7 reasons why 'Grey’s Anatomy,' now 15, has outlasted 'ER'

David Oliver

As a “Grey’s Anatomy” fan, I am used to hearing an exhausting and easily Google-able question: “Is that show still on?”

Yes, it is. "Grey's Anatomy" premiered on ABC on March 27, 2005, so it's now 15 years old.

Last year , the series surpassed "ER" as prime time's longest-running medical drama.

Sure, it’s not the ratings behemoth it once was, and most of the many original characters have left the show through dying or otherwise (but mostly dying). But the “Grey’s” pulse keeps beating anyway, and it doesn’t need a defibrillator to resuscitate storylines each season. Here’s why:

1. An inexhaustibly large cast 

"Grey's Anatomy" is set at Seattle's Grey Sloan Memorial hospital (its latest name, anyway), and focuses on members of a surgical residency program. These programs train surgeons before they scatter to other hospitals. Someone can always get a job and leave, so it's easy to write someone out (though, on the show, people tend to stick around awhile).

More:Ellen Pompeo on 'Grey’s Anatomy' landmark episode, Ariana Grande video and Sandra Oh's emails

Of course, it would be boring if the only way characters exited the series was by job-hopping. Creator Shonda Rhimes has killed off so many it's become the butt of jokes.

2. The willingness of its leading lady to keep going

Ellen Pompeo, bless her heart, has played Dr. Meredith Grey for 15 seasons. She's carried the show since its inception, first as an intern and now a rock-star attending general surgeon.

There's something gratifying in seeing someone go through the lowest of lows (the death of her husband) and the highest of highs (winning a coveted surgical award). 

Ellen Pompeo in ABC's 'Grey's Anatomy.'

3. The show evolves for the current climate

Just like "Law & Order," if you've seen it in headlines, chances are you've seen it on "Grey's." The series has featured storylines about everything from gender reassignment surgery to the reverberating effects of racism. This isn't limited to patient cases: Last season, writers tackled the #MeToo movement head on with a plot featuring prestigious surgeon Harper Avery (Chelcie Ross). After his onscreen death, it was revealed that a group of women he sexually harassed signed NDAs.

4. Resurgence on streaming

Thanks to Netflix, Hulu and other services, fans can discover and binge on all kinds of series. In the case of "Grey's Anatomy," viewers have a whole lot to catch up on − and they're doing it anyway. Younger viewers have been introduced to the series through Netflix. This helped keep "Grey's" as ABC's top-rated drama until another medical drama, "The Good Doctor," came along in fall 2017.

5. It's reliable

You know what to expect when you're watching "Grey's": Feelings, feelings and feelings. Despite all the cast shakeups, there's never a shortage of personal and professional-driven drama to raise the stakes for characters old and new. What "Grey's" has going for it over "This Is Us" or a daytime soap is life-or-death consequences at every turn, making the romances amid the trauma that much more hopeful (and steamy).

Meredith has been in a number of different flirtations and has dated since husband Derek Shepherd's (Patrick Dempsey) death in season 11, and is now pursuing Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti). 

6. The wackiest plots imaginable

Meredith (and, evidently, Pompeo) has been put through the wringer: She's survived a drowning, a shooting, a plane crash, complications from pregnancies and an assault. Who could forget when she put her hand in a body cavity with a bomb in it? She's also learned of three half-sisters she didn't know about until adulthood − Molly (Mandy Siegfried), Lexie (Chyler Leigh) and Maggie (Kelly McCreary). And  she faced emotional trauma from a disapproving, Alzheimer's-ridden mother and a dad who abandoned her.

And that's just Meredith. Izzie cut Denny's LVAD wire? The John Doe who got hit by a bus was George? Owen's sister isn't dead after all? First and foremost, "Grey's" is a soap, and in that vein it mines the past for "hidden secrets." Sure, the Maggie reveal was apparently in the works for a while, but choosing to keep Richard and Ellis's love child a secret for 10 seasons gave the show a creative boost.

7. Hope for the future

Despite all the trauma, our favorite characters (and especially Meredith) come back stronger week after week, season after season. And that helps us deal with our own personal demons and put them in context. There's something poetic about it all, as Meredith's voiceovers provide a comforting constant.

The show eventually will get canceled, no doubt when Pompeo and Rhimes mutually agree it will end. Pompeo's Meredith is key to the series' longevity, so when she leaves it'll be time to pull the show's plug.