More ''Grey's Anatomy'' drama: Amid salary spats and reported discontent over a planned spin-off of ABC's hit, Isaiah Washington tells EW he's uncertain about his future on the show next season

By Lynette Rice
Updated March 07, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Craig Sjodin

Finally, some good news for Isaiah Washington. Seven weeks after he stepped on a land mine at the Golden Globes by uttering an antigay slur he’d been accused of using on the set of Grey’s Anatomy last fall, the beleaguered star received an NAACP Image Award on March 2 for best actor in a drama series. ”The first time I was up here I felt deserving of something,” he told the audience at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium. ”This time, I feel privileged.” If only he were informed, too. When EW tracked him down after the ceremony to ask whether he’ll be back at Seattle Grace next season, Washington was noticeably cryptic: ”I don’t know the facts of what’s going on.”

When it comes to Grey’s Anatomy these days, very few people do. Washington’s future employment — which has been endlessly debated since the f-word incident — is just one of the many mysteries swirling around ABC’s top-rated drama. The first involves a war of words over money between costar Katherine Heigl and ABC Television Studio, which quietly offered salary increases to the cast earlier this season. One insider familiar with the negotiations says the studio first considered rewarding stars Patrick Dempsey, Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh, and Washington with bigger raises than other cast members. That likely prompted Heigl to pull out of the renegotiation Feb. 27 because, according to an unnamed source who spoke to, ”[the studio] doesn’t value her as much as her costars….”

ABC fired back a day later, arguing it had ”approached Katherine with an offer to raise her compensation significantly above the terms of her current contract” and was ”surprised to see this gesture reported negatively in the press.” Not to be outmaneuvered, Heigl countered with a statement a day later saying ”I am embarrassed this has become a public matter.” Heigl — like her costars — is under a traditional, multiyear deal and is not guaranteed a raise at all, but when a show is successful, studios often reward their talent with pay increases. Most of the Grey’s actors are expected to sign new deals by month’s end: Dempsey is poised to make around $200K an episode, while Oh should earn more than $100K per week. Even after her very public display of discontent, it seems highly unlikely that Heigl would walk away from a gig on one of TV’s most buzzed-about series.

One person who might be bolting, however, is Kate Walsh, who’s been tapped to headline a potential Grey’s spin-off featuring Taye Diggs. According to one report, her fellow actors were angry after being caught off-guard by the news of the project on Feb. 21, but insiders dispute that notion: ”They were told,” insists one person close to the show. Creator Shonda Rhimes has submitted the two-hour script, while The Nine‘s Tim Daly and Prison Break‘s Paul Adelstein — who, ironically, was cast as the original Dr. Burke on Grey’s — have also signed on. Filming is set to begin in the next few weeks.

As for Washington’s future, his comment to EW seems to cast doubt on whether he’ll return for season 4, but the studio (along with Washington’s newly hired publicist, noted crisis manager Howard Bragman) says he’s not going anywhere. Still, it’s telling that his name has reportedly been absent during the recent salary renegotiations. Bragman says that ”we are going to do our business in private, not in the press,” adding, ”I’m looking at the bigger picture. I will not let [the f-word incident] define him. He will not let it define him.” We’ll see whether he gets his wish in the coming weeks. The show is set to film its season finale in late April, and ABC will announce its fall schedule on May 15. In the meantime, the notoriously tight-lipped Rhimes is keeping viewers, the press, and apparently her cast in the dark about any future plans for the medical drama. When asked about the spin-off at the Image Awards, Washington demurred: ”I don’t know when it came about — or why. They don’t tell me anything!” (Additional reporting by Alynda Wheat)