What does less Meredith Grey mean for the medical drama's future? ET breaks down the most important updates heading into season 19.
Grey's Anatomy is gearing up for a new chapter, but season 19 is going to look dramatically different.
With ABC's long-running medical drama nearing two decades on television and surpassing 400 episodes, there's bound to be changes in front and behind the camera. As series star Ellen Pompeo formally steps back for the upcoming season, with plans to only appear in eight episodes (though she'll continue to narrate), Grey's favorites and franchise newcomers will be stepping into the spotlight.
While significant changes are afoot at Grey's, the new season, which kicks off Oct. 6 with a premiere episode titled "Stuck," is being touted as a "rebirth" -- for the characters and the show, both literally and figuratively.
To help everyone keep track of everything that's going on over at Grey's, here's ET's quick-and-easy guide to the most important updates on season 19.
Ellen Pompeo's Reduced Role
In August, it was revealed that Pompeo -- who's played Meredith Grey since the pilot in 2005 -- would be scaling back her Grey's screen time in season 19, appearing in only eight episodes. Even though viewers will see less of Meredith, the 52-year-old actress will continue to serve as an executive producer on the series, while also retaining narrating duties.
It was unclear when Pompeo's last episode would fall, but in a new interview, showrunner Krista Vernoff offered insight into when the leading lady's temporary goodbye would take place. "I haven't crossed that bridge yet because I've got Meredith for the first eight episodes, and then I'll have less of Meredith," Vernoff told Entertainment Weekly of Pompeo's limited role.
Pompeo, for her part, opened up to ET in September about why she decided to take more of a backseat on Grey's as she signs on to star and executive produce a limited series for Hulu about orphans.
"It's still Grey's, she's still there in spirit and that's the house that Grey built, so she's always there," Pompeo assured. "She just has to step away for a little bit to do a Hulu show. It's a great company to work for and I'm really, really lucky that they've given me the opportunity to do both, and so I had to take it."
Which Cast Members Are Returning?
Even without Meredith roaming the halls of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital for a large portion of the season, the good news is the majority of the ensemble is returning.
Among the series regulars back for more medical emergencies and romantic tension are OGs Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr., as well as Kevin McKidd, Kim Raver, Camilla Luddington, Caterina Scorsone, Kelly McCreary, Jake Borelli, Chris Carmack and Anthony Hill. Scott Speedman, who was a series regular last year, will return as Nick Marsh but as a recurring character. Jaicy Elliot is also back as Taryn Helm.
Meet the New Interns
As Grey Sloan rejuvenates its medical residency program, a new class of ambitious, wide-eyed interns enters the world for the Grey Sloan docs and residents to train and whip into tip-top shape.
In one of the more major cast shuffles in recent years, Grey's introduces five series regulars -- Crazy Rich Asians' Harry Shum Jr. (Blue), Adelaide Kane (Jules), Midori Francis (Mika), Alexis Floyd (Simone) and Niko Terho (Lucas) -- who will aim to keep the Grey Sloan legacy alive as it enters a new era.
“Ellen has been amazing,” Francis told ET at the Disney Emmys afterparty Monday night. “She gave us the biggest, most warm welcome. She’s also an executive producer. She gave us these beautiful succulent plants welcoming us into the family.”
“She’s been so excited and so positive about keeping the show," she continued, adding that Pompeo will "always be a part" of Grey's, whether she's seen onscreen or not. "She says she’s always gonna be a part of the show, but that also she’s so excited to welcome in this new batch of interns and to keep things fresh and moving."
"We got a cast of 17 people -- many of whom have been here for over a decade -- who the fans love and will continue to be here," Francis said. "There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of good things there.”
Shum agreed with his co-star's sentiments, telling ET in an August sit-down that Pompeo has been "so sweet and she comes in with so much energy and... wonderful advice."
Why Season 19 Is About 'Rebirth'
It'll be a period of transition for Grey's at the start of season 19, but also for the characters. A big looming theme for the upcoming season seems to be new beginnings and second chances, something the new cast members are excited to explore as they hit the ground running.
"This season, the hospital is going through a bit of a rebirth," Floyd teed up in a recent season 19 promo (watch below), with Shum adding that Grey Sloan "is trying to get back to the top." "A second chance, that's a big theme this season for both the interns as well as many of the characters you know and love already," Floyd shared.
Francis promised that viewers won't be disappointed, revealing that it's still signature Grey's "but with an explosion of newness."
Back in May, Pompeo hinted at a Grey's reinvention of sorts as she looks ahead to her future, possibly beyond the show.
"Trying to reinvent the show and continually trying to reinvent the show is the challenge at this point, and listen, the show speaks to a lot of people, and the young people love the show," she told ET at the time. "It's inspired so many generations of healthcare workers, so, I think for the young people, it's a really good piece of content and we're going to try to keep it going for the young people, not necessarily with me, but keep it going beyond me."
Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, Oct. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
This story was originally published on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 9:35 a.m. PT.