Shondaland is a TV production company founded by writer and producer Shonda Rhimes. While it has most notably produced the hit series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder – all three shows responsible for ABC’s Thursday night “TGIT” lineup – the company has also ventured beyond, creating the spin-off Private Practice, the Shakespeare-inspired series Still Star-Crossed, as well as 2011’s Off The Map, 2016’s The Catch, and the upcoming For The People. Her new, lucrative Netflix deal should only bring more Shondaland shows into the world.
Though Rhimes is mostly known for her addictive TV shows and their complex characters, diverse casts, tear-jerking storylines, and sudden deaths, there is also another consistent element in relation to this writer and her production company: actors being fired for murky (and, therefore, controversial) reasons.
Sometimes, Shondaland’s relationships with actors end in very public and understandable ways. Most times, however, actors are let go without a particular explanation or exit plan, and are often very vocal, later, about their surprise and disappointment with Rhimes.
While it is hard to pinpoint whether Rhimes and her team are in the right or in the wrong in each of these instances, all of these firings have cast a shadow over Shondaland and established a reputation for the company that no actor is completely safe from being killed off or replaced if they are deemed difficult to work with.
These are 15 Shondaland Actors Fired For Shady Reasons.
15. KATHERINE HEIGL (GREY’S ANATOMY)
The case of Katherine Heigl is perhaps the first and most public instance that showed how Shonda Rhimes was willing to let go of actors who were not happy with the work they were given by Shondaland.
It all happened after Heigl won an Emmy in 2007 for her performance as Izzie Stevens in Grey’s Anatomy, and opted out from the chance of being nominated again in 2008, claiming that the material she was given in the show was just “not good enough.”
Needless to say, Heigl was fired from Grey’s Anatomy after the show’s sixth season. Ironically, though many have been nominated throughout the years, Heigl is the only actress in the show’s main cast to have won an Emmy for her performance in Grey’s Anatomy. In 2011, Loretta Devine won an Emmy for her guest appearance as Adele Webber.
14. COLUMBUS SHORT (SCANDAL)
After a quite successful three-season run in Scandal as the charming and compelling character Harrison Wright, actor Columbus Short was fired and did not come back for the show’s fourth season in 2014.
Short was accused of domestic violence, which led to his exiting from Scandal. According to the actor, the allegations were mostly untrue, and although he pleaded guilty once the case went to trial, he insisted that he was acting in self-defense. Later, the actor cited drug abuse as the reason behind his personal wrong-doings and firing from Scandal.
When Short was asked about Shonda Rhimes and the series, he said that he understood the reasoning behind Shondaland and ABC’s decision to kill off his character.
13. PATRICK DEMPSEY (GREY’S ANATOMY)
It gets very fuzzy when it comes to analyzing Patrick Dempsey’s departure from Grey’s Anatomy, largely due to the symbiotic relationship between the involved parties. It’s no secret that the actor’s career was made because of this show, and also that much of the series’ success undoubtedly relied on this particular actor.
To this day, there is no 100% believable reason to explain Dempsey’s departure. The official narrative from the production team is that Rhimes felt like killing his character (Derek Shepherd) was a way to protect the preciousness of his relationship with Meredith Grey, the series’ protagonist. From Dempsey’s standpoint, the situation was pinned as the actor’s departure from the longstanding Grey’s Anatomy series to focus on different projects.
However, there are many reports supporting the notion that what truly got Dempsey fired was his alleged affair with one of the show’s interns and alleged feud with Shonda Rhimes. Most recently, the actor was seen as in the comedy Bridget Jones’s Baby.
12. BETHANY JOY LENZ (THE CATCH)
With the always uncertain future in regards to How To Get Away with Murder and the imminent end to Scandal getting closer by the date, ABC promoted the heck out of The Catch – a new series from Shondaland that was hailed to become the next big addition to the network’s Thursday night “TGIT” lineup.
But only a few months before the show premiered, there were major casting overhauls, including the axing of Bethany Joy Lenz and her character (Zoe) altogether. The reason for it seems to be very shady, and the actress even took to social media to express her frustrations. “Looks like they need a different type for ZOE, so I’ll be replaced,” she wrote.
