Will Washington Controversy, ABC's Late Reaction Hurt Grey's Anatomy?

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It's been almost two weeks since the Isaiah Washington controversy exploded a second time, and while the actor has not been fired by ABC, reflections on his behavior continue to circulate.

Why was it not addressed by the network sooner? What does it suggest about the working culture of entertainment these days? Most importantly, can Grey's Anatomy weather the storm?

Below is an article appearing this week in USA Today that chronicles the incident's aftermath, and explains why it was initially downplayed, and that Grey's Anatomy can still survive the situation. For another take on the issue, which some say falls into the typical - and insufficient - pattern of entertainment industry remorse, check out Entertainment Weekly.


There's no question that ABC's biggest show has been hurt by its shamefully tardy public response to Isaiah Washington's now-infamous October outburst, which the show initially buried under a veil of vague apologies.

Will Washington Controversy, ABC's Late Reaction Hurt Grey's Anatomy?
But TV has a long history of nurturing, exposing and then forgiving shameful backstage behavior in a burst of PR-inspired public repentance â€" and never mind the possible damage done to the viewing experience.

Much of this tawdry process could have been avoided had the network and the producers responded more forcefully when Washington, who plays Dr. Preston Burke in the hit drama, first used a homophobic slur to refer to co-star T.R. Knight. But that isn't what occurred.

Instead, they waited until the angry reaction to his repetition of the insult at the Golden Globes forced their hand â€" sending the troubled actor to a meeting with gay leaders and now, apparently, to a stint of counseling.

Had they dealt with the problem the first time, the show would have been spared weeks of bad publicity that has left fans wondering if the stars will ever play nice together again.

And make no mistake, playing nice is all that's required. Despite all the nonsense casts feed the press about being one big, happy family, actors don't have to be best friends and often aren't.

Vivian Vance and William Frawley bickered throughout I Love Lucy, setting a lack-of-love pattern that remains to this day. They're actors; their job is to convey emotion, not live it.

They do, however, have to be able to keep their animosity off camera and under control. More than one actor has been smoked out of a series because his or her co-stars had to be forced to share scenes at gunpoint.

Apparently, Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes is convinced her actors can get along, because if she thought Washington's continued employment would hurt her show, he would be fired by now. Despite the rush in some quarters to show Washington the door, Rhimes' wait-and-see approach may prove to be wisest.

Yes, Rhimes should have rebuked her star more swiftly than she did. But on a social level, we're better served by a publicly repentant Washington preaching tolerance than by an unemployed Washington claiming mistreatment.

What's more, on an artistic level, his loss would damage one of TV's best shows. To think otherwise is to buy into the mistaken notion that talent is near universal and instantly replaceable.

Last week's Grey's Anatomy shows how valuable Washington is to the series.

The episode (which was shot before the Golden Globe Awards debacle, as was this week's "Great Expectations") included a lovely scene between Burke and Knight's George O'Malley that played off the unexpected and still-vital friendship the show has built around these two very different characters.

It was possible to look at the great scene through a current-headline lens and find it unconvincing. But it wasn't possible to read discomfort or discord into the actors' performances. And as long as that continues, the audience will eventually fall in line.

Think of the stories of brutal backstage squabbles at Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Martin, Sex and the City and other shows. If viewers could push reality aside in those cases, they surely can do it here.

In a way, Grey's Anatomy may have an easier time with viewer perceptions because Dr. Burke has always had a snappish streak. Although he's admirable in many ways, Burke has a habit of saying hurtful things to his colleagues, most recently Derek and Cristina.

It's not beyond the realm of possibility that somewhere down the line, the character may have to face his own anger management issues.

Until then, let's look at the one bright side. Had word come out 20 years ago that a TV star had been called a homosexual, it's the gay actor whose career would have been over. Now, it's the bigot who's in danger.

That, at least, is a healthy sign.

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.


quisiera conocer mas de Lucy Award.
gracias por la atencion TK


He is Dr Preston Burke. As Isaiah Washington, He already admit he made a mistake to T.R. Let him go. Let Dr Preston Burke continues his wonderful job as a surgeon at Seattle Grace. End of discussion.


mr washington is not perfect.nor is anyone else.he screwed up.he asked forgivness.let it go.his responsabilitey is to himself.you all cant say you have never uttered a slur against someone..fat people black people white people gay or strait.how about rednecks southern people yankees northren people hollywood types.the point i am trying to make is you who are without sin cast the first stone.


