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Patrick Dempsey left 'Grey's Anatomy' amid 'HR issues': 'He knew he could stop production and scare people'

·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·5 min read
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Grey's Anatomy fans still aren't over the heartbreaking episode in which Patrick Dempsey's dreamy character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, dies, but it was a relief to some of the people involved in the show.

James D. Parriott, who worked as a producer on the ABC hit for several years, from 2005 to 2006 and was brought back again in 2015, just before Shepherd's demise on the April 23, 2015 episode, tells author Lynette Rice for her upcoming book, How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy, that his second stint there was all about keeping Dempsey happy — something he hadn't been in a while.

"[Creator] Shonda [Rhimes] needed an OG to come in as sort of a showrunner for fourteen episodes," Parriott says in an excerpt of the book published Thursday in The Hollywood Reporter. "There were HR issues. It wasn't sexual in any way. He sort of was terrorizing the set. Some cast members had all sorts of PTSD with him. He had this hold on the set where he knew he could stop production and scare people. The network and studio came down and we had sessions with them. I think he was just done with the show. He didn't like the inconvenience of coming in every day and working. He and Shonda were at each other's throats."

At that time, Dempsey's relationship with his on-screen love interest, Ellen Pompeo, was also strained. Former producer Jeannine Renshaw said Pompeo often resented her leading man's objections to the many hours of work. She was spending even more time on the job.

Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo star in a 2010 episode of
Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo star in a 2010 episode of Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: Adam Taylor/ABC/courtesy Everett Collection)

"There were times where Ellen was frustrated with Patrick and she would get angry that he wasn't working as much. She was very big on having things be fair," Renshaw said. "She just didn't like that Patrick would complain that 'I'm here too late' or 'I've been here too long' when she had twice as many scenes in the episode as he did. When I brought it up to Patrick, I would say, 'Look around you. These people have been here since six-thirty a.m.' He would go, 'Oh, yeah.' He would get it. It's just that actors tend to see things from their own perspective. He's like a kid. He's so high energy and would go, 'What's happening next?' He literally goes out of his skin, sitting and waiting. He wants to be out driving his race car or doing something fun. He's the kid in class who wants to go to recess."

Dempsey himself explained his annoyance back then.

"It’s ten months, fifteen 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," said Dempsey, a father of three. "Doing that for eleven years is challenging. But you have to be grateful, because you're well-compensated, so you can't really complain because you don’t really have a right. You don't have control over your schedule. So, you have to just be flexible."

Patrick Dempsey, pictured with fans in 2011, won a lot of hearts as Dr. Derek Shepherd. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil)
Patrick Dempsey, pictured with fans in 2011, won a lot of hearts as Dr. Derek Shepherd. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Cirque du Soleil)

He said that he considered leaving when Sandra Oh, who played Dr. Cristina Yang, left in 2014, but he was being paid too handsomely — an estimated $400,000 an episode

"How do you say no to that?" Dempsey said. "It's remarkable to be a working actor, and then on top of that to be on a show that's visible. And then on top of that to be on a phenomenal show that's known around the world, and play a character who is beloved around the world."

Renshaw said the "final straw" was when Rhimes saw Dempsey's alleged bad behavior for herself.

"Shonda had to say to the network, 'If he doesn't go, I go,'" Renshaw said. "Nobody wanted him to leave, because he was the show. Him and Ellen. Patrick is a sweetheart. It messes you up, this business."

Dempsey — who had been on the ABC hit's first 250 episodes — was conspicuously absent from a string of eps just before his character was killed off. Rice's book confirms that the actor had been in talks with executives about his future.

Patrick Dempsey stars in a 2006 episode of
Patrick Dempsey stars in a 2006 episode of Grey's Anatomy. (Photo: Vivian Zink/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Parriott remembers producers preparing for three possible scenarios for McDreamy.

"We had a whole storyline where we were going to keep him in Washington, D.C., so we could separate him from the rest of the show. He would not have to work with Ellen again," Parriott said. "Then we had the one where he comes back, doesn't die, and we figure out what Derek's relationship with Meredith would be. Then there was the one we did. It was kind of crazy. We didn't know if he was going to be able to negotiate his way out of it. It was ultimately decided that just bringing him back was going to be too hard on the other actors. The studio just said it was going to be more trouble than it was worth and decided to move on."

Dempsey described his last day as "quiet," and a producer noted that other cast members didn't stop by to tell him goodbye. He said that he was "very happy to have moved on." 

He didn't leave behind Dr. Derek Shepherd for long though. Dempsey was one of several cast members who returned to the show last year so that their characters could appear to Grey while she was in a coma.

Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to Dempsey for comment on the excerpt.

How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy is available Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 at Amazon and other bookstores.