In the show’s third season, Washington became a central figure in a widely reported backstage controversy. In October 2006, rumors surfaced that Washington had insulted co-star T.R. Knight with a homophobic slur
Shortly after the details of the argument became public, Knight publicly disclosed that he was gay. The situation seemed somewhat resolved when Washington issued a statement, apologizing for his “unfortunate use of words during the recent incident on-set”.
The controversy later resurfaced when the cast appeared at the Golden Globes in January 2007. While being interviewed on the red carpet prior to the awards, Washington joked, “I love gay. I wanted to be gay. Please let me be gay.”After the show won Best Drama, Washington, in response to press queries as to any conflicts backstage, said, “I never called T.R. a faggot.” However, in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Knight said that “everybody heard him”.
After being rebuked by his studio, Touchstone Television (now ABC Studios), Washington issued a statement apologizing at length for using the epithet in an argument with Patrick Dempsey. On January 30, 2007, a source told People magazine that Washington was scheduled to return to the Grey’s Anatomy set as early on that Thursday for the first time since entering “executive counseling” after making the comments at the Golden Globes.
However, on June 7, 2007, ABC announced it had decided not to renew Washington’s contract, and that he would be dropped from the show. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” Washington said in a statement released by his publicist, borrowing the famous line from Network. In another report, Washington stated he was planning to “spend the summer pursuing charity work in Sierra Leone, work on an independent film and avoid worrying about the show.” Washington, in late June 2007, began asserting that racism within the media was a factor in his firing from the series. On July 2, 2007, Washington appeared on Larry King Live on CNN, to present his side of the controversy. According to Washington, he never used the “F Word” in reference to Knight, but rather told Dempsey to stop treating him like a “F-word” during an argument “provoked” by Dempsey, who, he felt, was treating him like a “B-word,” a “P-word,” and the “F-word,” which Washington said conveyed “somebody who is being weak and afraid to fight back.
In July 2007, NBC decided to cast Washington as a guest star in a story arc in its new series Bionic Woman. NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman noted his eagerness to work with Washington, saying it would be “like A-Rod leaving the Yankees in midseason.” However, Bionic Woman was cancelled after only 8 episodes due to low ratings. Washington himself said that his dismissal from Grey’s Anatomy was an unfortunate misunderstanding that he was eager to move past. By the beginning of the next season of Grey’s Anatomy, Washington’s character ‘Burke’ had left the show following the end of the season finale.
T.R. Knight, meanwhile is now on The Good Wife and does a considerable amount of theater. There are to date no reports of his bitching and moaning about his career, his salary or Isaiah Washington.
Cue Joe Cocker