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Grey’s Anatomy’ Star, Ellen Pompeo’s Fight to Become the Highest Paid Actress on a Primetime Drama

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American actress and producer Ellen Pompeo became the highest-paid actress on a prime time drama in 2017. Before attaining her historic breakthrough, the actress won a daunting battle against all odds.

Ellen Pompeo’s long walk to Hollywood success was filled with thorns and daggers. The actress scaled through the ordeal successfully, emerging as one of the most successful movie icons of all time.

The star attained her major break in 2017, becoming the highest-earning actress in a prime time Drama. She accomplished the feat thanks to her role as Meredith Grey in the ABC medical drama series, “Grey’s Anatomy.”

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Pompeo, who landed the role in 2005, starred in the series for sixteen episodes. Becoming a fan-favorite in the drama had little to do with being the title character, as she displayed outstanding acting prowess with which she captured hearts for over fifteen years.

Therefore, when the 50-year-old actress secured her raise in 2017, many considered it long overdue.


Ellen Pompeo has been open about her journey to achieving her highest-paid actress status. The icon gave the credits to “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, whose advice empowered her to fight for what she deserved.

Rhimes rose to prominence by abiding by her principles of endeavoring to “go in hard and ask for the world,” when negotiating without doubt or remorse. Inspired by the showrunner’s dramatic success, Pompeo overcame her uncertainties and demanded the deal she deserved. Admittedly, she had a little nudge from Rhimes who advised her saying:

“Decide what you think you are worth and then ask for what you think you are worth. Nobody is just going to give it to you.”

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That was the dealbreaker for the “Grey’s Anatomy” star. Although hesitant at first, Pompeo took the bold step after going through the stats of how much her show generated for ABC. With a yearly average of $3 billion, she knew she deserved a piece of the fortune.

Not long after relaying her terms to ABC and standing firmly by her demands, Ellen Pompeo scored a deal of $575,000 per episode, along with other bonuses, which amounted to over $20 million annually.


Before securing her nine-figure contract, Pompeo was far from being successful. The actress admitted she was so broke at one time to the point of being clueless on how to afford the rent.

Pompeo, who grew up in the Boston suburb, struggled as an upcoming actress since making her screen debut in 1996. Her breakthrough role came in 2002 with the drama, “Moonlight Mile.” Two years after shining in the drama, her acting career began heading downhill.

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The start of her success came with landing a role in the medical drama in 2005. Recounting her first introduction to the show, Pompeo revealed how she initially turned down the role when her agent first showed her the script and almost got replaced.

According to the star, getting stuck in a medical drama for five years was not something she wanted to bargain for as an actress. However, the pressing need to pay the rent exposed her to reason, and she took the part. Who would have thought 14 years later that Ellen Pompeo’s role as Meredith Grey would make the icon into one of the most renowned actresses, and a top earner?


For Ellen, the exit of her “Grey Anatomy” co-star, Patrick Dempsey in 2015, was a defining moment. Aside from eliminating possible leverage against her, it made the television star realize her worth in the industry.

Landing her 2017 deal was admittedly not the first time the actress demanded a raise since getting cast in the series. She recalled how on one occasion, she attempted to demand a $5,000 raise above Dempsey’s earnings. 

Dempsey was at the time earning more than she was despite being the movie’s star and title character. Like every other time, ABC declined her request, implying she was not relevant on the show since Dempsey was available.

Going further, Pompeo recalled relaying her concerns to Patrick Dempsey on occasions and prompting him to join her in negotiating a new deal with ABC. He declined every time until he left the show.


Ellen Pompeo’s character, Meredith Grey, was the protagonist in the ABC series, “Grey’s Anatomy.” 

The medical drama series, which premiered in 2005, introduced Dr. Meredith Grey as a surgical intern at the Seattle Grace hospital. In later seasons, she attained the position of a surgical resident and progressed to an attending.

In the 12th season, Meredith grey rose to the position of Chief of General Surgery at the hospital. She has maintained the post to date.

Grey had a flair for doing what she deemed right, an act which saved the day in many episodes. 

Ellen Pompeo starred as the heroine for 16 seasons, with her performance garnering critical acclaim and widespread acceptance. It is almost impossible to picture anyone else taking up the role.

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