They're dropping like flies at Grey's Anatomy (Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC). Chyler Leigh (who played Lexie) and Kim Raver (who played Teddy) were last seen in season 8's finale. And the season 9 premiere saw the departure of Eric Dane (who played Mark "McSteamy" Sloan).
Why have three major characters been shown the door? Sources told E!'s Kristin Dos Santos that "the network requested budget tightening for the series going into the current season, and [exec producer Shonda] Rhimes was forced to cut down on the cast."
Dos Santos reports that Leigh and Raver had been itching to go anyway, so Lexie's death-by-plane crash and Teddy's decision to leave Seattle Grace weren't too difficult. But as for Dane, Dos Santos says that "according to insiders, he did not ask to leave the show." No doubt his star status carried a hefty paycheck, and dropping him would add a good chunk of change to the show's coffers.
Back in July, Rhimes offered the news of his departure as a mutual decision. In a statement to TV Line, Rhimes said that Dane "did not come to this decision lightly, but after much consideration and conversations, he and I have decided that this is the right time for his storyline to end." She also called Mark Sloan "one of the most beloved characters on Grey's Anatomy." And in fact, the season 9 premiere served as a tribute to that fact.
The episode begins a month after the finale's plane crash. Zipping past the details of the disaster's aftermath, the new season opens one month later. It's the day that a comatose Sloan, who's still battling internal injuries, will be taken off life support. (His living will has directed docs to keep him alive via machines for only 30 days.)
The episode unfolds with various characters going about their work, dealing with the changed atmosphere that the plane crash has wrought. Meanwhile, Sloan lies silently in a hospital room. But his deathbed scenes invariably lead to flashbacks of McSteamy from past seasons. They are full of heart (either light-hearted or heart-felt), and they showcase the lovable aspect of this endearing rogue.
Next week, the show will return in time to the day of the crash and its aftermath. Viewers will learn how Sloan ended up in a coma, as well as the events that led to the surviving doctors' problems. Arizona's (Jessica Capshaw) leg has been amputated; Cristina (Sandra Oh) has taken a surgical job in Minnesota for which she is ill-fitted, Derek (Patrick Dempsey) is dealing with his injured hand (and its implications for his professional usefulness); and a grieving Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) is tormenting the new interns.
Did you miss the season premiere? If so, watch the full episode here: