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.


For those of you who didn't like Burke/Isaiah Washington because he was a black man playing a leading role or because of the interracial relationship, YOU ALL NEED TO GET A LIFE. Seriously, this is the 21st century. This isn't the 1950's people! I'm white but I LOVED Burke & I love Isaiah Washington. C'mon people, stop judging one another on race. So what if he was involved in an interracial relationship? WHO CARES?! Race shouldn't stop people from being together. My point is, if you didn't like Burke/IW because of the whole race issue, you're the one with problems!


Isaiah Washington has a history of supporting gay rights according to Jasmyne Cannick a Black, lesbian, activist and someone who knows Isaiah well. This entire homophobia argument is so misplaced it is ridiculous. He used a word in anger that is a part of our lexicon. He broke no laws. He has been the victim of rumor, speculation, innuendo, and outright lies for eight months with no support from the network or production company that hired him. I am heart broken that ABC has made this decision. I am furious that they let him stand out here alone in a firestorm of controversy for eight months and then after they had used him they did not renew his contract. While it is heartening that many of his castmates are finally speaking up in his support (James Pickens, Jr., Chandra Wilson, Justin Chambers, Kate Walsh, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Sara Ramirez, Jeffrey Dean Morgan), it is too late. Grey's is over for me as is ABC. Any company who would act in this way to one of their own does not deserve my support or anyone else's. Now to make matters worse an "unnamed source", which basically means someone who can say anything without fear of retribution, so the information can be truth or fiction, is further discrediting him. When will this end? When will people get tired of kicking him when he is down? This is a hard working actor who loved the role he played on GA and felt blessed to be working on this show with these people which he has said repeatedly in interview both before and after the inciident in October. This is a family man with three children to support who has lost millions in income over a word. This is a man who is currently building a school for village children in Sierra Leone. Where is the justice? He said something in anger that inadvertently offended TR Knight even though not directed at TR Knight. In exchange the media campaign that against him was far more hateful than the original slur. How does this make any sense at all lin terms of justice served? After months of negative publicity and inappropriate questions and statements, with no direction or support from ABC, he blundered at the Golden Globes in an attempt to explain he had not "called" TR a slur. It is no wonder he just wanted the stress and nastiness to end and mistakenly thought that this might do it. ABC implied that he would have to jump through hoops to keep his job. For me his sincerely was never in question because he never hated gays to begin with. He did what they asked all the while putting in week after week of phenomenal performances in the role of Preston Burke on this show and they fired him anyway. The season finale was planned and filmed weeks before and clearly pointed to his departure, so they are lying about the timing. In fact the last few weeks the slant they put on the entire Burketina relationship was meant for us to believe it was negative rather than positive as it had been portrayed for 2 1/2 years. For the people who disliked Isaiah on principle simply because he was a Black man in a strong role on television, for the people who disliked Isaiah because they were uncomfortable with the interracial relationship, for the people who disliked Isaiah because they decided that they could see inside his heart regarding his opinions of the gay community, to the people who wanted him off of the show so that Mer/Der could have even more screentime, congratulations. You have won. You have cost the rest of us a wonderful character and an extraordinarily enjoyable relationship to watch. You have proven that with enough media hype you can get anyone to believe anything. I can't believe there is much comfort in that. It is kind of like the high school rumor mill that regardless of truth once started is hard to stop.


I agree with karen [above ^^]. Except I might watch Season 4 only to watch Cristina. Burke & Cristina were the best couple on the show! Seriously, why the hell would they fire Isaiah Washington over a stupid comment?! T.R Knight needs to get over it. His character is nothing compared to Isaiah Washington's. This is absurd. The "f-word" is not a big deal...especially if it's not said to your face! IW didn't even say it to TRK's face.


watch Grey's Anatomy's rating drop...that is all i have to say... one of the only reason i watch the show is because of Burke and Cristina. They steal the show....IW even withdrew his nomination for best supporting actor. this is the last of Grey's Anatmoy for me..i won't watch next season serioulsy..


I'm anti-IW and anti-KW. Thanks ABC!


I love Dr Preston Burke... I always will...forever! Please....get him back on the show... He is the 'best doctor' in Seattle Grace Hospital... Burke and Cristina were the sweetest couple in to see more of Burke and Cristina on the show...Pleaseeeeeeeeeee


I think Dr.Burke was the best character on that show. Like not my favorite, but acting-wise, he was amazing. Like when he said the whole wedding vow things, my heart melted.


I would love to have IW back on Greys. That's the only reason why I looked forward to Thursday nights. But, if he's not coming back, I've accepted that fact. Where ever he goes next I'll just follow him. It would be interesting watching him on "House" opposite Hugh Laurie. Both of them highly intelligent and cocky. Not as genius as House, but close enough to keep House on his toes.


Very well put, ana delon! I agree, Dr Burke MUST come back!


Isaiah Washington is a marvelous actor who brought so much to the series. I do so hope that this terrible ( and unjust to the series) decision is reversed! WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC HAVE TO DO TO BE HEARD??? Bring back Dr Burke! Christina needs him, she loves him. I beleive the show's writers are so good that all the characters are so real and an absolute must - including Addison. Isaiah made a mistake. Isaiah apologized....several times. Come on guys in high places, consider the bottom line. Isaiah Washington is an asset!!!!


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)

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.