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Shonda Rhimes on Patrick Dempsey’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Exit: ‘Derek Had to Die’

TCA 2015: ‘Scandal,’ ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ producer refuses to answer questions about legacy

Shonda Rhimes talked Tuesday about the buzz-generating way that she wrote Patrick Dempsey off of “Grey’s Anatomy” last season, but declined to comment on whether she felt her shows had helped create a more diverse television landscape.

“The decision to have the character die the way that he did was not a difficult one in the sense that look at the options,” Rhimes said of the decision to kill Dempsey’s character, the husband of the show’s lead Meredith Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo. “Either Derek was going to walk out on Meredith … to me that was untenable. Meredith and Derek’s love had to remain Meredith and Derek’s love.” For Dempsey, who wanted to leave the series, to depart without impacting fans’ perception of the characters’ relationship, “Derek had to die in order for that love to ream honest.”

Rhimes appeared on  a TCA panel celebrating the three fall Thursday-night ABC shows she executive produces–“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder. She was joined onstage by her Shondaland producing partner Betsy Beers, “Murder” creator Pete Nowalk, “Murder” star Viola Davis, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington and Pompeo.

Asked about whether he success with “Murder” and “Scandal”–shows led by African-American actresses–had made television a more welcoming place, Rhimes repeatedly demurred, despite having the question rephrased and asked again to her.

Finally she said, “It’s a lovely thing that you’re saying, but I’m not answering that.”

Davis, asked about her historic Primetime Emmy Award nomination for best actress, dismissed the importance of awards. But she talked about how rare the opportunity to play strong leading roles has bee for African-America performers.

“It speaks to the quality of the narrative that people who give awards are woken up,” she said. “Often times I’m the third girl from the left. You may have the talent of a Meryl Streep or a Julianne Moore, but the role of the spear-carrier. When that happens, nobody can see you shine.”

She added, “Shonda’s very modest, and Pete is equally as modest, but they let us shine.”