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Is Patrick Dempsey prepping a return to primetime?

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Kelsey McNeal/ABC

McDreamy fans may not have to wait that long for the return of their beloved Patrick Dempsey: EW has learned the Grey’s Anatomy actor is making the rounds in the TV industry in an effort to find his next gig.

“It’s very normal for an actor who has been on a show for a long time to take meetings, to get reacquainted with other studios and network execs,” says one high-level studio exec, who’s looking forward to sitting down with Dempsey.  “It’s just what you do. You never know when that dream project is gonna fall In your lap.”

That could come sooner than expected. Multiple sources say there’s still plenty of time for the 49-year-old actor to join a new or returning show—assuming it’s the right fit. “Not too late at all,” says one network casting exec. “I can definitely see him ending up on something in the fall.”

And why wouldn’t a network find a way to hire Dempsey? Adding the former Derek Shepherd to a call sheet could add a much-needed shot of adrenaline to an existing show that’s lost its mojo. His massive popularity could also help launch a new series, especially given the number of (female) fans who feel lost without their McDreamy. Already, more than 100,000 have signed a Change.org petition demanding his return to Grey’s Anatomy. The actor, who became a household name when he joined the ABC drama in 2005, was killed off in the show’s April 23 episode.

Dempsey told EW last month that he’s eager to see what else is out there—but he’s also worried that his McDreamy persona could get in the way.

“I want to try something different. But will I be allowed to do something different?” he told EW. “Is Derek so identifiable that I can’t go on and be someone else? That will be the challenge. To see if people embrace me as someone else.”

That won’t be the only challenge. There is some concern that pervasive rumors regarding Dempsey’s on-set behavior at Grey’s could put a damper on his job search. (The actor was only in year one of a two-year contract extension that he signed in 2014, which fueled speculation that behind-the-scenes drama may have led to his early dismissal.) While the high-level studio exec told EW a “good actor is a good actor” so the focus should remain on what Dempsey can bring to a new or existing series, other producer-writers worry about the baggage he could bring to a new set.

“Any actor who provides more drama on set than he does on camera is a non-starter with me,” says one uber-producer with a new drama debuting this fall on broadcast TV—before adding, “And by non-starter, I mean up until the network says I have to hire him.”

Notes an Emmy-winning writer, “I think Patrick Dempsey is really talented and comes off as extremely likable. He had his career-defining role in McDreamy, which played to all his strengths, but ultimately he isn’t worth it.”

Dempsey’s rep has denied reports of on-set friction with Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes.

In the meantime, Dempsey hopes to hone his producing skills with two small-screen projects. He’s got a drama called The Limit for SundanceTV, which he describes as “Mad Men in the racing world in the 1960s,” and a travelogue spy thriller called Fodors

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