'Grey's Anatomy' fans seething over death of 'McDreamy'

Mekeisha Madden Toby
Special to The Detroit News

Detroiter Nicole Sebree is angry with Shonda Rhimes.

The brains behind "Grey's Anatomy" broke Sebree's heart and the hearts of millions of other fans when she killed off Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on last week's devastating installment.

In the episode, the brilliant neurosurgeon saved four lives following a car crash only to be severely injured in a second accident that left him braindead at a hospital with an incompetent staff. After that, Meredith, the love of his life, was forced to make a gut-wrenching call and pull the plug.

Ellen Pompeo, left, who plays Meredith Shepherd, wife of Dr. Derek Shepherd, in “Grey’s Anatomy,” waits after he was declared brain dead..

Now Sebree wants to pull the plug on her TV and possibly stop watching "Grey's Anatomy" all together.

"Really, Shonda? It's bad enough (Dr. Cristina) Yang is gone, but really you're going to kill McDreamy? I'm so mad right now," Sebree said.

"I'm ready to stop watching. I always say Shonda is quick to kill somebody, but not my McDreamy. McSteamy, McDreamy, Little Grey, Izzie, Yang, O'Mally, Hahn, Burke. They are all gone. This is no longer my show."

Thousands of enraged fans have taken to social media and the Internet to lament the loss of McDreamy, played by Patrick Dempsey. There is even a Change.org petition demanding that Rhimes bring back Derek and rewrite the death as a fevered dream. (As of 6 p.m. Monday, the petition had 35,637 signatures.)

Two years ago, Dempsey publicly hinted at a desire to leave the show. Although he had one year left on his contract extension, Rhimes obviously chose to release him sooner.

"Derek Shepherd is and will always be an incredibly important character — for Meredith, for me and for the fans," Rhimes said in an official statement following the episode. "I absolutely never imagined saying goodbye to our 'McDreamy.' Patrick Dempsey's performance shaped Derek in a way that I know we both hope became a meaningful example — happy, sad, romantic, painful and always true — of what young women should demand from modern love. His loss will be felt by all.

"Now, Meredith and the entire 'Grey's Anatomy' family are about to enter uncharted territory as we head into this new chapter of her life. The possibilities for what may come are endless. As Ellis Grey would say: 'the carousel never stops turning.' "

Beginning of the end

Reporters first found out about Dempsey's "Grey's Anatomy" ennui when he was promoting his Velocity channel series "Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans" in 2013.

"I'm not necessarily bored with the show. I'm very grateful that I have a show that's been on for 10 years, but I'm not the creator, I'm not the writer. This I can create," Dempsey said, comparing acting to racing. "It's a trade, quite honestly. And that's fine. When you're on a show, it's about surviving and finding ways to turn yourself on with the material that you're given."

Although Rhimes never addressed Dempsey's comments in the media, she has let it be known that she doesn't tolerate divas on her sets.

For instance, Katherine Heigl won an Emmy for her role as Dr. Izzie Stevens in 2007, but turned down a nomination the following year, telling the Los Angeles Times: "I did not feel that I was given material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination, and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention."

Heigl left the ABC drama in 2010, but when she tried to return two years later, Rhimes rejected her diplomatically.

"It was really nice to hear her appreciating the show," Rhimes told TV Guide in 2012. "We are on a track we have been planning, and the idea of changing that track is not something we are interested in right now."

Actress Sandra Oh, who played Cristina Yang, met with Rhimes in 2013 and the two worked out a friendly and mutually agreed upon exit for the character, free of egos and rumors. A year later, Rhimes applauded her cast on "Scandal" while letting her true feelings about the Heigl brouhaha and difficult talent in general be known.

"There are no Heigls in this situation," Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter. "I don't put up with bull (expletive) or nasty people. I don't have time for it."

What about the fans?

Tangela Ekhoff is a writer and TV enthusiast who hosts a "Scandal" vlog on YouTube. Although she was saddened that McDreamy was killed off "Grey's Anatomy," she said the death reminded her that actors and producers have to get along.

"At the end of the day, it's a business," said Ekhoff, who is based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "If a person is no longer happy, it's best to part ways. I'll miss Patrick Dempsey, but he has been saying he was ready to leave for a while."

Barna Donovan is an author and associate communications professor at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City, New Jersey. He said "Grey's Anatomy" fans' feelings of pain and disappointment are heightened by social media, which gives them a sense of ownership.

"When actors achieve such stardom on a show as actor Patrick Dempsey has, they usually want to stretch and try different roles and other venues — usually big screen opportunities," Donovan said. "However, fandom is also a very powerful psychological phenomenon and very committed fans often develop a possessive relationship with their favorite shows and especially their favorite characters.

"For example, it's interesting to listen to fans talk about a favorite program and hear them often use the term 'my show' or 'my soap.' Fans will also believe that the writers and producers of the show are mere caretakers of a property that rightfully belongs to the community of fans. When the creative team behind the program takes that show in a direction the fans don't like, feelings of outrage and indignation can follow immediately, as is the case with the outpouring of all the anger at Shonda Rhimes."

Grief in all its stages

If you read the Change.org petition to bring back Dr. Derek Shepherd, it's filled with the anger and bargaining aspects of grief. Detroiter and fan Nicole Brown wonders if McDreamy's death is a sign "Grey's Anatomy" needs to end soon.

"I've been a fan since the beginning, because it was smart TV that captured the human spirit at its most raw moments," Brown said. "You fall in love with the characters, but now I'm not sure if the new characters are developed enough to keep me engaged for another season. I personally think it needs to go after next season. At least we have 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away with Murder.' "

Britta Archer of Romulus has moved on to acceptance and wants "Grey's Anatomy" to stick around.

"I'll keep watching. I'm in it for the long haul," said Archer, a musician and film student who has been watching "Grey's Anatomy" since she was 15. "Sometimes big shakeups work on shows, sometimes not. We'll see. McDreamy was a big part of 'Grey's' for me but, ultimately, it's Mer's story and I want to see how she pulls through."

If Cristina Yang returns for Derek's funeral, a sense of closure and acceptance will come.

"If Yang doesn't come back, I'm done," Sebree said. "There's no way you kill Meredith's husband and her best friend, her 'person' doesn't come back."

Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles based TV critic and entertainment reporter.