'Grey's Anatomy Season 17: How the Show Got Patrick Dempsey to Return

Grey's Anatomy Season 17 had teased that it would see a familiar face return, but few fans were expecting the return of Dr. Derek Shepherd, aka McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey). In Grey's Anatomy Season 17, Episode 2, titled "The Center Won't Hold," Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) collapsed in the hospital parking lot after two episodes of COVID-19-related stress. In her dream, she was on a beach alongside her former lover, who died on the ABC show in 2015.

Speaking to Deadline, Grey's showrunner Krista Vernoff said: "Once we determined that we were doing the pandemic, [we wanted] to also bring joy, and escape, and fan candy, and all the things that at Grey's Anatomy we give people.

"We give them romance, and we give them humor, and we give them joy, and a lot of that is lacking for the medical community in this pandemic. And so, I was walking on the beach one day, and I was like, what if there's a Meredith dream motif?"

She later added: "I called Ellen, and I said, what if we bring back, I don't know, some dead character that you could dream of on the beach, that would be so fun for the fans.

greys anatomy patrick dempsey
'Grey's Anatomy' Season 17 featured the return in a dream sequence of Patrick Dempsey. ABC

"And she said, let's get Patrick. Even in my most excitable dream life, that thought hadn't occurred to me as an option, and there it was."

Dempsey had previously mocked the idea that he could ever return to the show. Speaking to i News in 2018, for example, he said: "Fans of the show are constantly coming up to me," the actor says. What do they want? A medical consultation? No, they want me to come back to the show which, given what happened to Derek, is really quite funny."

However, Pompeo revealed that she was able to persuade him while hiking with the actor. She told Deadline: "The idea just struck me so I just said to him, would you ever consider coming and being a part of the storytelling this season?

"I know that Patrick has his foundation in Maine where he helps cancer patients and cancer survivors, and that's a huge effort of his, and I know that it's important to him, also, to give people hope, and give people joy, and we wanted to bring something to this moment."

Dempsey, meanwhile, said of his return: "Ellen's like, let's get together, I want to go over a couple things, I want to catch up.

"We hadn't spoken or been together for a while. It was a great opportunity to catch up and say, OK, what can we do for all the frontline responders? I've been tracking what Grey's had been doing with giving masks, and making sure that people had the right equipment, and it came from that place—OK, what can we do to make people feel better, to give some comfort in this time of uncertainty."

Not only did McDreamy return for a cameo at the end of the two-part Season 17 premiere of Grey's, but the actor is also set to come back for the next episode, set to air on Thursday, November 19 on ABC.

Vernoff had previously teased that someone from the past of Grey's Anatomy would be back for this season. She told Entertainment Tonight: "It's an ongoing effort and if I can make it happen, it'll be exciting...And if I can't make it happen, we have other exciting things happening."

Grey's Anatomy Season 17 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT on ABC.