The “criminal wife” character of The Catch’s male lead was renamed from Zoe to Margot Bishop, and Bethany Joy Lenz was replaced by Sonya Walger. In 2017, Lenz had a multi-episode story arch in the TV series Colony.
11. ISAIAH WASHINGTON (GREY’S ANATOMY)
Isaiah Washington was reportedly fired from Grey’s Anatomy for having a heated discussion with Patrick Dempsey and using the slur “f**got” in reference to co-star T.R. Knight. Needless to say, things looked very ugly for the actor.
It was not only unwise to have a strong argument with the show’s male lead and call a co-star by a demeaning slur, but there was also another very important detail in this story. At the time, T.R. Knight was not out of the closet as gay, and once Washington and Dempsey’s discussion was made public, it also shoved Knight out of the closet, forcing him to come out as a gay man after the incident.
After being fired from Grey’s Anatomy in 2014, Isaiah Washington became a regular in the cast of The CW’s The 100.
10. BRITNE OLDFORD (FOR THE PEOPLE)
Shondaland’s For The People hasn’t even premiered yet, but casting commotion has already been taking place.
Even though the For The People pilot was deemed successful enough for ABC to give the show a couple more episodes, Britne Oldford, who was originally the female lead, was replaced with Britt Robertson, for no apparent reason. Oldford had a successful run as Alma Walker in American Horror Story: Asylum, the protagonist in Hunters, a recurring character in The Path, and even as the villain Shawna Baez (Peek-a-Boo) in The Flash.
With so much experience in her hands, it’s hard to say what went wrong between the actress and Shondaland in regards to For The People. With Rhimes departing ABC to join Netflix, it’s hard to say if she is even still actively pursuing a new hit TV series to air at the network.
9. JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN (GREY’S ANATOMY)
According to a famous L.A. Times piece that profiled Jeffrey Dean Morgan after his departure of Grey’s Anatomy, the actor “hoped, prayed, schemed, and finally begged for life” to Rhimes in order to keep his character alive.
It was not an amicable Shondaland exit for Morgan. Though he insists that Rhimes was sympathetic to his cause, the actor did not seem to truly accept his character’s fate for a long time, and did not seem to understand at all the reasoning behind killing him off.
Though Denny Duquette was only a recurring role, it was a very controversial decision to kill such a beloved character, but it ultimately sustained the Grey’s Anatomy tone that no one is ever 100% safe in the series.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is doing just fine, currently on air as Negan in The Walking Dead.
8. TIM DALY (PRIVATE PRACTICE)
Private Practice was a spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy that ran on ABC from 2007 to 2013. The series took some familiar faces (such as Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery character) to a new hospital located in Los Angeles, and also starred Tim Daly as Pete Wilder, arguably the show’s protagonist alongside Montgomery.
Needless to say, it was quite shocking for audiences when Tim Daly wasn’t back for Private Practice’s sixth and final season, and things just got shadier when Shonda Rhimes told TV Guide that “there were budgetary reasons” for the actor’s exit.
Considering that Tim Daly played a very important character in the show’s main cast, the official reports about the actor’s firing from Private Practice mostly sounded disingenuous and like they were covering up something unpleasant.
Thankfully, since 2014, Tim Daly has been happily employed as the male lead in Madam Secretary. In the end, it usually works out just fine for ex-Shondaland actors.
7. BROOKE SMITH (GREY’S ANATOMY)
Brooke Smith played Dr. Erica Hahn in the third, fourth, and fifth seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. In a 2008 interview with Entertainment Weekly in regards to her firing, the actress hinted that ABC executives had apparently expressed discomfort with Dr. Hahn’s lesbian romance storyline with Dr. Torres, and that Rhimes chose to suddenly eliminate the character in order to please the network at the time.
While Brooke Smith’s arguments definitely make sense in the context of 2008, it is definitely ironic – if her reasoning is true – that her character got axed fired for being a lesbian in a show that would later be praised for its diversity in regards to race, gender, and sexual orientation.
6. DAN BUCATINSKY (SCANDAL)
Like many actors whose characters were killed off before him, Dan Bucatinsky had a lot to say when Scandal’s James Novak was axed from the series on season 3. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, Bucatisnky flat-out said that he thought his character “didn’t deserve to die,” which translates to him not understanding Rhimes’ reasoning at all.
