Inside the Ouster of Isaiah Washington

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Starring on TV's hottest show is a dream, and Isaiah Washington fought hard to keep the role of Preston Burke on Grey's Anatomy.

But the Associated Press reports that after twice using an anti-gay slur, the actor was doomed to lose the biggest role of his career because of timing, a track record of volatile behavior and pressure within the industry.

Isaiah, T.R.
While series creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes wept when she got on the phone last Thursday to tell Isaiah Washington he was officially out, the decision was a coolly calculated move by Rhimes' bosses at the network and ABC Television Studios.

His "pattern of behavior" represented a potential liability that was too much risk for the Walt Disney Co.-owned companies, a source close to the production said. The source is not authorized to comment publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The operation to remove Isaiah Washington, 43, was quick and neat.

The studio declined to exercise his contract option for another season â€" Isaiah Washington would have earned about $2.7 million in salary â€" and he was dumped shortly after the May finale.

With Dr. Burke conveniently written out of the show in the last episode of Season 3, "Didn't We Almost Have It All," many feel the move had to have been planned for some time.

The decision was made by executives including ABC Studios President Mark Pedowitz, ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson and Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney. ABC and the studio declined comment, but Washington said he was "saddened" by the outcome.

"I can only apologize so many times. I can only accept so much responsibility," he told in an interview published Wednesday.

"... Isaiah will go on and do what I love to do. And I have to go about the business of letting people know what's written about me is not the truth."

Gay rights leader Neil G. Giuliano said Washington was caught up in changing attitudes toward anti-gay vitriol â€" the same backlash felt by Ann Coulter after she derided John Edwards with the same word.

"All of this is crescendoing, with people saying, 'Enough is enough,'" said Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Hollywood's image as an unbiased haven for gays is overstated, Giuliano said. But he did field outraged calls from producers, writers and actors â€" both gay and straight â€" after Washington's remarks.

Giuliano said he told the callers to make waves at the networks, and "I have good reason to believe most of those folks, who are not shy, made their feelings known."

One black gay activist sees the lobbying far differently. Jasmyne Cannick, a friend of Washington's, said the case reflects a strong division between Hollywood's powerful white gays and lesbians and those who are minorities.

"The ones calling for (Isaiah Washington's) head are what I refer to as the gay Mafia," Cannick said.

There may have been more behind the decision than intolerant language.

Bryan Birge, while working as a costumer in 1997 on the police drama "High Incident," said Washington erupted in anger on the set and then grabbed him after Birge asked him to remove a magazine from his pocket for an upcoming scene.

"It was bizarre," Birge said. "The guy is less than easy to be around."

Washington, a Houston native who served in the Air Force, had campaigned vigorously to redeem his image. He apologized publicly, to his colleagues and to GLAAD.

He filmed a public service announcement for GLAAD and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. He made a publicly announced donation to a favorite cause, help for the African nation of Sierra Leone.

"We did everything that was asked of us" by ABC, said Washington's publicist and representative, Howard Bragman.

Washington was undone by a spat last October with co-star Patrick Dempsey in which he used the epithet to refer to fellow cast member T.R. Knight.

Washington issued a public apology for his behavior and "unfortunate" use of words in reference to T.R. Knight, and media attention waned.

But in January, Washington reignited the furor during a backstage interview at the Golden Globes in which he denied having used the slur, then uttered it again.

Gay rights groups - the same ones that had demanded Washington apologize - say they didn't seek his firing and gained nothing by it.

Those who might have jumped to his defense, whether co-stars or those taking interest in the plight of a black actor, were silent or measured in their remarks.

"If he's being let go because of that incident, I'm not sure the punishment fits the crime," said Vic Bullock, executive director of the Hollywood bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The NAACP has asked ABC for "further clarity," Bullock said.

Tavis Smiley, the national TV and radio talk-show host and author, said Isaiah Washington's words cut too deep.

"As a society we are still grappling with the notion of forgiveness and redemption," Smiley said in an e-mailed comment.

"What this incident shows us, not unlike the Don Imus matter, is there is some pain so deep, that an apology, no matter how sincere, just doesn't suffice."

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


It's been a waste of time and a huge headache trying to get any of the selfish packs to see that you cannot remove the heart from a show and still have it alive. IW awas the heart. Yes, he must have intimidated a lot of the other actors coz he was too magnetic. He overshadowed the others and grabbed all the attention. So, naturally they wanted to see him go asap. Who was hurt by that? Us, the viewers who liked him. ABC should not think that they can mess with the emotions of the fans who cared for Burktina and IW. YOu don't get to tease your fans, hurt them and expect ratings to remain same. They should run aground for wht they done to IW, coz I know now he ain't coming back the show just makes me feel sad and not good. Mer/Der may be the main couple but if anyone wanted to see LOVE it was Burktina. So, IW had to go, coz Burktina was hijacking all the importance. Well Sandra's role is as mistreated as Burke's was in Season 3. So, I have stopped watching. Hurts too much, when I think what they did to IW.


who knows,maybe ABC was intimidated by this
hard working and talented actor. In my humble
opion his character was more interesting than
the main character,Grey. And,again as already mentioned the relationship between he and christina was never blahsah or boring.
Too bad,he wasn't as fortunate as other the Washington to land a role in a HIT series,"st. elsewhere." The seattle times wrote:"Grey's Anatomy"owes its style to "st. elsewhere".By the way,that series went for six years. Does anyone believe that Grey's could match that especially
now? The other washington,Denzel washington as Dr Chandler,the network NBC .


