Workplace altercations, inflated egos, professional jealousy, dramatic firings. All of these HR nightmares have played out at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital…and on the set of Grey’s Anatomy, apparently. Here’s all the backstage drama you could ever want, which is honestly enough to send even the most diehard Shondaland fan into shock.
In an alleged physical altercation with Patrick Dempsey on set in 2006, Isaiah Washington reportedly said, "I’m not your little f*ggot like T.R," referring to co-star T.R. Knight—who was not publicly out as gay at the time.
The controversy surrounding Washington's use of the homophobic slur prompted T.R. Knight, who had not publicly come out as gay prior to the incident, to come out.
"I've never been called that to my face," he told Ellen DeGeneres. "When that happened, something shifted, and it became bigger than myself."
Washington only made matters worse by using the slur backstage at the 2007 Golden Globes after Grey’s won for Best Drama TV Series, telling reporters, "No, I did not call T.R. a f*ggot. Never happened." He later offered up an apology (saying, "I apologize to T.R., my colleagues, the fans of the show, and especially the lesbian and gay community for using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance"), but found himself out of a job. Dr. Preston Burke wasn’t seen again for nearly seven seasons.
When news of his firing broke, Washington's statement—in which he quoted an iconic moment from the film Network—seemed to imply the breakup was mutual. "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore," the actor said at the time.
In July 2007, after he was fired from Grey's, Washington made an appearance on Larry King Live to share his side of the story—including the details about the fight with Dempsey that led him to drop the homophobic slur to begin with.
"I said, 'I don’t need Ellen, I can act,'" Washington said during the interview, referring to Pompeo. "And that was the moment that sent it into a different zone. [Dempsey] became unhinged, sprayed spittle in my face...I said several bad words. 'There’s no way you’re going to treat me like the B-word, the P-word, or the F-word.'"
He added: "I am not homophobic—in no way, shape or form."
After Washington released his statement apologizing for the slur, Katherine Heigl quickly called B.S.
"I'm going to be really honest right now, he needs to just not speak in public," she said. "Period. I'm sorry, that did not need to be said. I'm not okay with it."
When Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes announced plans for a spin-off (Private Practice) for Kate Walsh’s Dr. Addison Montgomery, the green-eyed monster reportedly appeared on the set of Grey’s. "The rest of the cast seemed instantly resentful of [Walsh]," a source told Star. "They each thought they’d be the one chosen to get their own show, and now they’re giving Kate the cold shoulder. [Ellen Pompeo] seemed particularly peeved because she felt that, as the star, she should have been consulted."
In 2013, during an interview with the New York Post, Ellen Pompeo opened up about the drama that plagued Grey's in its early days and neatly placed herself above it all, calling her coworkers' drama "noise."
"Hurt feelings, combined with instant success and huge paychecks started things spinning out of control,” she said. "The crazier things got, as I watched all the tumult with Isaiah [Washington] and then the Katie [Katherine Heigl] thing, I started to focus on the work. Maybe it is my Boston, blue-collar upbringing. I just tried to not pay attention to all the noise around me.”
In a very shady move, Katherine Heigl pulled her name from Emmy contention in June 2008 after winning an Emmy for her role as Dr. Izzie Stevens the season before. Even shadier? Her statement to the Los Angeles Times: "I did not feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination, and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization, I withdrew my name from contention."
After Katherine Heigl dropped out of the Emmy race, citing the quality of the material she had been given, Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes took a moment to clarify that any decrease in the quality of Izzie's storylines was on Heigl.
"It was not an insult of the writers per se,” Rhimes said of Heigl's Emmy statement during a showrunner panel at the TV critics press tour in 2008. "The first half of the season had a very strong storyline with Izzie and George, but it [played] more comedic than most of Katie’s storyline in the past. I wrote the back half light for Katherine so she could do her movie. So I didn’t feel insulted."
In 2009, Heigl complained about the production’s long hours on The Late Show With David Letterman: "Our first day back was Wednesday, and it was—I’m going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them—a 17-hour day, which I think is cruel and mean." (Apparently, that day was so long because producers were trying to accommodate her media tour for The Ugly Truth.)
Next, on the dramatic finale of Heiglgate: After taking a leave of absence to film Life as We Know It, Katherine and Shonda hammered out an end to her contract. Izzie’s abrupt departure in Season 6 was presumably the last we’ll ever see of her character, barring any sort of Camp David–worthy peace accord between her and Shonda Rhimes.
In 2012, more than two years after Heigl's exit from Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes didn't seem totally pleased with the way the actress left. She used the wise words of Oprah herself to shade the star.
"On some level, it stung," she told TV Guide of Heigl's exit, "and on some level I was not surprised. When people show you who they are, believe them."
When Katherine Heigl left Grey's Anatomy, it was widely-believed that she was doing so, at least in part, to focus on her burgeoning film career. A few years after Heigl's departure, in 2013, Ellen Pompeo threw some not-so-subtle shade at her former costar in an interview with the New York Post.
"When Katie left, it was tough," Pompeo said. “You could understand why she wanted to go—when you’re offered $12 million a movie and you’re only 26. But Katie’s problem is that she should not have renewed her contract. She re-upped, took a big raise and then tried to get off the show. And then her movie career did not take off."