Though Dan Bucatinsky only had a recurring role in Scandal, his character was actually quite important and felt very present in the overall series, so the death of James Novak came to everyone as a shock. In the same 2014 THR interview, the actor seemed eager to come back to the show in flashback form or in any other capacity, which gave off the impression that he really felt gloomy about being axed.
5. ERIC DANE (GREY’S ANATOMY)
There was definitely enough scandal in the behind-the-scenes of Grey’s Anatomy.
In 2009, actor Eric Dane had his lawyers investigating an alleged sex tape that contained footage of a threesome involving him, wife Rebecca Gayheart, and a woman called Kari Ann Peniche. While the leak of a sex tape involving a male actor is not conventionally thought of as enough damage to get that actor fired from a TV show, those years were definitely hard on Eric Dane, which even prompted him to enter a rehab facility in 2011 to fight against drug dependency.
Due to these turbulent times in which Eric Dane was trying to rectify his personal life, the actor left Grey’s Anatomy on season 8, which ended in 2012. Since 2014, he has been the protagonist in the TNT television show The Last Ship.
4. MERRIN DUNGEY (PRIVATE PRACTICE)
After appearing twice in Grey’s Anatomy and being part of the storyline (“The Other Side Of This Life”) that ultimately spun off Private Practice, when it came to the actual spin-off series, Merrin Dungey’s Dr. Naomi Bennett character was unashamedly recast with actress Audra McDonald.
In a 2007 interview with USA Today, Shonda Rhimes explained the actress replacement with the following statement: “We wanted to put an edge on Naomi that we could define more clearly.” Audra McDonald said she had been previously recast as Bill Cosby’s daughter in the Cosby series, implying that these things are normal and happen all the time for no actual reason.
3. T.R. KNIGHT (GREY’S ANATOMY)
After being outed as a gay man by co-star Isaiah Washington during his very public argument with Patrick Dempsey, actor T.R. Knight felt like he should just reveal his sexuality on his own terms, but was apparently discouraged by Grey’s Anatomy producers (including Shonda Rhimes, allegedly) to do so.
Rhimes has denied Knight’s claims, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2009 that she made the actor feel comfortable to say whatever he so desired and that the Shondaland team was ready to stand by his statement. T.R. Knight, however, began to deeply distrust the team that surrounded him, and eventually left Grey’s Anatomy due to this disconnect.
While T.R. Knight was not necessarily “fired” from this Shondaland series, the actor certainly alluded to the fact that he felt he was put in a spot where he either had to leave the show or lie to people about being gay.
2. LYNDON SMITH (FOR THE PEOPLE)
For The People not only recast Britne Oldford, but also Lyndon Smith, which means that both of the pilot’s protagonists were replaced with different actors by the time that the series actually premieres.
Lyndon Smith’s character, Allison Anderson, will now be played by actress Jasmin Savoy Brown (mostly known for The Leftovers) when For The People finally airs on ABC. Like Oldford, Smith has had an extensive career in TV, and there is no official report as to why she was replaced in the show if the pilot was compelling enough to get a series treatment. Most notably, the actress had a memorable presence in TV shows such as Parenthood, Public Morals, and 90210.
1. DAMON DAYOUB (THE CATCH)
Mostly known for his role as detective Quincy Fisher in Stitchers, Damon Dayoub was all set to become the male lead in Shondaland’s The Catch… and then was replaced with Peter Krause before the show even premiered.
Unlike co-star Bethany Joy Lenz, who was also fired from The Catch for dubious reasons, Damon Dayoub stayed mum about the situation and moved on to other projects such as Stitchers and a cameo in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. Mireille Enos was basically the only actress in the show’s main set of protagonists that wasn’t replaced by the time that The Catch went on the air.
After two seasons, The Catch was canceled by ABC due to low ratings. The show was expected to someday rightfully join the Thursday night “TGIT” line-up of hit series produced by Shondaland on ABC, but failed to meet those expectations.
Do you think that any of these actors did not deserve to be fired by Shondaland? Which do you think was the shadiest reason for an actor to be let go? Let us know in the comments!
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