Katherine Heigl to Take Leave of Absence From Grey's Anatomy

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Katherine Heigl will be taking a five-episode hiatus from Grey's Anatomy to film the Greg Berlanti-directed romantic comedy Life as We Know It, EW reports this afternoon.

Grey’s Anatomy producers have accommodated Heigl’s busy schedule before, but this is the first time they have given her permission to leave for an extended period.

Heigl’s absence "will be explained on screen," although it’s not yet clear how.

The fact that Katherine was granted such a lengthy leave is surprising in light of the public tongue-lashing ABC president Steve McPherson gave her last month for complaining about a 17-hour work day on the set filming this coming season.

Also, Heigl’s departure - which starts this month and will kick in on screen around November - will almost certainly overlap with co-star Ellen Pompeo’s maternity leave.

Translation: Grey’s Anatomy will be without Izzie and Mer at the same time.

Ready to Get Married

What do you think prompts Izzie Stevens to temporarily check out?

Of course, Grey’s Anatomy boss Shonda Rhimes said over the summer that this kind of change would be in the air this season: "Eventually, everybody is going to leave the show,” she said, referencing T.R. Knight’s exit and the temporary loss of Pompeo.

"So we’re looking at [ways] we can mess with the structure now. Season 6 is about finding the longevity of the show and figuring out if there is a future beyond these characters.”

Not so coincidentally, Grey’s Anatomy recently announced it was adding three new doctors to its rotation at Seattle Grace Hospital: Nota Zehetner, Robert Baker, and Jesse Williams are joining Seattle Grace as recurring residents /medical professionals.

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

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Grey's Anatomy Quotes

Meredith: You're me.
Amelia: What?
Meredith: You're me before Derek. I can be here for you. I can do this. I get you. I can be a twisted sister for you. Just tell me how do you want to play this?

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)