I don’t want to spoil things or anything for those of you Grey’s Anatomy viewers who’re not on the US schedule, but Isaiah Washington is history as far as the show is concerned.
The news apparently came as a surprise to Washington but if rumormongers speak true (and don’t they always?), all he had to do was keep a ear open and he’d have heard the lack of love loud and clear. Everybody from gossip columnist Ted Casablanca (of The Awful Truth fame) to anonymous posters on sites such as (the now Bravo owned) Television Without Pity have been murmuring for pretty much the entire second half of the third season that Washington was a problem child due to be shipped off to juvie, never to be heard from again.
To backtrack, for those of you missing out on the GA love (and bear with me because, seriously? This is the Friends of our time. Like, seriously! You can’t escape it so you might as well know what it is that everyone’s talking about), Washington plays the scrumptiously, arrogantly, brilliant cardio surgeon Dr. Burke on the medical drama. The big sex symbol of the show, however, is Patrick Dempsey a.k.a. Dr. McDreamy (or Derek Shepard if you want to be all technical about it).
Now, as it turns out, both Washington and Dempsey were in the running for the McDreamy role, which is the defacto lead role in what is really an ensemble cast, by virtue of his relationship with Ellen Pompeo’s character, Meredith Grey (hence, “Grey’s” Anatomy, get it? Cle-ver!). Eventually, the role went to Dempsey – a decision that Washington, who is African American, has openly attributed to the network’s [Disney owned ABC] uneasiness in portraying interracial couples, especially the white woman-black man relationship.
[Note: the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes is an African American who says she follows what some call “blind casting” on GA i.e. she creates characters without assigning a racial profile to them – an uncommon practice. Dempsey was her choice for the role of McDreamy. And if things like that matter to you, then you should also know that Pompeo, who is white, is herself engaged to an African American.]
Anyway, to continue, the show became a huge hit midway through its second season in spite of persistent predictions of shark jumping. Then in the third season, news trickled out that things were not as hunky dory and Friend(s)-ly behind the scenes as they might have been.
Egos and tempers were running high over things such as screen time. Then one day, there was some sort of mixup, the details of which have still not been made clear – and TR Knight, who plays everybody’s favorite bambino, George O’Malley, was late coming on set ( he says he wasn’t paged on time) for a scene he was supposed to film with Washington and Dempsey. Washington, who bills himself as a perfectionist, lost his temper and called/referred to Knight as a “faggot”. Dempsey and Washington then got into a fight over the incident before cooler heads prevailed.
Matters didn’t end there.
Not only is “faggot” the gay equivalent of “nigger”, but Knight was yet to come out in public. Once rumors began to circulate of the on-set dustup, however, he felt his hand was forced and came out to People. In spite of everything, things were swept under the carpet and filming went on per schedule. All for one and one for all and all that.
Enter Ted Casablanca, the gossip columnist who was amongst the first to report on the incident. At the Golden Globes last year, where GA was one of the big winners, Casablanca asked Rhimes in front of the assembled (and visibly uncomfortable) cast whether the rumors were true and all the above had gone down. Before she could collect her wits, Washington leaned across, grabbed her mike and said, “I did not call TR a faggot!”
Pandemonium! He said it again! Okay, it was in the third person but he said it a-g-a-i-n!
Co-star Katherine Heigl, who stars in this summer’s hit Knocked Up, came out in defense of Knight and essentially told Washington to shut it. Knight himself went on Ellen Degeneres’ show and laid it all on the line, including the information that Washington had indeed used the slur. Rhimes and ABC had very little to say. Washington went on to explain himself and his explanations made everything sound about a hundred times worse. The whole thing was turning into a cultural event of sorts.
Mel Gibson was then under fire for his misogynistic, anti-Semitic rant while (Kramer from Seinfeld) had just begun apologizing for his racist tirade against a couple of hecklers who were also black. Washington made it a trifecta of Hollywood people who apparently had no idea that Jews, women, gays and African Americans all play significant roles in their line of work, from producers to viewers.
[Paris Hilton joined the club a little later when video of her talking trash about being a coke whore (big surprise!) and a “nigger” broke. But let’s not talk about the jailbird right now. I’m just recovering from that TMZ-Fox fuelled blitz of Paris mania. Damn, TMZ and Fox together. There’s a sign of the Apocalypse right there!]
The whole thing even made it into the political arena when notorious attention whore Ann Coulter chose to make a “faggot” fuelled dig at Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards.
That, of course, was after Washington “saw the light” and decided to go to rehab to get over his homophobia. Only in Hollywood, folks. Only in Hollywood would that sentence even make sense.
Anyway, so he went to rehab, held talks with gay rights groups and even filmed a PSA about how sticks and stones may break your bones but words can still hurt you or something along those lines. Rhimes and ABC remained tightlipped even if the love of my life, Chandra Wilson a.k.a. The Nazi, chose to shout out to “that other one in rehab” when she won at the Screen Actors Guild Awards later that season.
Now, a good month after the season ended with Washington’s Burke leaving Christina Yang, played by the awesome Sandra Oh, at the altar comes the news that Washington will not return for a fourth season.
On the one hand, this is a crushing blow for GA. Dr. Burke was an integral and riveting part of the show. His relationship with Christina, his neuroses as a doctor and human being, his closest and multi-faceted relationships at the hospital – be it with McDreamy, George or Izzie (the irony!) – were all a significant part of the GA dynamic. Even when I hated how his control freak, sanctimonious ass was behaving with Christina, I was a Burketina shipper.
Secondly, Washington was a wonderful actor. Unlike most of the other members on the cast, he has had a long career in Hollywood where he’s acted with some of the best in the business including Harrison Ford and George Clooney. True, he often played small roles and was usually the thug – one of the reasons, he once said, that he was delighted to play a cardio surgeon on GA. It was a role he devoured with relish. Dempsey was McDreamy but Washington wasn’t exactly lacking in the fan department.
But then he also says things like this:
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
If that sounds familiar or catchy, it’s because it’s ‘inspired’ by Network, an iconic satire about a venal television network that uses an anchorman’s on-air breakdown to fuel ratings. Wait, do you hear that? Yeah, that was Paddy Chayefsky turning over in his grave. And here’s what his publicist had to say:
“If they wanted to fire him,” Bragman asks, “why didn’t they fire him when [the incident] happened? Why did they say, ‘Here’s what you need to do if you want to come back… ‘ and then, when he did everything that was asked of him, he still gets fired. Why do you treat somebody like that?”
“If you made a mistake, you acknowledged the mistake, you went into counseling, you met with the groups, you did the PSA, you did everything that was asked of you, and then they still kick you in the gut? How would you feel?”
How can a man who works in an industry built around image be so clueless? How does he manage to land the one PR agent who basically all but comes out in the open and says his client has absolutely zero sincerity and it’s unfair that he got canned even after he made all the right noises? It’s going to be an enduring mystery to me.
However, interesting as all this is, I do have a larger point to make – one that I’ll make tomorrow. And it has to do with a guy called Musharaff. And it’s not what you think. It’s really not what you think. Watch this space.
[Also published at Blogcritics in slightly altered form]