Why Patrick Dempsey's Grey's Anatomy Exit Changed Everything For Ellen Pompeo

Despite being on its 18th season, the medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" remains ABC's top-rated TV show. The series that cemented Shonda Rhimes' name in Hollywood has almost filmed 400 episodes, according to IMDb, but it has no plans on slowing down anytime soon, with Season 19 already announced. People are just obsessed with Dr. Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo), and the show's success and longevity only proves that.

But it seems people are even more obsessed with the relationship between Meredith and Dr. Derek Shepherd. In fact, Vulture rated the two as the best couple to grace the series — and there's a lot throughout its run. Ever since Meredith and Derek met at that bar in Episode 1, they captured viewer's hearts with their connection. So, when Derek suddenly dies in Season 11, fans were left devastated. His death was even hard for Rhimes herself to watch. "I did not go to a single moment of the filming because I was like, 'I am just going to stand there and cry like an idiot.' Seriously," Rhimes said during the 2015 Summer TCA press tour (via E! News). "The editing room was just me with some tissues, but it was really, really amazing."

It turns out McSteamy's departure was for the best, though — in more ways than one.

Ellen Pompeo was able to negotiate her salary when Patrick Dempsey left

Derek Shepherd's death was a major turning point in "Grey's Anatomy" for many fans, but it also marked a shift for those actually working in the show, more specifically Ellen Pompeo. Pompeo, who plays the series' namesake character, shared when Patrick Dempsey walked around from the show, she finally gained a leg up with the network.

"For me, Patrick [Dempsey] leaving the show [in 2015] was a defining moment, deal-wise," Pompeo wrote in The Hollywood Reporter. "They could always use him as leverage against me — "We don't need you; we have Patrick" — which they did for years." With Dempsey out of the picture, Pompeo was determined to show "Grey's Anatomy" could be just as successful, if not more, without him. She told fellow actor Taraji P. Henson for Variety, "The studio and network believed the show could not go on without the male lead. So I had a mission to prove that it could."

And prove it she did. Not only did "Grey's" see a spike in viewership after Dempsey left, but Pompeo became the one with leverage and now makes a whopping $575,000 per episode, according to THR.

Patrick Dempsey's on-set behavior apparently scared others

Patrick Dempsey starred alongside Ellen Pompeo in "Grey's Anatomy" for 11 seasons, but it would seem his departure was a long time coming. According to an excerpt of "How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy" obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Dempsey reportedly did not act as dreamy behind the scenes as his on-screen character.

James D. Parriott, former "Grey's" executive producer, told the book's author Lynette Rice that Dempsey was not an easygoing actor. "He sort of was terrorizing the set. Some cast members had all sorts of PTSD with him," Parriott claimed. "He had this hold on the set where he knew he could stop production and scare people." Dempsey even admitted the show's filming schedule was becoming too much to handle. Speaking with Rice for the book, Dempsey said (via THR), "It's 10 months, 15 hours a day. You never know your schedule, so your kid asks you, 'What are you doing on Monday?' And you go, 'I don't know,' because I don't know my schedule." He added, "Doing that for 11 years is challenging."

So, Dempsey left "Grey's" in 2015 and has since kept pretty busy. He starred in 2016's "Bridget Jones's Baby," reconciled with his wife, designed a McSteamy clothing collection, reprised his "Grey's" role for a few episodes in 2021, and is set to star in the "Enchanted" sequel, "Disenchanted."