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Have “Grey’s Anatomy” Viewers Had Enough?

It’s hard to believe, but we’re getting ready for the 14th season of the primetime medical soap opera “Grey’s Anatomy,” which will officially launch on September 28. The show is still going strong after all these years, and still ranks as the #1 ABC primetime drama. Show creator Shonda Rimes and star Ellen Pompeo (who plays Dr. Meredith Grey) have said repeatedly that there are no plans to wind down the series, but there are starting to be signs that the “Grey’s Anatomy” viewers have had enough.

“Grey’s Anatomy” is an anomaly in a Netflix world

Keep in mind, “Grey’s Anatomy” premiered way back in 2005, before the whole idea of binge-watching shows on Netflix became popular. Back then, primetime TV – and especially primetime TV on a Thursday night – was just about the biggest thing that could happen to a show. 14 years ago, it was perfectly normal for a big primetime drama to order 24 episodes and pace them out over a full season.

Flash forward to 2017, though, and the rules of the game have changed. Netflix has made “the binge” a huge part of the cultural mainstream. Shows are meant to be consumed over a lazy weekend, not as “must see TV” during the week. The newest shows coming out of Netflix these days are all 8-, 10- and 12-episode shows. That makes “Grey’s Anatomy” an anomaly in a Netflix world.

Of course, ardent fans of “Grey’s Anatomy” would debate this. Fair enough. There have been plenty of stories documenting how “Grey’s Anatomy” has gotten a second wind after being picked up for streaming by Netflix. The demographics of the show had started to skew older, but the embrace of the show by younger female fans on Netflix has been a godsend. “Grey’s Anatomy” is now the #2 series among viewers 18-to-34, suggesting that the “Netflix effect” has been very real.

In short, viewers who might have been too young to watch the show back in 2005 have heard all the hype and buzz about the show and decided to become fans. With past seasons available on Netflix, it was relatively easy to get “caught up.” Thus, even if “Grey’s Anatomy” had been losing viewers due to general show fatigue, it was more than making up for it by gaining new Netflix viewers. But that leads us to another very important point…

Show creator Shonda Rimes just signed a major new deal with Netflix

See? It is impossible to ignore Netflix in today’s TV world. And that’s exactly what happened in August 2017, when Netflix locked up “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rimes in an exclusive multi-year contract. According to the terms of the deal, Shonda Rimes has agreed that any new shows she creates will be for Netflix as a Netflix Original series. Not only that, but also Shonda Rimes has said in recent interviews that she really likes the idea of creating a 10-episode show, and not a full 24-episode show.

Watch out, here come the “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-offs

The surest signal that a show might have reached its “sell by” date is when the spin-offs start coming. It means that viewers are getting tired of seeing all the old characters and all the old settings over and over again. They want something new. And that’s exactly what’s coming in 2018, with a “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off featuring Seattle firefighters. The show (“Firefighters”) is already attracting buzz, and could be a telling sign that “Grey’s Anatomy” viewers have had enough.

But wait! Haven’t we seen this happen before? Back in 2007, there was a spin-off of “Grey’s Anatomy” called “Private Practice” that ran surprisingly strong from 2007 to 2013. Yes, but that was before actors started to defect from the show. Some of the big-name departures from “Grey’s Anatomy” have included Sandra Oh, who left after 10 seasons, and Patrick Dempsey, who was killed off after 11 seasons.

From what we know, even the show’s actors think that the current version of “Grey’s Anatomy” is getting too “dreary.” Yes, that was the word dropped in an interview about “Grey’s Anatomy” by one of the show’s actors. The idea is that the show is starting to get too focused on death and loss.

From this perspective, the finale of Season 13 – when Seattle Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital got partially destroyed in an explosion – is going to serve as the perfect way to “refresh” the set so that things look younger and lighter. There is a growing realization that the only people who are going to be watching the show very soon are going to be older people with their own medical problems and situations, and that’s something “Grey’s Anatomy” needs to avoid.

“Why walk away from a hit?”

There are two schools of thought when it comes to pop culture (or for just about anything, for that matter). One is that you should keep things going as long as possible, as long as things are working. The other is that you should always try to go out on top.

Think of it from the perspective of professional sports – yes, it’s nice to see the graying 40-year-old hang on for one last season in baseball, but it’s also sad to see the deterioration in skills. From that perspective, it’s better to hang up the spikes when you’ve just had a stellar, MVP season. That’s the way fans want to remember you – not as some injury-riddled part-time player riding out a long legacy.

The same thing is true of “Grey’s Anatomy.” This show is still a primetime juggernaut. It’s still #1 in so many ways. But all the telltale signs are there that things might be falling apart. There are the big star departures (god, we still miss Katherine Heigl!), the upcoming spin-offs, and the changing TV landscape created by Netflix.

Star actress Ellen Pompeo has publicly questioned, “Why walk away from a hit?” Well, the answer is simple: it’s better to go out on top. 14 years is an incredible run, and huge props go to show creator Shonda Rimes for creating one of the best shows ever to appear on primetime TV. But “Grey’s Anatomy” viewers are starting to disappear, and some of them have simply had enough.

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