ABC Boss Defends Patrick Dempsey's 'Grey's Anatomy' Departure

Paul Lee tells reporters at TCA that it was "great" to see the show "so relevant" and expects it to go on for years to come.

ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee met the press Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, and the first question he faced was about the decision to kill off Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepard on Grey's Anatomy.

Read more 'Grey's Anatomy' Shocker: Star Patrick Dempsey Exits

Dempsey, who had a year remaining on his contract, shockingly was written out of Grey's Anatomy during the 21st episode of season 11. The hour, titled "How to Save a Life" in a nod to the show's unofficial theme song, was the first episode written by showrunner Shonda Rhimes since the season eight finale in which series regulars Chyler Leigh (Lexie) and Kim Raver (Teddy) were written out.

See more'Grey's Anatomy's' Famous Departures

"It was great to see Grey's Anatomy so relevant and taking the national conversation in its 11th season," he said. "It was a difficult decision. Patrick has lots of interests outside, he's very big in motorsports. ... We've seen the pitch for Grey's for next season. The show reinvents itself again. [Rhimes] really is a remarkable showrunner. We have no reason to suspect Grey's Anatomy won't go on for many, many years to come."

Grey's Anatomy returns for its 12th season in September. The contract for leading lady Ellen Pompeo (Meredith) is up at the end of the season, while co-star Jessica Capshaw (Arizona) singed a new three-year deal to remain on through May 2018.