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In defense of Katherine Heigl: Why all the hate?

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Wow, what did Katherine Heigl do to anger so many people? There’s a lotta Heigl-hate out there. Her most immediate offenses seem to be the common-consensus mediocrity of her new movie The Ugly Truth and her July 20 complaint to David Letterman that she had to work a 17-hour day.

As a result of this and other perceived sins, the L.A. Times has published a piece about contempt for Heigl, and a blogger I respect, the first-class TV writer Ken Levine (whose terrific blog you can also find my blogroll), has published a ferocious entry about Heigl as a diva. I respectfully disagree.

Me, I’ll defend her. Her Letterman appearance, if you watch the whole thing, was funny and smart. You have to be on your toes with Dave, and she really engaged with him. She showed genuine, non-diva curiosity about things other than herself (asking Dave about his own, long-gone dog, Bob, for example). As for the gripe about Anatomy work-hours, she wasn’t saying she’s worked to the bone every day — it was more the mild complaint of a tired laborer. Who doesn’t like to needle the boss? (And no matter how much dough you make, a 17-hour day is difficult, right?)

As for Ugly Truth, which Heigl had a hand in producing — well, yes, doing scenes with vibrating underpants isn’t a way to lift yourself into cinema Valhalla alongside Katharine Hepburn, but, hey, you know what? Some of those Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies were pretty silly, too. (Look at Desk Set some time — about as many laughs as Ugly Truth.)

Heigl has almost always been on the right side of things. She defended her pal T. R. Knight when he needed defending from an otherwise-pretty-silent Anatomy cast. The year she pulled herself out of Emmy nomination, it was for a solid, ego-free reason: she didn’t think Izzy’s scenes were good enough to take up a slot for some better performance that year. What’s to hate about that?

Sure, Heigl needs to launch a better movie career in the future. She must find better scripts and better directors, because she’s not trying to be (only) a sex symbol, and for a woman in Hollywood, that requires a lot of effort to overcome. She was solid in Knocked Up, and as I said, she radiates intelligence and giggly good humor on talk shows. Check out that Letterman appearance from last week:

What do you think? Heigl: Love her, hate her, or think she’s caught in another media crossfire?