Killing off original Grey’s Anatomy cast member Patrick Dempsey‘s Dr. Derek Shepherd was “a difficult decision,” ABC president Paul Lee affirmed Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills.
Lee intimated that the parting of the ways was at least in part driven by Dempsey’s passion for race car driving, saying: “He has lots of interests outside [of Grey’s Anatomy].”
Reflecting on the, um, passionate reaction to Derek’s death, Lee raved, “It was great to see Grey’s Anatomy so relevant.” And looking forward, “We’ve seen the pitch for next season and the show reinvents itself again. [Shonda Rhimes] really is a remarkable showrunner. We have no reason to expect that Grey’s Anatomy will not go on for many, many years to come.”
Dempsey’s character of course was surprisingly killed off toward the end of Season 11, in the April 23 episode, when Derek — after having saved some lives at the scene of a roadside car accident — got Michael Vaughn’d by a semi, and ultimately perished from his injuries. That episode drew Season 11’s second-best numbers (9.5 million viewers and a 2.8 demo rating), but by finale time the show had slipped 13 and 21 percent.
Immediately after the jaw-dropping episode aired, Rhimes shared, “Derek Shepherd is and will always be an incredibly important character — for Meredith, for me and for the fans. I absolutely never imagined saying goodbye to our ‘McDreamy.'” ABC in turn issued a statement saying, “Dr. Derek Shepherd is an iconic character and we’ve been proud to be the home of ‘McDreamy’ and the ‘Mer/Der’ love story.”