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Shonda Rhimes Debating 'Private Practice's' Future Beyond 13 Episodes

The showrunner nixes the idea that Kate Walsh could return to "Grey's Anatomy" and says the upcoming sixth season will be "no-holds-barred."

Private Practice Kate Walsh with Baby - H 2012
ABC/KAREN NEAL
"Private Practice's" Kate Walsh

ABC won't confirm that the upcoming sixth season of Private Practice is its final run for a reason: Shonda Rhimes is percolating on what the Kate Walsh medical drama would look like once her star departs.

"I've been told I'm not allowed to approach this as the final season, that the network does not believe that approaching it as the final season is the way they want to go," Rhimes tells The Hollywood Reporter.

STORY: Kate Walsh Confirms Upcoming 'Private Practice' Exit

ABC has ordered 13 episodes of Private Practice and repeatedly said that the series could continue on beyond that, but there's one major hitch in the plan: Walsh.

The actress who has played Dr. Addison Montgomery for more than six seasons when factoring in her time on Grey's Anatomy, where the character originated, confirmed in June that she will depart the California-set spinoff following its first 13 episodes.

The obstacle, Rhimes says, is something she's approaching with an open mind. "If I get some amazing idea that really excites me, then I will go to the network and say we should continue and here's how I'd like to continue," the showrunner says. "If I don't get some amazing idea that excites me, I don't want to go on just for the sake of going on."

The uber-producer hopes Private Practice lightning strikes twice and that an idea she's mulling works out that would see the drama that will hit its 100th-episode mark in September continue on for another run of the same duration.

STORY: 'Private Practice's' Tim Daly Not Returning for Season 6

"I'm percolating something and trying to figure out if it'll work and how I feel about it and what it means," she hints. "I made the show because I love Addison and I wanted to see what else could happen for Addison so I don't want to keep going on unless I have an idea that I'm as excited about that makes me feel like we have 100 more episodes to tell."

While the 13th episode will satisfy fans, Rhimes says she's approaching Season 6 as a "no-holds-barred year, with no two episodes feeling the same.

"We're going to do anything we've ever wanted to do -- ever -- on this show," says Rhimes, showing her enthusiasm for the new season. "We're going to tell every episode as an out-of-the-box episode, so there's not going to be any typical episode of Private Practice. That has been tremendously freeing and we are having more fun than we've ever had telling stories and enjoying the way they're exploding for us, and creating stuff that's truly interesting."

STORY: 'Private Practice's' Shonda Rhimes: Season Finale Will Leave Some Questions Unanswered

While Walsh will be moving on from Private, Rhimes says she's never considered seeing the actress return to her Grey's Anatomy roots. "I think Kate has played Addison for a number of years in a number of ways and I think she's ready to try something new," Rhimes says. "I'd love for Addison to have a lovely ending. That's the plan."

Private Practice was swapped out of its cushy post-Grey's Anatomy time slot last season and moved to Tuesdays following Dancing With the Stars, where following a slow start it improved to best ratings in the time slot year-over-year, earning it an eleventh-hour renewal in May.

How would you like to see the series continue on without Walsh? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Private Practice returns Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit