Shonda Rhimes Must Have It In For Katherine Heigl

One of these people is dead. It’s no secret that Katherine Heigl is as close to Isaiah Washington in terms of her current standing with the Grey’s Anatomy writers.  This isn’t to say that she’s making homophobic comments.  However, Grey’s fans can recall the buzzing that was circulating the set when Isaiah had an altercation or made comments towards T.R. Knight.  That same attention is here again.  I find Katherine (as an actress and as an interview) fascinating.  I guess it’s just something in the way that she responds to questions.  It lets me know that she’d make for an incredibly interesting conversation.  However, it might be that independent and against-the-grain attitude that ends her run on Grey’s.

It’s no secret that she’s very outspoken.  She’s different from most of the ‘Hollywood crowd’.  (She has a backbone.)  When Katherine felt that her character was underutilized last season, she took her name out of the running for an Emmy nomination for Best Actress (despite the fact that she won the award last year.)  A bit risky.  Some may say a bit ungrateful… but one that is undoubtedly the response of a person who considers their craft ‘art’ and isn’t just looking for a check.  She cares about how her character is being portrayed.

In defense of the series creator and lead writer, Shonda Rhimes, it is completely up to her as writer to decide how her on-screen characters are to be developed.  Shonda has gone on record as saying that she has a “Grey’s bible” and that every plotline’s resolution is pretty much ‘laid out’.  And so, perhaps, this was the season to de-emphasize Heigl’s character (Izzie Stevens) and to focus on the development of less prominently featured characters?  Whatever the reason, it’s a bit juvenile to think that someone who has given us as many compelling moments as Rhimes has would de-emphasize a character over a personal dispute.

Or perhaps I have it completely wrong.  Perhaps Katherine doesn’t have an issue with the way she has been used at all.  Maybe she just doesn’t think she herself gave 100% this season and would feel guilty if she won the award?  Or perhaps there is some inside disagreement that is beyond the reach of nagging tabloids.

Whatever the reason, it’s become clear to me this season that Shonda is making an exit for Katherine.

I remember when I was a kid.  Back then, we used to go to kindergarten for only half days, so when we’d get home my mother would be watching soap operas.  They’re often considered mindless fodder (and having bypassed a few of them while channel surfing during my week off, I’d be hard pressed to disagree.)  However, they benefited me in that they gave me a sense of romance and passion.  I was blessed enough to witness the ‘Summer of Love’.  No, not 1969, but the summer where Luke Spencer and Laura Webber captured the minds and imaginations of audiences.  They travelled from Port Charles to some boat to some Islands in the Atlantic to flee from those in opposition to their love (and on the way got caught up in a scheme involving gold and a bunch of other stuff.)  I digress, but the point is that in watching soap operas, I saw much of the same kinds of passion and romance that has made Grey’s a success – albeit on a much less ‘over-dramatized’ level.

One thing that I also remember seeing were, without question, the most outrageous and the most imaginative stories one could ever imagine.  David Lynch has nothing on the daytime soap opera writers.  I saw characters discovery that they had a long lost twin.  I watched as children born while I was in kindergarten would out-age me in a few seasons.  Secret diaries and black books were common.  People would have bouts with amnesia (and sometimes fake them.)  I don’t think there has been a storyline in the history of nighttime television drama that hasn’t been seen on daytime television.  If you consider the circumstances, it makes sense.  They air episodes every weekday.  Every weekday.  I don’t understand how they can churn it all out.  How do they keep the storylines straight?  How do the actors remember all of the lines?  However they do it, somehow they’ve covered about every angle you could imagine.

Except one…

On Grey’s Anatomy, the character of Izzie Stevens has always needed to do more to fight for her right to be a resident within the confines of Seattle Grace.  She’s blond, beautiful and has an electric smile.  To most, this would seem to be a benefit, but for Izzie, it’s a detriment.  It means that any positive thing – any award or consideration – may be attributed to her looks.  She has a wonderful disposition, but again, this is a detriment.  In a hospital where life and death and injury happen countless times a day, she gets wrapped up in the emotional lives of her patients.  She gets attached.  (Although she is getting better – or at least was getting better.)  One such attachment almost led to her demise.