I have seen many interviews he done since the beginning of the show and they have all been about how proud he is to be on a show that promote diversity not because they overtly promote it but because it just is diverse. How proud he is to work with Shonda Rhimes and the cast and about how he wants to be respectful of the people who turn in week after week. So, as you can imagine I find it hard that someone who repeatedly speaks so passionately about his belief in the show actually meant to hurt the people who help him bring this story to life. I think we have to reasonably judge a person as a whole not just for a situation that may have been a terrible mistake. People say things all the time in the heat of anger (WRONG AS THEY MAY BE) not because they mean it. He should be given the opportunity to make amends and if he can get a better grasp on his anger as a result of this than a lot of good can come from this. The fact that we are having an open discussion about the issues of tolerance and how powerful name calling can be are the goods but it seems no one is telling that side of the story. NOW THAT IS THE REAL ISSUE...


Kathleen Johnson, I bet u are not black due to the insensitivity with which u refer to the sixties. Some people have been killed for being gay, how many were killed for being black. PPle say one can not help being gay, but if you felt it would hurt you, you could choose not to disclose. Please tell me how a black person can ever hide the fact that they are black to avoid mistreatment, when u can do that, then I would agree with you that being black is the same as being gay. Stay on the topic please and try not to make sweeping remarks about very painful past experiences others have had which you can never understand.
As for Brian's post, you might want to read transcripts of what Michael Richards said, it was more than just the N word. Try not to equate unequal issues, especially when they are beyond your realm.
On the Issue of IS and TR, we need to let tolerance and respect for others be the rule of the day. This is the land of the free, you cannot impose beliefs on people. You can insist that they treat others well reagardless of their differences and I think IW is making that effort and deserves a break.


BB you are a wise, wise woman! There was someone on CCN that made a comment about knowing the difference between a racial or homophobic slur and an insensitive comment, and that we don't have the right to label people without knowing them. People need to step back and evaluate themselve, too.


Sarah, I so completely disagree with your statements and your logic that it is almost impossible to put into words. How do you know Isaiah lied? How do you know? Is it because TR went on Ellen and said he overheard the word fzzzt? How do you now that TR is telling the truth? How do you know that he heard correctly? You are making many assumptions based on very little knowledge and an appauling lack of tolerance yourself. Let's say that Isaiah did in fact say, I am not a f-word like TR. What did he mean by that? Do you now? Do you know the context in which he used the term? Was he referring to TR's character that has been on multiple occasions labeled as gay on the show? Was it because TR allows PD to walk around the set like a God coming and going as he choses regardless of who is keeps waiting. Could he have been referring to the fact that TR acts like a f-word where PD is concerned and have had nothing whatsoever to do with TRs actual sexual preference? Why do you assume Isaiah lied when he said, "I did not call TR Knight a fxxxx"? Could he have meant he did not call him that to his face as a way of hurting and humilitating him? He did not say he did not use the word. He said he didn't call TR that word. There is a difference. I do not believe Isaiah LIED. I believe that two grown men have a difference of opinion about what occurred back in October and one of the grown men just doesn't want to let go of the incident, forgive, forget, and move on. That is childish and self serving. If TR was not ready to come out publicly than keep your mouth shut and don't go to the media and tell the world that you are gay. No one forced him to do that. He could have denied it if he chose or simply ignored it. He decided that it was time to make an example of his castmate. And in doing so he made Isaiah a victim so there definitely is a poor Isaiah involved here. In terms of the incident you refer to, this was a costume handler who came out of the wood work years later to report this incident at a time that it would be monetarily advantageous to do so. No one knows that this occurred. It is this man's story. No arrest was made, no charges on file. Where is this man's proof, or do we just accept it as fact with no proof? Where is innocent until proven guilty? There are just as many people who claim that Isaiah is wonderful to work with including James Pickens, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Sandra Oh. You should not put too much stock in things you read in the National Inquirer or articles published in other media that use "facts" printed in the National Inquirer for their source unless you are ready to believe that President Bush is leaving Laura for Condoleeza Rice. All parties involved will need to earn back respect and trust not just Isaiah. Isaiah made an error. He apologized. I hope they can all forgive each other and move on for the good of the show and just because that is what people should do. If you hold on to every wrong or perceived wrong done to you it would be a very miseable life. Let's hope TR Knight understands that. Isaiah is a victim of a horrible pro gay media campaign. He is not the first person to call someone a name and will not be the last. It happens. It isn't murder, rape, child molestation, or any of a dozen horrible crimes. It was a stupid thing to do, but it did not warrant this outrage. Find me one example in print or anywhere else of Isaiah being anti-gay prior to the use of this one word in an on set argument that was suppose to be a closed set? I will bet you that you can't. Still the media wants to paint Isaiah as a homophobe. This is rubbish. Isaiah needs to not say anything more about this in public. He has apologized. The leaders of the gay community have accepted his apology and public stated they believe in his sincerity. Still people continue to doubt it. Why? We weren't there we don't know what was said or in what spirit. Those that were present who have the most at stake believe it was sincere. TR and KH need to not speak about this in public any longer either. They need to be focusing their energies on repairing relationships. They all do. To do anything less is cheating the fans of GA.


