Grey’s Anatomy: Looking Back at Katherine Heigl’s Criticisms of the Show (& Why She Was Right)
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Grey’s Anatomy: Looking Back at Katherine Heigl’s Criticisms of the Show (& Why She Was Right)

Jan 27, 2024

Katherine Heigl received backlash and criticism for how she chose to tell the truth about Grey's Anatomy. Now we are realizing she was right.

When Grey's Anatomy first aired in 2005, audiences everywhere fell in love with the original five interns. Meredith held together the drama, Cristina was a force of nature, George was sweet as can be, Alex added the "bad boy" element, and Izzie was the bubbly and upbeat blonde. Each of the characters has since left the series because the actors either felt their parts were done, or they needed to move on to something different in their own lives. For Katherine Heigl, however, her exit from Shonda Rhimes' show was more unexpected than the others.

Fans were initially sad to see Izzie leave behind her friends, but in reality, Heigl was released from her contract due to some conflicts between her and Rhimes. No one expects acting to be an easy profession, and many of the greatest entertainers have had to sacrifice a lot for a successful show or film. Heigl had apparently had enough and, around the time of her exit, decided to publicly speak out about certain aspects of working on the set of Grey's Anatomy. This caused quite a bite of tension, and it resulted in her character being written off.

Now that our society is in a different decade with different perspectives on the profession, mental health, and the hardships of life in general, we are looking back at Heigl's words and realizing she was right all along. As we look back at the criticisms Heigl addressed while playing the role of Izzie Stevens on Grey's Anatomy, see if you also believe she was in the right.

From the outside looking in, the cast of Grey's Anatomy seems to be a well-oiled machine, but for the actors on the set, that is the exact problem. Heigl realized that the long days and nights were not sustainable for any sane person, let alone someone with a family back home waiting up for them. In 2009, the same year she adopted her first daughter, Heigl went on The Late Show With David Letterman and said a typical work day consisted of 17 hours. For anyone working any other profession, this amount of time spent on the clock seems outrageous, and Heigl acknowledged that.

Heigl and Rhimes, were already on thin ice while the actress was publicly criticizing the working conditions. Back in 2008, the actress removed herself from an Emmy Award nomination, claiming she "did not feel [she] was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination." Needless to say, Rhimes, who had written the material, was grossly offended by Heigl's statement. After the snowball of events, Heigl's character was written out of Grey's Anatomy, and Rhimes openly told The Hollywood Reporter that "There are no Heigls in this situation" when later referring to her show, Scandal.

Related: Grey's Anatomy: 15 Heaviest Topics the Series Tackled

Heigl clearly received a lot of backlash within the entertainment industry after she left Grey's Anatomy. More than a decade later, she told The Washington Post that she was previously called "'ungrateful'...'difficult'... [and] 'unprofessional.'" These labels make it hard for anyone in Hollywood to find work, even if the root of the problem was between just a couple of people.

With a target on her back as the "difficult to work with actress" label followed her around, Heigl found herself in less prominent and successful roles. Though she managed to make things look pretty and perfect on the outside, she was spiraling on the inside. She opened up about struggling with anxiety about how the rest of the industry was perceiving her.

After some much-needed therapy, Heigl has since come out of the dark, and she has realized that while she could have phrased things a little better, she was in the right to call out horrible working conditions and speak her mind about her own character.

In a recent interview for Variety's "Actors on Actors" series with Ellen Pompeo (who played the infamous Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy), Heigl admitted that she was "so naive" and had a false sense of confidence that made her believe she was justified in speaking her mind at the time. Pompeo mentioned to Heigl that "[she was] just a little ahead of [her] time." Nowadays, women in the industry speak their minds and hold their ground on boundaries. The stress of the profession is not only being acknowledged by the right people at this time, but Pompeo, Heigl, and hundreds of others are actively doing something about it each and every day.

Kate Walsh (who plays Dr. Addison Montgomery on Grey's Anatomy), went on Pompeo's "Tell Me" podcast and agreed with Heigl that the working conditions for the show are outrageous. Now that society is becoming more accepting of a better work-life balance, comments that Heigl said more than a decade ago are seen as empowering and truthful.

Related: Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo Got "Frustrated" With the Treatment of Meredith Grey: "She Can Stop Making Bad Decisions"

After leaving Grey's Anatomy, Heigl kept up with a steady stream of work. She was cast in more than a dozen different films including New Year's Eve, One for the Money, and Unforgettable. She also held the main role in shows such as State of Affairs, Doubt, and Suits. Perhaps Heigl's biggest breakthrough since her days as Izzie Stevens or her adorable roles in predictable romantic comedies is that of her very opinioned character, Tully Hart, in Netflix's Firefly Lane.

Much like Heigl in real life, Tully is not afraid to say what is on her mind. When she knows what she wants, she goes after it. The series only lasted two seasons, but each episode was impactful with an overall perfect ending. There was no need to draw out conflicts and relationships like many other shows try to do. Now, with some time and realizations under her belt, Heigl seems to be stepping back into the spotlight with a whole new attitude. Fans cannot wait to see what she does next.

Meaghan is a former high school English teacher whose love for the written word had not wavered. She has been writing for years, and most recently, she has been working on a "southern style" cookbook. As an amateur chef as well as dog mom, Meaghan keeps busy, and she would not have it any other way.