In what was the biggest story arc in Grey’s Anatomy’s short history (and I believe the one that viewers of the show still hold as the most compelling situation) Katherine fell for a patient – the handsome Robert Downey Jr. look-alike (only hunkier) – Denny Duquette.  We watched as Izzie grew closer and closer to Denny, who was in dire need of a heart transplant.  We watched their love develop over almost the entire twenty-two episode season.  It was a slow burn.  And because of that, it was much more believable.  I have always taken issue with the notion that we shouldn’t get emotionally attached to work situations, but after watching this storyline, I soon understood why and what could happen.  At that season’s culmination <SPOILERS FOLLOW!!! – If you want to experience this incredible storyline yourself, stop now, buy the DVD seasons and then come back later.  I’ll understand.  :-)…> Izzie decides to stop the machine that was keeping Denny alive in order to make him more likely to get a heart that became available.  But the story ends in tragedy as Denny dies of a stroke after proposing to Izzie.

The story sounds rather campy with me retelling it, but it was indescribably emotional for the viewer.  For Grey’s watchers, there’s no questioning why Katherine Heigl was awarded the Best Actress Emmy that season.  She earned it.  I can still see her glassy eyes in that pink dress walking through the hospital.  And then subsequently lying on the bathroom floor.  It was heart-wrenching.

One of the consequences for the storyline was that viewers would no longer get to see the equally electric smile of Denny.  Audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of Denny.  And apparently neither could the writers.  Denny showed up more than a few times in Izzie’s imagination.  The series had a mid-season recap show (you know, the one where the writers take a break and in an effort to familiarize new viewers or to remind old viewers why they love the show, they show a series of memorable clips.)  Well, Denny (introducing himself as his real name — Jeffery Dean Morgan) hosted the clip show.  Just when you thought Katherine was getting over the pain of the loss, somehow the word “Denny” would fall out of her mouth again.  As much as I relate to her character and the fact that she truly did love Denny, it started to be a bit sickening.  He’s dead.  You’re beautiful.  You’re young and you are a doctor.  There will be other suitors.  And it seemed as if she had finally gotten over Denny this season.  But then something strange happened.

For the past four or five shows, Denny has been appearing and actually interacting with Izzie.  Initially I fancied him a premonition – a vision of a dream that Izzie had one day.  But it kept going.  He kept showing up.  And over the course of more than just one episode.  Now it’s gotten to the point where Denny is featured in just about every scene that Katherine has.  We can see him in the camera shot, but when we view the same scene from another character’s perspective (i.e. how they see Izzie) we see nobody.  She’s by herself goofily looking up and smiling at nobody.  When she’s walking away from George, she’s talking to Denny, but in the shot where we see the scene from George’s perspective, we don’t see anyone except Izzie.  And we shouldn’t.  HE’S DEAD!

The storyline is a bit outrageous, even for a television show.  And I do trust the Grey’s writers to bring most storylines to a satisfying conclusion.  But this one leaves me a bit dubious.

In evaluating the motives for the storyline, it is hard to separate it from the off-screen comments that we see on the front of tabloids or while seeing teasers for TMZ that have been traded between Shonda and Katherine.  It’s also no secret that if Grey’s writers don’t want you on the show, they aren’t trigger shy.  They have ways. Just ask Isaiah Washington and Brooke Smith (Doctors Burke and Hahn).  But what makes this situation different than even the one with Isaiah Washington is that I believe Izzie Stevens holds more cache emotionally with the viewer base than many other characters.  Her sensitivity makes her easy to love.  And to remove her from the show – especially this way – will be a tough pill for Grey’s fans to swallow.

