I think that sneaky Shonda Rhimes tried to escape! Immediately following the
press-tour panel for
Private Practice, Rhimes - while stepping down from the dais - attempted to duck backstage before the gaggle stampede could swallow her up. There was just one problem: There was no backstage for her to head to. The black curtain she tried to penetrate was actually covering a wall. There was no way out. As a result, she was forced to answer direct questions about a topic that she has thus far been able to avoid: Isaiahgate. (For the record, an ABC rep denies that Rhimes was trying to flee the scene, insisting she was merely unsure where she was supposed to go.) In any event, I gotta give her credit. Once she realized that her back was quite literally to the wall, she handled the interrogation with candor and grace.
How difficult was it for you to let Isaiah go, on a personal level?
Shonda Rhimes: It wasn't. It was a decision that was a long time coming, and it felt like it was the right decision for all of us.
Given everything that transpired during the hiatus, did you feel the need to give the cast a pep talk on the first day back?
Rhimes: No. They're a group of real professionals who really rose to the occasion last season, and really delivered some amazingly powerhouse performances at a time when we were all sort of having an emotionally hard time. So, I feel like, no, we're a family. Nobody needed a pep talk.
So the decision to fire Isaiah was not something that was imposed on you?
Rhimes: The great thing about [ABC Studios head] Mark Pedowitz and [ABC president] Steve McPherson is they never imposed anything on me.
So you agreed with the decision?
Rhimes: Of course I did.
Would you have written the season finale differently if that stuff hadn't happened during the season?
Rhimes: I wrote the season-ender exactly as I planned to write the season-ender. What's kind of amazing is the season-ender finished the story of Preston Burke and really paid tribute to that character and to the talent of Isaiah Washington in a way that made sense. But it also went exactly where our show was planning to go anyway.
You were quoted as saying that it was disturbing to think that one black actor could be replaced with another. Do you have any second thoughts about saying that, particularly in light of the recent recast on Private Practice?
Rhimes: No, I think there's a point there. I think that with Preston Burke, the character that audiences have come to know and love for three seasons, it's very different. And at a time there was some talk of, 'Let's cast this actor or that actor... " sort of naming a bunch of black actors... as if the only thing that was important about the character of Preston Burke was his race. That was disturbing to me. It's a very different situation from the enhanced [two-hour episode of Grey's], which was our version of a pilot. Pilots get recast all the time. Ours just happened to air. It wasn't a matter of needing to find another black actor. It was a matter of, "Audra McDonald is the person we want."
Do you understand that there were people that interpreted this as you turning a homophobic incident into a racial incident?
Rhimes: I do now. Absolutely. But I do think that [specific] discussion was disturbing to me - as disturbing as the entire incident that happened for T.R. and Isaiah.
In retrospect, do you wish you had spoken out sooner about the whole thing?
Rhimes: Here's the thing: I know for you guys it's incredibly frustrating that I didn't say something. And I'm kind of sorry, because I know you guys have stories to tell. For me, the story we have to tell is the story of the show, and my instinct when something like this happened is to sort of close the doors and hunker down with people who are my family and protect them as much as possible. The outside world became far less important to me than those people I work with every day, and making sure that those people I work with are OK. I wasn't worried about the outside world. The outside world's not something that I can control. But the people I work with every day were. And I really was spending my time dealing with that, not dealing with whether or not I should make a statement.
When was the moment when you realized, 'You know, we're going to have to make a change here?'
Rhimes: Again, I feel like this is stuff that happened in our family, and I don't want to give specifics on sort of how and what happened. But there was a moment when I was sure and felt good and comfortable about the decision and that it was the right decision to be made for everybody.
How are things between you and T.R. now?
Rhimes: We're good. I feel like everybody is working really well together. T.R. is doing some amazing work. We're moving forward. We're excited about the stories we're telling this season. It feels like they're fresh.... And we're going with the idea that we want to have a little bit more fun this season.
There seems to be a lot of infighting at Grey's. Do you think you can do anything differently in terms of managing that set?
Rhimes: Well, I don't know. I've never run a television show before, so I only know one way to run a television show, which is: You have an enormously talented group of people; you become enormously popular way faster than you ever thought was going to happen; and then you swim.
Switching gears, were you surprised by the strong reaction to George-Izzie?
Rhimes: I had a strong reaction to George and Izzie.
A strong negative reaction?
Rhimes: I wasn't sure I was ready for it. I don't think anybody's ready for it. I don't know if George and Izzie are ready for it. He's married, and she said some really harsh things. I feel like if you follow our characters you know that they're flawed, they're human, they make mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are the absolute right decision and sometimes mistakes are the absolute wrong one. It's a really interesting relationship to explore.
Now that Shonda has spilled her two cents, it's your turn. Are you satisfied with her answers? Sound off below!