Anatomy of a crisis
Rifts and rumours have rocked Seattle Grace, writes Darren Devlyn
GREY’S Anatomy is a monster hit and a ratings success in more than 60 countries. And there’s no disputing the show’s power to turn relative unknowns into extraordinarily wellpaid household names.
Before Grey’s burst on to the scene in 2005, who’d heard of Ellen Pompeo, Katherine Heigl, Justin Chambers and Kate Walsh?
Four years later the show seems battle-weary, afflicted by a sequence of off-screen dramas.
So why has there been so much unrest on a show that guarantees its production team and cast so much wealth?
An experienced TV producer suspects creative fatigue is catching up with the cast and its writers. He believes success might have gone to the heads of actors who, before Grey’s, were struggling on the audition circuit.
‘‘Everyone who gets a break in this business reckons they won’t be changed by money or fame,’’ the producer says.
‘‘I laugh in their face when they say it. They all change. And it takes all of about five minutes for most of them to forget how lucky they are.’’
The trouble on Grey’s started two years ago, when Isaiah Washington was involved in an on-set altercation with Patrick Dempsey, who plays Derek ‘‘McDreamy’’ Shepherd.
When Dempsey arrived on set after a meeting with a script supervisor, Washington blew a fuse.
He allegedly grabbed Dempsey by the throat and in the ensuing argument was said to have uttered an anti-gay slur about their castmate T.R. Knight.
Washington strenuously denied the allegations and Grey’s producers told the Guide there was little substance to the fracas.
But Knight said in a statement: ‘‘I guess there have been a few questions about my sexuality. While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact I’m gay isn’t the most interesting part of me.’’
In an interview with the Guide, Dempsey said he was frustrated by the scandal.
He considered the demise of Washington a ‘‘tragic moment for everyone’’.
‘‘I think the character (played by Washington) was phenomenal. It was a great character we’ve lost. And the other stuff? It’s much better (Washington’s exit) in the long run, I think. A lot of lessons had to be learned by everyone and tragic.
‘‘Ultimately, we’re a family here. We’re going to have good days, we’re going to have bad days.’’
In the end, no amount of spin could save Washington. By mid2007 he was gone, his contract not renewed.
Heigl has also been at the centre of turmoil. She maintains she’s put heart and soul into her portrayal of
it was the psychologically fractured Izzie Stevens and she upset her employer when she went public with details of a salary dispute.
Her frustration stemmed from feeling she wasn’t valued as highly as some of her co-stars.
Pompeo had negotiated a rise boosting her pay to $256,000 an episode when most of the cast were believed to be on considerably less.
Heigl’s bosses hit back, insisting they’d offered her a significant rise. ‘‘Fortunately, we have a long-term contract to ensure she’ll be with the show for several years to come,’’ the network said.
Heigl is at the centre of another controversy, with reports she and Knight are quitting their roles.
Aussie actor Melissa George, who makes her on-screen debut next month, has already announced she’s not renewing her contract.
Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes has tried to quash speculation Heigl and Knight are on the way out, despite their co-star James Pickens Jr telling magazine US Weekly: ‘‘Yes, she (Heigl) is (leaving). Wherever Katherine goes, I wish her nothing but the best. (Knight is) going too. He just wanted to pursue other career paths.’’
Rhimes responded in People magazine, saying: ‘‘That was a very interesting rumour. And it’s not true. That was absolutely taken out of context.’’
PICKENS claims he was misunderstood in the interview and made a statement saying he was clueless about Heigl and Knight’s plans.
If Heigl’s mind is on a future without Grey’s, it could have something to do with her workload.
On a visit to the set, the Guide ran into Heigl the morning after a 16-hour working day.
She was free of make-up, her hair was in an untidy ponytail and she had a look of bleary-eyed exhaustion.
‘‘I’m totally complaining. I’m tired,’’ Heigl said with a benign smile.
‘‘Friday nights, we end up working until two or three in the morning, then we sleep as much as we can Saturday.
‘‘Then you might have a photo shoot or a work event to go to Sunday.
‘‘Any tiny bit of time you might have in there to see family or friends, you’re not going to be good company because you’re tired and bitter, so I stay home and watch TV.’’