'Grey's Anatomy' Star Praises Katherine Heigl's Exit From Series

Ellen Pompeo didn't hesitate to share a delayed defense and some praise for former co-star Katherine Heigl. The actress' infamous exit from Grey's Anatomy back in 2010 grabbed headlines and seemed to poison Heigl's career, labeling her difficult. A decade removed, it seems Pompeo feels that Heigl was spot on when she complained about the show's working conditions before her exit.

"I remember Heigl said something on a talk show about the insane hours we were working. And she was 100 percent right," Pompeo said on the latest episode of her Tell Me podcast. "Had she said that today, she'd be a complete hero."

According to Entertainment Tonight, Heigl's appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2009 featured sharp criticism of the "17-hour" workdays on the medical drama, calling the conditions "cruel and mean." Pompeo covers the reaction at the time on the podcast.

"But she's ahead of her time, made a statement about our crazy hours and, of course, let's slam a woman and call her ungrateful. When the truth is, she's 100 percent honest and it's absolutely correct what she said," Pompeo continued. "She was f-ing ballsy for saying it. And she was telling the truth. She wasn't lying."

As Pompeo adds, the conditions on the show did improve after Heigl's exit. As a producer on the series, the longtime star can push to make changes and enjoy a better schedule than the older days. "I'm very lucky now with my schedule on Grey's. I get to cut back. And overall I'm happy for the production as a whole, because we have cut back tremendously," Pompeo added. "Back in the day, we used to do crazy, crazy hours. That alone will make you insane."

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As ET notes, Heigl was labeled as difficult due to the comments and her decision to remove herself from Emmy consideration for the show. She spoke about the period during a 2021 chat with The Washington Post. "I may have said a couple of things you didn't like, but then that escalated to 'she's ungrateful,' then that escalated to 'she's difficult,' and that escalated to 'she's unprofessional,'" Heigl told the outlet, highlighting the toll it took on her career. Heigl also expanded on her mental health struggles that coincided with the backlash. "I asked my mom and my husband to find me somewhere to go that could help me because I felt like I would rather be dead. I didn't realize how much anxiety I was living with until I got so bad that I had to really seek help. You can do a lot of inner soul work, but I'm a big fan of Zoloft," Heigl said.

While her character did earn a mention last season, don't expect to see Heigl return to Grey's Anatomy along with some of the other surprises we've seen in recent seasons. She is as gone as former co-star Sandra Oh at this point and seems happier for it. "I would never say never but it's not likely," the actress told ET.