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Ellen Pompeo Reflects on Her Grey’s Anatomy Journey: ‘How Do You Walk Away From a Hit?’

With the Grey’s Anatomy midseason premiere around the corner, Ellen Pompeo can’t help but reflect on her journey the last 15 seasons — and what’s in store for Dr. Meredith Grey’s future on the medical drama.

“Obviously I never anticipated the show still being the No. 1 show on the network,” Pompeo, 49, exclusively told PEOPLE. “How do you walk away from a hit? The fans will dictate when the show ends. As much as we think we’re in control, we’re not. It’s the fans’ show at this point. They control how long the show goes. We’ll see. I kind of just take it year by year and see.”

Last week, ABC ordered three more episodes of Grey’s for the 2018-19 season, bringing the total order to 25 — and leaving fans in a frenzy. Could this be the end? Or could there be a major tragedy brewing?

“The extra episodes was not at my request,” showrunner Krista Vernoff told PEOPLE. “It makes me laugh that people think, ‘Oh Krista wanted to add extra episodes so she could kill somebody.’” She continued, “The extra episodes are because the ABC schedule allowed for extra episodes and because our numbers are so strong across all platforms. We just have a lot of stories we want to tell this season.”

Pompeo, who has starred as Dr. Meredith Grey since season 1 of Grey’s Anatomy first premiered in 2005, said her time on the show has “been so significant” to her personal and professional life.

“I think the biggest lesson is what something can be if you give it the chance to turn it around,” she said. “We had so much drama in the early days. The show was so strong and so solid and so amazing, then we had all these behind-the-scenes drama and then it would’ve been really easy to walk away and say, ‘I don’t want to deal with that anymore.’ I guess it’s a weird message, because I guess if you’re in a relationship that’s abusive, that’s something you should walk away from. How long do you stick with something that doesn’t make you feel good?” She continued, “But I’ve had the incredible experience to be able to turn this around and be the steerer of the ship and right all of our wrongs and get a do-over and get to change the environment and change the atmosphere. It was a conscious decision from Shonda [Rhimes] and I to continue to do this but do it differently. It’s been an evolution. That’s been the biggest lesson, growing up and getting older and coming into our power and feeling more comfortable with our power and our leadership, changing things that we thought we were powerless to change before, we now have the power to control and change our environment and make it the place we want it to be. It’s very satisfying.”

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Ellen Pompeo May Not Bid Farewell to Grey’s Next Year After All: ‘I Keep Saying I’m Ready to Move on But… ‘

Last fall, Ellen Pompeo sent Grey’s Anatomy fans into cardiac arrest when she intimated that she’s itching to bid Meredith adieu next season when her current contract expires. But during an interview on the ABC drama’s set earlier this month, the actress was singing a slightly different tune.

“I keep saying, ‘I’m ready to move on and I want to stop the show before the ratings go down,’ but the ratings never go down!” she exclaims with a laugh. “They go down a little bit, but the fact that we are able to hold our [title as ABC’s No. 1 series] is kind of [incredible]. It’s very cool to have these kind of ratings and be on a hit network show in this [Peak TV] landscape.”

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Last fall, Ellen Pompeo sent Grey’s Anatomy fans into cardiac arrest when she intimated that she’s itching to bid Meredith adieu next season when her current contract expires. But during an interview on the ABC drama’s set earlier this month, the actress was singing a slightly different tune.

“I keep saying, ‘I’m ready to move on and I want to stop the show before the ratings go down,’ but the ratings never go down!” she exclaims with a laugh. “They go down a little bit, but the fact that we are able to hold our [title as ABC’s No. 1 series] is kind of [incredible]. It’s very cool to have these kind of ratings and be on a hit network show in this [Peak TV] landscape.”

Pompeo — who is approaching the midway point of her blockbuster two-year, $20 million deal — says she knows she has a good thing going at Grey’s. “It’s pretty nice place to work,” she admits. “I like my situation here. As much as the idea of something new appeals to me… the truth is I have three kids. I don’t really want to travel and leave [them]. I don’t want to be a circus traveller and live in hotels. And the network and studio continue to incentivize me and just make me offers that I can’t refuse.”

It’s also not lost on the actress that should she decide not to re-up with the show in 2020, it would likely bring about the end of Grey’s altogether. (Her character’s name is in the title of the show, after all.) “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about how many people have stable jobs [at Grey’s],” Pompeo notes. “In this town you don’t get a lot of 24-episodes-a-season shows. So the fact that this crew gets to film 24 episodes – that’s 10 months of work – and they get to stay in LA [is remarkable].”

Translation: Pompeo remains undecided about her Grey’s future. “I’m contracted through Season 16,” she states. “And beyond that… I don’t really know. I take it day-by-day.”

Grey’s Anatomy resumes its current 15th season this Thursday at 8/7c.

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Ellen Pompeo on Acting, Producing, and Life on ‘Grey’s’

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Ellen Pompeo talks about keeping it challenging, fun, and fresh after twelve years on Shonda Rhimes’ hit series.

Adulteress. Whore. Medusa. These slurs are just some of the nicknames title character Meredith Grey (star Ellen Pompeo) has heard over her years at Grey Sloan Memorial. A little under twelve years ago, Meredith first graced our TV screens as an intern at Seattle Grace Hospital. Through the subsequent years, her character would see and hear it all. And Ellen Pompeo has seen it all as she has consistently inhabited the character of Meredith Grey.

I caught up with Pompeo earlier this week as the actress, producer, wife and mother was taking some time out for a little pampering. She discussed the mid-season opener (directed by Oscar-winner Denzel Washington), her blossoming talents as a producer, and her methods of having fun after all these years.

AwardsDaily TV: Hi Ellen. How are you? Are you on set right now?

Ellen Pompeo: I am not. I actually having a pedicure. [laughs] This is the only time for me to get my toenails, Jazz. I mean… mamma needed some love, so I had to come and take care of myself one day. I took an hour for myself.

ADTV: Sometimes you need that. You need a little pampering. I remember when I first watched Grey’s in 2005. Did you ever think you’d still be doing this in 2016?

EP: No, I had no idea. No one, including [Shonda Rhimes] expected the show to go this long. It’s an unbelievable gift, and a fantastic challenge also just to keep it going this long and to keep the quality as good as it’s been is a challenge we’ve all been really excited by.

I really get excited by it. I love a challenge. It’s my personality.

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Season 12 Promos & Stills Added!

I’ve updated the gallery with some promotional photos of Ellen Pompeo as well as some MQ (hopefully HQ later!) posters. I’ve also added some high quality episode stills from the season premiere!

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