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According to Ellen Pompeo, the first 10 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy prompted a “really toxic work environment” off-screen. Due to extremely unhealthy working conditions and diva-like attitudes, Pompeo admits there was “very bad behavior” on set. Keep reading to find out why.

Grey's Anatomy
Grey’s Anatomy | Michael Ansell/Getty Images

Ellen Pompeo talks about the ‘toxic work environment’ on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

In an “actors on actors” interview with Variety, Taraji P. asked the star of the series if she ever wanted to quit Grey’s Anatomy. Pompeo says that there were several times when she tried to “get off the bus” and leave the unhealthy work environment on Shonda Rhimes’ medical series. But after having a kid, she realized that she had someone else to look out for, so she decided to stay on the show to provide for her child.

But if Pompeo was going to stay on the primetime medical drama, she realized drastic changes had to be made. According to the actor, it was her “mission” to change the work environment behind the scenes.

“We had a serious, serious culture problem on Grey’s,” Pompeo revealed in her Variety interview. “I’d say for the first 10 years we had serious, serious cultural issues. Very bad behavior. Really toxic work environment. And I had my daughter in season 6, so that’s when things started to change for me because I had someone other than myself to think about. After season 10, I would say we had some big shifts behind the camera and in front of the camera. It became my goal to turn that set around and have an experience there that I could be happy about and proud about. Because we had so much turmoil for 10 years.”

She then admits that the series was “fantastic to the public, and a disaster behind the scenes.”

Ellen Pompeo explains the ‘drama’ and ‘bad behavior’ behind the scenes

While it’s easy to dismiss some of the actors on Grey’s Anatomy as “divas,” Pompeo thinks that their working conditions ultimately led to the “bad behavior” on set.
“Nobody should be working 16 hours a day, 10 months a year — nobody,” she said in a separate interview with Variety. “And it’s just causing people to be exhausted, pissed, sad, depressed. It’s a really, really unhealthy model.”

“I hope post-COVID nobody ever goes back to 24 or 22 episodes a season,” she continues. “It’s why people get sick. It’s why people have breakdowns, and it’s why actors fight! You want to get rid of a lot of bad behavior? Let people go home and sleep.”

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is a lot better behind the scenes with Debbie Allen


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Pompeo says that the cast and crew of Grey’s Anatomy were “broken” before Debbie Allen came to save the day as the executive producer/director in 2012. According to the actor, Allen created a more positive work environment where they could have time off.

According to Variety, Allen joined the series after Dempsey left, “at a time when we were really broken,” Pompeo revealed. “And so much of our problems were perpetuated by bad male management. Debbie came in at a time when we really, really needed a breath of fresh air and some new positive energy. Debbie really brought in a spirit to the show that we had never seen,” said Pompeo. “We had never seen optimism! We had never seen celebration, and we had never seen joy!”