In 2008, just a year after she became a series regular, Brooke Smith was abruptly given her walking papers. In fact, Dr. Erica Hahn didn’t even get written out of the show: She just walked to the hospital parking lot and never came back. Entertainment Weekly cited a source on set who said the ABC executives "had issues" with Erica and her "explicit" (read: same-sex) relationship with Callie, and Smith told the magazine she thought Shonda Rhimes’s "hands were tied."
The season before Katherine left, her best friend T.R. did as well. Talking to Entertainment Weekly, the actor said he was frustrated by his lack of screen time (which was less than half of Sandra Oh’s in the first nine episodes of Season 5, for example) and his "breakdown of communication" with Shonda Rhimes. "My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George]," he said. "And with respect, I’m going to leave it at that."
In July 2009, during his interview with Entertainment Weekly, Knight opened up about his decision to come out—and the pushback he received from Grey's Anatomy producers at the time.
According to EW, Knight said "the exec producer was among those who tried to discourage him from coming out."
"I think she was concerned about having my statement come out so close to the [instigating] event," he told the magazine.
For her part, Rhimes denied the assertion, saying: "I said, ‘If you want to come out, that’s awesome. We’ll totally support that.’ And then he went away, thought about it, and came back and said, ‘I’m going to make this statement.’ I remember saying to [fellow executive producer] Betsy Beers, ‘This is our proudest day here. T.R. got to come out, and I got to say to him that it wouldn’t affect his character’—because he was concerned that he was going to come out and George would suddenly be gay. I was like, ‘We are not going to do that.’ The idea that a gay actor can’t play a straight man is insulting."
Derek’s sojourn to Washington D.C. in Season 11 wasn’t so much a creative decision for the storyline as it was a disciplinary action toward Patrick Dempsey. "Patrick has been acting like a diva and has clashed with Shonda," a Page Six source reported at the time. "She suspended him for a while, and the word on set is that he isn’t coming back full time."
Patrick’s sudden departure from Grey’s Anatomy was at the least a mutual decision and at the most a low-key firing. Either way, fans were shocked when Derek Shepherd went from alive-and-thriving to dead-as-a-doornail in the span of just one episode. (And a People source said there "there was no love lost" between him and some of the other veteran cast members.)
After Dempsey's exit from the show, speculation continued that his character's death was a result of the actor's beef with showrunner Shonda Rhimes. During a November 2015 appearance on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Rhimes fueled the rumors when she copped to killing at least one character because she didn't like the actor who played them.
"Have you ever killed off a character because you didn’t like the actor?” Wilmore asked. "And extra bonus points…who was it?"
"Uh, yes," Rhimes admitted with a knowing smile. "And I’m not naming names."
Eric Dane ditched his role as Dr. Mark Sloan in 2012, and when he got his next starring TV gig, he told French news outlet Programme TV he was "just a piece of meat" on Grey’s.
After Donald Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood recording hit the press, Rhimes tweeted, "Men, stop with 'we have wives, daughters' as reason not to condone [Trump’s] actions. You don't condone his acts [because] you know right from wrong." Then Dane tweeted, "How ‘bout this. F--k @realDonaldTrump, and I could give no [f--ks] about @shondarhimes opinion." (Her response: "Um?")
Sara Ramirez seems to be on fine terms with Shonda, which is more than can be said for some of the other alums on this list. But she still left the show at the end of Season 12 before her character could be written out—and she didn’t even get a chance to talk to Jessica Capshaw, the Arizona to her Callie.
Ellen Pompeo has been around for all of Grey's Anatomy's casting change ups. In 2018, the series' star matter-of-factly summed up how exits work at Seattle Grace.
"You only get killed off when your behavior is bad. If you're a nice actor, you die nice," Pompeo said.
Shonda Rhimes wasn’t always ABC’s golden child. Network brass vehemently objected to a now-deleted Season 1 scene in which Cristina and Alex make a bet to see who could deliver bad news to patients fastest. "I think the term that was used to describe me to my face was, 'If you think you’re funny, you’re sick,'" Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter. "I was stunned."
She also said she was berated by ABC Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson, who was later outed for sexual harassment. "He said really horrible things to me," she said. "I literally started keeping a list of how many times he said a certain swear word to me. After that, I was like, 'Okay, we’re dead.'"
"For me, Patrick leaving the show was a defining moment, deal-wise," Ellen Pompeo told The Hollywood Reporter in a barnburner of an interview in 2018. "They could always use him as leverage against me—'We don’t need you; we have Patrick'—which they did for years… I could have walked away, so why didn’t I?...You feel conflicted but then you figure, 'I’m not going to let a guy drive me out of my own house.'"
"So, what does it look like when he leaves the show? First, it looks like a ratings spike, and I had a nice chuckle about that," Pompeo said in her interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Even though she's one of the former cast members who left the show on good terms, Sandra Oh made headlines in 2018 when she told Variety that she and Grey's are never, ever getting back together.
"I’m just going to say no," she said. "I’ve really got to try and create much more of that separation."
"There were many times where I reached out [to Patrick Dempsey] about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that," Pompeo told The Hollywood Reporter. (How very un-McDreamy.) Thanks to her determination, though, she inked a $20-million-a-year contract, making her the highest-paid actress on a primetime TV drama.