Giving all due respect and deference to the writers, I don’t see how this situation can end satisfyingly for anyone.  The most likely scenarios are that Izzie is either crazy/schizophrenic or that she has a brain disorder (a storyline that would be fitting of the series, yet ironic considering her occupation).  In either way, she won’t be able to return to practicing medicine.  How could one who has a brain disorder or who sees people who aren’t there return to doing surgery for patients?  There are probably a few other possible explanations, but it is clear that (unless Grey’s writers are delving into the realm of science-fiction) Denny isn’t really there.  Izzie is imagining him.  Or perhaps they’ll truly incense viewers and invoke the 1985 season of Dallas where we realize in the final episode that the entire season we are watching is Izzie’s dream.  Considering the backlash that Dallas writers experienced, this is a highly unlikely decision. (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

So what are we left to think?  The only way to know for certain is to keep watching and to see how this season resolves.  Shonda talks about the ‘Grey’s bible’.  Clearly the Isaiah Washington situation forced her to make changes to the sacred scripture.  I’m just hoping that what we are seeing is the way in which the writers intended for the storyline to go and not the onscreen punishment of an actor who couldn’t learn to keep her mouth shut.

I’m a guy who tends to see the glass as half full most of the time.  But I have to admit, even I cannot see a positive outcome to this storyline.  Not for Izzie.  Not for Katherine’ Heigl’s job on the show.  Not for Grey’s fans… (and if the outcome isn’t positive for Grey’s fans, quite possibly… not for the show’s handsome ratings.)


4 Responses to “Shonda Rhimes Must Have It In For Katherine Heigl”

  1. 1 Grey's Fan
    December 5, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    WHY can’t Yang do the first solo surgery?! Is it because the interns were practicing?

  2. 2 Will
    December 5, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    If Katherine Heigl does leave it will be a big loss for Grey’s (in fact the show wont recover in my opinion and will be off screen in a season or so) but she has a huge movie career right now..she is the 5th highest paid actress in the world after Jolie, Roberts, Witherspoon and Diaz and the show needs her more than she needs it. She has lots of movies lined up..another one coming out in April with Gerard Butler and given that the storyline she had last year was really not up to scratch I think they were hoping this arc would give her the material and focus that she deserves. Unfortunately, I think it has been a bit difficult for people to understand and accept – the show is grounded in reality and it seemed a little far fetched. However, now we know she has a brain disorder (similar to a tumor) according EW, I think it is easier to see where they are going with the storyline. Either way, Heigl has been very impressive and has produced some fantastic work – even if people may struggle with the storyline her performances have been impossible to ignore.

  3. December 5, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Grey’s fan – I agree. I was kinda upset that Yang didn’t get to do the solo surgery. She was bummed the whole show. And I was bummed because she was bummed.

    It will be a shame if this affects the relationship that she and Meredith have. This combined with Meredith’s new friend (who I can’t BELIEVE is floating around the hospital after what happened) is really putting a strain on the relationship.

    But yes, I completely agree. Poor Cristina.

  4. December 5, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    Will, well said.

    I don’t see the show ever recovering either — at least not quite the way it was.

    I peeked at her IMDB profile too. I know she’s up there with those other actors — and the truth is that unlike the others mentioned, her stock is on the rise. She hasn’t even seen her best days yet.

    I just like the show so much and I want to see this thing play itself out. I talk about “Katherine Heigl” in the post, but the truth is that I don’t really know who she is. She seems nice. But I think the quality that we’re extracting from Katherine comes from how wonderfully she plays Izzie. I don’t want to put her in a box…. and clearly she has the chops to do other roles. But, like Izzie, I’ve become emotionally connected to seeing where this character ends up. It’s shameful to just end her career this way. She’s come so far. At least treat it like a spinoff and have her get really good this season and decide to go off and practice surgery in NYC or something.

    This crazy angle just isn’t right.

    And by the looks of Grey Matter (http://greyswriters.com) we’re not the only ones that feel that this will be a horrible decision.

    Maybe she asked to be written off the show??

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