part, their replacements haven’t been able to live up to their predecessors.
There was Cristina Yang, Meredith Grey’s best friend and fellow surgical resident who almost immediately became one of the most beloved characters in the show’s history. At the close of Season 10, the character left for good, and nobody who’s come since has filled the void left by Sandra Oh. There was Derek Shepherd, Meredith’s husband, who still lingers on the edges of every romantic interaction she has despite being killed off in Season 11. There were more characters along these same lines: Mark Sloan and Lexie Grey, Arizona Robbins and Callie Torres, April Kepner and Jackson Avery, Alex Karev and George O’Malley. All of them sat at the very heart of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and the show has been unable to achieve its previous heights without them.
Most of all, “Grey’s Anatomy” needs to end because the plots themselves are no longer interesting. After a near-two decade run, the showrunners are, quite frankly, running out of ideas. At numerous points in the last five seasons, they have recycled events from episodes past, done in a manner so obvious that it seems like they aren’t even trying to be original anymore.
This is reasonable — maybe even acceptable. After all, “Grey’s Anatomy” has been running for so long that some repetition is not only expected, but necessary. However, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, “Grey’s Anatomy” is a program that leans into drama, the quality that made the earlier seasons so interesting. Now that drama is working against the longevity of the show. The showrunners have already used so many disasters that there are few left to exploit, which forces them to reuse old plot points — but these are plot points that are only successfully used once at best so their recurrence makes it difficult to take the show seriously.
“Grey’s Anatomy” has, and will always be, a work of great significance. Its impact on pop culture and society is immense and changed the world of television forever. However, it is no longer the groundbreaking series it once was; instead, it is a pale imitation of its previous self. Once a show that felt silly but still grounded, “Grey’s Anatomy” has devolved into what can only be described as sheer ridiculousness. And if it wants to preserve its legacy, it needs to wrap up now, before it’s ruined.