Earlier, we brought you Shonda Rhimes' admissions of a lackluster Season 3 and promises for a better Season 4. Later at the same event, TV Guide tracked down the Grey's Anatomy creator and executive producer again, asking her questions about a topic she has thus far avoided.
That being Isaiah Washington. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Rhimes did her best to address the matter with grace and dignity.
Shonda Rhimes: It wasn't. It was a decision that was a long time coming, and it felt like it was the right decision for all.
TV Guide: Given everything that transpired during the hiatus, did you feel the need to give the cast a pep talk on the first day back?
Shonda Rhimes: No. They're a group of real professionals who really rose to the occasion last season, and really delivered some amazing performances at a time when we were all having an emotionally hard time. So, I feel like, no, we're a family. Nobody needed a pep talk.
TV Guide: So the decision to fire Isaiah was not something that was imposed on you?
Shonda Rhimes: The great thing about [ABC Studios head] Mark Pedowitz and [ABC president] Steve McPherson is they never imposed anything on me.
TV Guide: So you agreed with the decision?
Shonda Rhimes: Of course I did.
TV Guide: Would you have written the season finale differently if that stuff hadn't happened during the season?
Shonda Rhimes: I wrote the season-ender exactly as I planned to write the season-ender. What's kind of amazing is the season-ender finished the story of Preston Burke and truly paid tribute to that character and to the talent of Isaiah Washington in a way that made sense. But it also went exactly where our show was planning to go anyway.
TV Guide: You were quoted as saying that it was disturbing to think that one black actor could be replaced with another. Do you have any second thoughts about saying that in light of the recent re-casting on Private Practice?
Shonda Rhimes: No, I think there's a point there. I think that with Preston Burke, the character that audiences have come to know and love for three seasons, it's very different. And at a time there was some talk of, 'Let's cast this actor or that actor... " sort of naming a bunch of black actors... as if the only thing that was important about the character of Preston Burke was his race. That was disturbing to me. It's a very different situation from the enhanced [two-hour episode of Grey's Anatomy], which was our version of a pilot for Private Practice. Pilots get recast all the time. Ours just happened to air. It wasn't a matter of needing to find another black actor. It was a matter of, "Audra McDonald is the person we want."
Shonda Rhimes: I do now. Absolutely. But I do think that [specific] discussion was disturbing to me ï¿½" as disturbing as the entire incident that happened for T.R. and Isaiah.
TV Guide: In retrospect, do you wish you had spoken out sooner about the whole thing?
Shonda Rhimes: Here's the thing: I know for you guys it's incredibly frustrating that I didn't say something. And I'm kind of sorry, because I know you guys have stories to tell. For me, the story we have to tell is the story of the show, and my instinct when something like this happened is to sort of close the doors and hunker down with people who are my family and protect them as much as possible. The outside world became far less important to me than those people I work with every day, and making sure that those people I work with are okay. I wasn't worried about the outside world. The outside world's not something that I can control. But the people I work with every day were. And I really was spending my time dealing with that, not dealing with whether or not I should make a statement.
TV Guide: When was the moment when you realized, 'You know, we're going to have to make a change here?'
Shonda Rhimes: Again, I feel like this is stuff that happened in our family, and I don't want to give specifics on sort of how and what happened. But there was a moment when I was sure and felt good and comfortable about the decision and that it was the right decision to be made for everybody.
TV Guide: How are things between you and T.R. now?
Shonda Rhimes: We're good. I feel like everybody is working well together. T.R. Knight is doing some amazing work. We're moving forward. We're excited about the stories we're telling this season. It feels like they're fresh.... And we're going with the idea that we want to have a little bit more fun this season.
TV Guide: There seems to be a lot of infighting at Grey's Anatomy. Do you think you can do anything differently in terms of managing that set?
Shonda Rhimes: Well, I don't know. I've never run a television show before, so I only know one way to run a television show, which is: You have an enormously talented group of people; you become enormously popular way faster than you ever thought was going to happen; and then you swim.
TV Guide: Switching gears, were you surprised by the strong reaction to George and Izzie?
Shonda Rhimes: I had a strong reaction to George and Izzie.
TV Guide: A strong negative reaction?
Shonda Rhimes: I wasn't sure I was ready for it. I don't think anybody's ready for it. I don't know if George and Izzie are ready for it. He's married, and she said some really harsh things. I feel like if you follow our characters you know that they're flawed, they're human, they make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are the absolute right decision and sometimes mistakes are the absolute wrong one. It's a really interesting relationship to explore.
Now that Shonda Rhimes has spilled her two cents, what do you think? Are you looking forward to next season? How do you feel about her comments?