‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Behind-The-Scenes Drama: A Full History Of The Most Shocking Feuds & Cast Exits

Take a look back at some of the most dramatic on-set moments from 'Grey's Anatomy.' From Isaiah Washington and Katherine Heigl's exits, to Ellen Pompeo's salary negotiations, and more!

Grey's Anatomy
Image Credit: ©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

Ever since it’s debut back in 2005, Grey’s Anatomy fans have been completely swept-up in the dramatic series’ craziest moments. Whether it was a character’s death, abrupt exit, or a seasonal storyline that involved each and every character from the ensemble cast, Grey’s consistently brought the drama each and every week. But as the years went on, it became clear to viewers that there was more to the series than just the on-camera narratives that saw their favorite characters at odds.

Over the show’s more than 10 seasons, reports and interviews from cast members shed light on the drama taking place on the set of the Shonda Rhimes show. It became abundantly clear that there were real reasons behind some characters leaving, others staying, and why new faces were brought into the fold. Let’s take a look back at some of the most dramatic feuds, exits, and more.

Isaiah Washington’s Behavior, Exit, & Return

Isaiah Washington
Isaiah Washington had a storied time on the series [©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection].
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to former Grey’s cast member Isaiah Washington. The drama started in 2006 when the actor, who played Dr. Preston Burke on the show, reportedly said a homophobic slur in reference to cast mate T.R. Knight during an altercation with Patrick Dempsey. Not only did the reported issue publicly out T.R., but he used the slur again when speaking with reporters and denying the allegations. The circumstance ultimately lead to Isaiah’s termination from the series in 2007. However, it wasn’t the last time viewers would see him.

In 2014, during Grey’s Anatomy‘s 10th season, Isaiah returned for one episode, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” He reprised his role as Dr. Burke as a culmination for the story line of Sandra Oh‘s character, Dr. Christina Yang. Sandra left the show in 2014 after appearing in more than 200 episodes.

Ellen Pompeo Slightly Shades The Cast

Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo addressed some of the on-set toxicity [©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection].
Whether it was deliberate or not, series star Ellen Pompeo put some of her cast members in their place during a 2013 interview with New York Post. “Hurt feelings, combined with instant success and huge paychecks started things spinning out of control,” she told the outlet. “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.”

Katherine Heigl Drops Out Of The Emmy Race

Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl took her name out of the 2008 Emmy race [AP].
Katherine Heigl was a total series standout on Grey’s Anatomy. Her work earned her an Emmy win in 2007 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as Izzie Stevens. But in June 2008, the actress pulled her name out of contention for another coveted award, and seemingly blamed the material that she was given by writers as the reason why. “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,” she said in a statement.

Katherine Heigl Shades The Show’s Producers

Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl slightly shaded the crew during filming [AP].
In 2009, Katherine doubled down on the negative vibes that she had while filming. In an interview with David Letterman, the actress told the then-late night host about her first day filming the new season. “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.”

Katherine Heigl Finally Exits The Show

Katherine Heigl finally left the show after being an original cast member and winning an Emmy for her work [AP].
After what appeared to be a trying working partnership, Katherine opted to leave the show. Following her leave of absence to film Life As We Know It, Katherine and Shonda finally sat down to determine the end of the actress’ contract. Katherine left in season six, and her character has merely been mentioned in past episodes, including Justin Chambers‘ departure. In the time since Katherine’s left the show, her relationship with Shonda Rhimes hasn’t appeared to have shift, though Katherine admitted in a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair that she wished she would have “shut up” more.

T.R. Knight Decides To Leave

T.R. Knight
T.R. Knight left the show following season five [Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP].
Prior to Katherine’s exit, T.R. Knight made the difficult decision to leave the show, as well. In the episodes leading up to his exit, the actor’s screen time became noticeably less and less, favoring other characters story lines over his. As consequence, T.R.’s final appearance on the show came at the end of season 5 in 2009. He appeared in more than 100 episodes and earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2007.

Ellen Pompeo’s Contract

Ellen pompeo
Ellen Pompeo negotiated her contract to get the pay she wanted.

The saga of Ellen Pompeo’s contract is now an infamous part of the Grey’s Anatomy history. It began when the show’s star tried to negotiate her contract along with Patrick Dempsey, who seemingly refused to work through negotiations. When Patrick decided not to sit down and go over contracts, Ellen went on to ask to be paid more money. Fortunately, Ellen stood her ground and went on to earn roughly $20 Million, becoming TV’s highest paid actress.

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