If the season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” left viewers wondering which characters they might not see again, now they know: On Friday, ABC Studios confirmed that Isaiah Washington, who played Preston Burke on the popular ABC series, has been let go. All of the other series regulars — including Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight, whose public statements had also fueled speculation about their futures on the show — will be back.
Washington had been on an apology tour since January, when he used a homophobic slur after the show had won a Golden Globe for best drama.
The actor, who is filming a movie in Los Angeles, learned the studio had not picked up his contract option on Thursday afternoon when the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, called him to tell him, his publicist, Howard Bragman said Friday. Rhimes was very upset and cried during the conversation, said Bragman, who added that the actor was very surprised by the decision. (Attempts to reach Rhimes, both through ABC Studios and directly, were unsuccessful.)
“We did everything that was asked of us,” Bragman said of the dismissal. “If they were ultimately going to let him go, why did they have us jump through these hoops?”
Bragman was referring to the fact that Washington checked into a residential treatment center for anger management counseling, had met with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and had taped public service announcements that began airing recently in which he spoke out against homophobia.
Bragman said there were never explicit promises that Washington would keep his job if he publicly addressed his problems, but “we didn’t do them with the belief that we were going to do them and get kicked off.”
Washington’s future with “Grey’s” was first called into question when reports leaked out in October of an on-set altercation with costar Patrick Dempsey, during which he reportedly referred to fellow cast member Knight as a “faggot.” In January, in front of reporters backstage at the Golden Globes, Washington denied the incident, but repeated the word in the process, causing another uproar.
Bragman said Washington was unavailable for comment on Friday, and issued a statement on the actor’s behalf quoting from the movie “Network:” “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
Sources close to “Grey’s” were puzzled by the statement, since the issue at hand is seemingly the actor’s temper. Those sources, who requested anonymity because ABC Studios and the network did not want to elaborate, said that although no one associated with the show was happy about the decision, they felt they had no other choice.
“The way they treated him, anybody would be angry in that situation,” Bragman responded.
At press time, GLAAD officials declined to comment. But Michael Jensen, editor of the gay media website Afterelton.com, offered a mixed reaction: “ABC finally did the right thing. But it’s way too late. They should have done this back in the beginning.”
NAACP officials are expected to comment but were waiting to hear from Stephen McPherson, ABC entertainment president, along with Washington and GLAAD officials. The civil rights organization recently honored “Grey’s” with one of its Image awards and had a photo of Washington posted on its website.
The casting change, said a source close to “Grey’s,” would allow writers to “freshen up” the show, echoing Rhimes’ posting on its website after May’s finale:
“So that’s it,” Rhimes wrote. “I did my level best to burn it all down this season, to burn it to the ground so that we can have a place to build from next season. Burning it down was hard. But next season oh, next season is all about the fun and the pain and the new beginnings.”
Staff writers Martin Miller and Mary McNamara contributed to this report.