When I think of the actor Isaiah Washington, one word comes to mind: EXCELLENCE. His portrayal of Dr. Burke was nothing less. It was fantastic to watch. I thank him for the episodes I was able to enjoy his work. It is not often I find myself inspired in my personal life by an actors portrayal of a character. Every week Isaiah made me want to be better. I would watch him and think, I want to be excellent, I want to try my best. Thank You Isaiah. So regret the series of very very unfortunate events. I have no doubt that your career will continue to reflect excellence. I mostly, selfishly mourn my weekly loss of a favored guest in my home.


Mr. Washington's talent as an actor was wasted on Grey's Anatomy, particularly in Year 3 when Dr. Burke was emasculated and portrayed as a mama's boy. What were the writers thinking?? He should have quit the show as a matter of principle long before the controversy began. Ultimately, the "firing" will work to Mr. Washington's advantage and Grey's Anatomy will suffer. I have watched every show since the series' inception -- but no more. My interest had begun to wane in Season 3, and now I have lost respect for the remaining cast members who have caved to Disney's "gag order." What part of "strength in numbers" do they not understand? If they all spoke out, Disney could do nothing about it. Since they have no spine, I don't care what happens on Grey's anymore. I wish Mr. Washington well in his career and in his labor of love in Sierra Leone. He has much left to offer the world at large--a great deal more than he was accomplishing under the auspices of Disney.


Haven't liked Burke ever, and hated what he was doing to Christine. He was forcing her to change, that ain't love and it ain't her. Good ridence, I say.


Love IW's character and way of acting, he's one of the best actors this shows has, and losing him is not a good idea, whatever the "big bosses" think about him. We aren't going to watch the studios "big bosses" act in a TV series, we're going to watch a great, incredible actor like IW. Burke and Christina were the only reason I watched GA, now that they're gone, the magic is gone... Regards from Spain.


You know, Calliope, I read every single post on the Grey Matter writer's blog. Since the original incident in October I have done a search and find for every mention of Burke or Isaiah or Preston for that matter to try to see how the scales are tipping either against him or for him. There are many, many, many posts by people who love Mer and Der that they don't like Burke and Cristina and that Shonda should not spend so much time on them because Mer/Der are the important ones. So, I don't think you are quite right about the majority of fans liking Burke and disliking Isaiah. First, I don't believe you are right that the majority of fans dislike Isaiah. Look at the poll on this website. This poll is telling for me because the only ones on this website are GA fans. If you go to eonline or tvguide you have all kinds of readers and posters, many of whom could care less about GA but have a position to take on the issue of gay rights. Some know very, very little about the actual character and his importance or lack there of to the show. Some know even less about what actually happened in October or at the Golden Globes. Read some of their posts. They make completely false assumptions about what happened. So the polls on these websites mean less to me. I believe the majority of fans of GA love Mer/Der, but there is a very large contingent of fans who have been Burke/Cristina shippers from the very beginning. The vast majority of posts over the last few weeks of season three were asking for Burke to stay and for Isaiah to stay. There were far more postive posts than negative ones. I also think you are mistaken about the majority of Mer/Der fans hating Addison. Maybe in season one and two, but not in season three when she was no longer a threat to the Mer/Der relationship. Read the posts. More and more fans were supportive of Addison and hoped for an Addison/Alex hook up. I am sure your comments are coming from what you yourself think and believe, but truthfully if you look at the fan comments, they are not what the majority of fans think and believe. I am sure you are right that eventually Cristina will have another love interest on the show. I am not at all interested in watching that because for me Cristina and Burke were true love and that isn't easily replaced. However, it is a large ensemble cast and looks to be larger next year when new interns arrive at Seattle Grace. Whenever the focus is on someone other than Mer/Der the Mer/Der fans begin to grumble. Read the comments.


Hi, Calliope....(smile)


and then, Burke Backer, Cristina's screentime will be with another man (a man who will replace Burke) and it won't change MerDer screentime.


"the people who wanted him off of the show so that Mer/Der could have even more screentime, congratulations." You are confused .. MerDer fans hate Addison, not Burke. Many Grey's fans hate IW, not Burke.


Grey's Anatomy Quotes

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)

Burke was- He took something from me. He took little pieces of me, little pieces over time, so small I didn't even notice, you know? He wanted me to be something I wasn't, and I made myself into what he wanted. One day I was me Cristina Yang, and then suddenly I was lying for him, and jeopardizing my career, and agreeing to be married and wearing a ring, and being a bride. Until I was standing there in a wedding dress with no eyebrows, and I wasn't Cristina Yang anymore. And even then, I would've married him. I would have. I lost myself for a long time. And now that I'm finally me again, I can't. I love you. I love you more than I loved Burke. I love you. And that scares the crap out of me because when you asked me to ignore Teddy's page, you took a piece of me, and I let you. And that will never happen again.