For those who don’t pay attention, Shondaland is Shonda Rhimes’ production company, best known for the ABC Thursday night lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder (among others). I’m specifically going to discuss Grey’s Anatomy, because it’s the one I’ve watched most of (by virtue of it being on for 12 years, although I don’t still watch) and because I remember what happened.
I was reading today about some people trying to start a petition to get Jesse Williams fired from Grey’s because he gave a speech at the BET awards calling out racism. I’m not going to discuss the petition’s merits, because if it needs to be explained that it’s stupid, I have no hope. No, it was this little thing I caught onto:
Why was Burke’s character fired from Grey’s Anatomy after his inappropriate homophobic slur, but nothing for Jesse Williams?
Because we have such short memories. Isaiah Washington wasn’t fired for the homophobic slur. He was fired because while he was saying it, he had grabbed Patrick Dempsey by the throat and shoved him up against a wall. Defamer called Washington “McChokey.” The slur part came out later, and eventually led to the outing of T.R. Knight and, rather hilariously (with the benefit of time), Neil Patrick Harris. (Since in the original reports it was withheld who the slur was supposed to refer to, reporters starting calling every publicist in town to ask if their client was gay. NPH’s publicist said, “no, of course he’s not gay,” which led to NPH himself having to issue a retraction.)
While we’re at it, let’s talk about a funny little habit Shonda Rhimes has of dealing with actors. I was discussing my personal feelings on Katherine Heigl with my boss (hint: I’m a writer) and she mused about how her character must have been killed off on Grey’s. Actually, I said, Shonda has a tendency to kill off characters when she likes the actors and they’ve made an amicable decision to leave. When actors are fired, their characters simply walk away, never to be heard from again. Katherine Heigl’s Izzy, in fact, went through half a season of having sex with a ghost, followed by risky brain surgery and a long recovery, only to leave a Dear John note and disappear. Isaiah Washington’s Dr. Burke left Christina at the alter and was never heard from again. T.R. Knight’s George, when he wanted to go, was run over by a bus so badly that the doctors couldn’t recognize him. I won’t list all the others who’ve died because it would take too long. The point is, when she’s mad at an actor, she won’t give them a moving death scene to showcase their work. She only does that for the ones she loves.