Sarah- I just wanted to say that I completely agree with you. My question is this do you think that he only recognized that he did something wrong because everyone else did? And do you think that he has only gone to the measures that he has to keep his job? It's silly I know to ask someone what they think is going on in someone elses head I just wonder of his real intentions. I am not being judgmental at all but do you think that it could be something like a thief who is only sorry that he got caught not that they actually stole something.


Sarah- I just wanted to say that I completely agree with you. My question is this do you think that he only recognized that he did something wrong because everyone else did? And do you think that he has only gone to the measures that he has to keep his job? It's silly I know to ask someone what they think is going on in someone elses head I just wonder of his real intentions. I am


I think that those of you here who is voicing their unconditional support of Isaiah in the matter of the slur he used in referece to TR Knight have forgotten something very important that I believe speaks to Isaiah's character a great deal. Not only did he use the slur deliberately (rather than accidently as some of you have implied), as he has now admitted, but he also LIED about using the slur over and over again. He lied about it on public television in front of millions of people -- more than once. If he did not mean it -- If it was no big deal as some of you have implied, then why lie about it? To me, his lying about it is as bad as using the slur in the first place. Have you convinced yourselves that he did not mean to lie as well? Or do you believe it is okay to lie if it keeps you out of trouble? I see references in your comments only to the slur and not to the way in which he tried to cover up what he had done. I just do not see any "poor Isaiah's" in this whole situation. TR was not ready to 'come out' publically when Isaiah said what he did about him. It was and is TR's right to choose if and when he wanted to do so. Therefore Isaiah hurt TR very much. He also tried to cause physical harm to Patrick. I guess in your book that was okay as well. Also his words and actions caused much stress and upsetness among the rest of the cast and crew as well. How do we know how many other gay folks are members of the cast and crew. What if you were one of them? Would you really like to work every day with someone who felt towards you the way Isaiah expressed his feelings about gay folks? I think not. Also since all of this happened, there have been other people who have worked with Isaiah in the past who have come forward to tell their stories of how he turned his anger on them. I understand that In one case the police had to be called to the set and in another case another member of the production had to get a restraining order against him. Again, not the sparkling clean history some of you refer to... I am not saying that Isaiah should be fired or whatever. But I also do not thing that Isaiah is "a poor inocent" in all of this. And I think that people should stop and look at all sides of an issue before jumping on any bandwagon. It seems that often times because people are famous and/or because they are on our "favorite shows" or whatever, some peole think that they should be allowed to get away with anything. I don't believe that. I think that people should be treated fairly and equally no matter who they are. And I am really tired of hearing so many people use the excuse that Isaiah said and did what he did in a moment of anger. Anger is not an excuse for hurting another human being. Anger is no excuse for hurting another person. Anger is not an excuse for anything. Yes we all get angry. But most of us know that some things are inappropriate whether we are angry or not. Anger is NEVER a license to hurt another person in any way -- physically, verbally or any other way! I think that if Isaiah comes back to the show that he will need to earn back the respect of a lot of people -- the people he hurt directly, the cast and crew that he stressed out, the producers of GA, ABC and also the fans. Respect is not a given, it is something that is earned. I think he will need to show by his words and his actions from here on out that he went to counselling and talk to that group and apologized to TR and Patrick and everyone because he recognized that he did something wrong and that he had a problem that needed to be addressed and not just in order to keep his job on GA...


Grey's Anatomy Quotes

There's a reason I said I'd be happy alone. It wasn't 'cause I thought I'd be happy alone. It was because I thought if I loved someone and then it fell apart, I might not make it. It's easier to be alone, because what if you learn that you need love and you don't have it? What if you like it and lean on it? What if you shape your life around it and then it falls apart? Can you even survive that kind of pain? Losing love is like organ damage. It's like dying. The only difference is death ends. This? It could go on forever.


Did you say it? 'I love you. I don't ever want to live without you. You changed my life.' Did you say it? Make a plan. Set a goal. Work toward it, but every now and then, look around; Drink it in 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow."

Meredith (closing voiceover)