‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Ellen Pompeo Echoes Katherine Heigl’s Comments on Past Working Conditions: ‘Really, Really Unhealthy’

Fans of Grey’s Anatomy are counting the days until the season 17 premiere. In a recent interview, show star Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey) talked about the long-running medical drama and how it’s evolved since launching in 2005. She also made some remarks that sounded similar to those made by series alum Katherine Heigl back in 2009.

'Grey's Anatomy' star Ellen Pompeo
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Ellen Pompeo | Richard Cartwright/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ drama on and off camera

When Grey’s Anatomy hit the airwaves over 15 years ago, cast members where catapulted to fame. Showrunner and executive producer Krista Vernoff recalled how celebrity status affected some of the up-and-coming actors.

“There was a lot of drama on-screen and drama off-screen,” Vernoff told Variety. “And young people navigating intense stardom for the first time in their lives.”

With co-stars including Isaiah Washington, T.R. Knight, and Katherine Heigl earning less than favorable reputations at the time, Vernoff feels many of the Grey’s Anatomy alums would take a more productive approach today.

RELATED: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ Ellen Pompeo Shares One of Her Most Memorable Scenes With Her ‘Person’ Sandra Oh

“I think that a lot of those actors, if they could go back in time and talk to their younger selves, it would be a different thing,” Vernoff explained. “Everybody’s grown and changed and evolved — but it was an intense time.”

Ellen Pompeo comments on the early days of ‘Grey’s’

While Pompeo wouldn’t discuss her former co-stars, the Grey’s Anatomy matriarch did vent about the show’s brutally rigorous shooting schedule.

“Nobody should be working 16 hours a day, 10 months a year — nobody,” Pompeo emphasized in the Variety interview. “And it’s just causing people to be exhausted, pissed, sad, depressed. It’s a really, really unhealthy model.”

Pompeo attributed the tensions that would arise on set to the prolonged work day.

“I hope post-COVID nobody ever goes back to 24 or 22 episodes a season,” she remarked. “It’s why people get sick – it’s why people have breakdowns. 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’ alum Katherine Heigl called the conditions ‘cruel and mean’

Pompeo’s analysis of the show’s previous hourly agenda sounds close to complaints from a former co-star. Heigl started making waves on Grey’s Anatomy when she withdrew her name from Emmy consideration in 2008, blaming lack of substantial content. Once she began landing film roles, Heigl clearly had one foot out the door of her onscreen hospital.

When promoting her film The Ugly Truth on Late Night with David Letterman in 2009, Heigl made some comments on the show’s grueling schedule.

“Our first day back was Wednesday,” she told Letterman, according to Newsday. “It was — I’m going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them — a 17-hour day, which I think is cruel and mean.” 

RELATED: Why ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ Camilla Luddington Says Her First Scene With Ellen Pompeo Was ‘Legitimately Terrible’

The Grey’s Anatomy alum walked back her comments a bit after ABC put out a terse statement of their own in response. Yet Heigl maintained that the expectations of their workday were unreasonable ,and felt she went to bat for those who didn’t have the opportunity to speak up.

“There were some members of the crew who actually thanked me for saying something,” she recalled, “because they can’t say anything.”

The premiere of Grey’s Anatomy season 17 is scheduled for November 12 on ABC.