In a Q&A with Ausiello, Smith shared her surprise at her character’s shocking exit: “I was floored when they told me [I was being let go]. It was the last thing I expected. In fact, when they told me I asked, ‘When is this happening?’ And they said, ‘The [next episode] is your last,’ which is the one that airs this Thursday. So it was very sudden.”
AUSIELLO: What the hell happened?!
BROOKE SMITH: I was very excited when they told me that Erica and Callie were going to have this relationship. And I really hoped we were going to show what happens when two women fall in love and that they were going to treat it like any heterosexual couple on TV. And so I was surprised and disappointed when they just suddenly told me that they couldn’t write for my character any more.
That’s all they said?
Yes. Frankly, it was you that warned me this might happen on the red carpet back in July. You said [sometimes networks get cold feet] with gay relationships. And I was so naive. I’m like, "It’s 2008." But I’m starting to realize that not everyone feels the way I do. (Scroll down to watch our now-infamous exchange.)
Did you get the feeling that the story was making people nervous?
No. At work I had no sense of it. And more fans seemed to like it than not. I don’t think I’m ever going to know [why this really happened].
Smith said she learned about the network’s decision in mid-September, following the filming of Erica’s touching realization after her first time sleeping with Callie.
Her speech, which aired in last week’s episode, poignantly related the lightbulb moment of her sexuality with the first time she put on glasses.
Smith revealed that her character won’t be written out, but rather just drives away. Smith told Ausiello, “My final scene is just me heading to my car. I honestly don’t know what happens in the next episode. I heard not much.” Her departure coincides with the arrival of Battlestar Galactica alum Mary McDonnell’s new cardiac doctor next week.
Smith, who just moved her family to Los Angeles to be closer to her work on Grey’s, said Rhimes was upset about having to deliver the news and Ramirez was similarly shocked by the decision.
Sadly the wholesale dumping of lesbian storylines is nothing new to queer TV fans.
In 2005, the once-promising relationship between Mischa Barton’s Marissa and Olivia Wilde’s Alex on The O.C. ended in a jarring, jealous rage that was completely out of character.
In 2003, the lesbianism/bisexuality of Alan’s ex-wife, Judith (Marin Hinkle), on Two and a Half Men was dropped unceremoniously and without explanation by its second season.
Of course, the landmark example of the disappearance of lesbian storylines was Ellen DeGeneres’ former ABC show, Ellen. After its historic coming-out episode in 1997, the show strained under the network grew increasingly uncomfortable with its openness about her sexuality. The series was cancelled shortly after in 1998.
Grey’s viewers and fans of Erica and Callie (Callica) will no doubt be upset about Smith’s abrupt dismissal. The slow build-up to the doctors’ burgeoning relationship had been, for the most part, refreshingly cliché free, and Smith said she was "psyched" that her character was exploring her sexuality in a July interview with AfterEllen.com.
While Callie had fleeting moments of gay panic where she slept with friend and fellow surgeon Mark Sloan (Eric Dane), the interaction between the two women was both organic and romantic.
Callie and Erica’s relationship stood out as one of the few bright spots for lesbian and bisexual characters on primetime TV. Now it seems all we’re left with is taillights.
UPDATE: Shonda Rhimes has issued the following statement:
Brooke Smith was obviously not fired for playing a lesbian. Clearly it’s not an issue as we have a lesbian character on the show – Calliope Torres. Sara Ramirez is an incredible comedic and dramatic actress and we wanted to be able to play up her magic. Unfortunately, we did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke’s character would sustain in the long run. The impact of the Callie/Erica relationship will be felt and played out in a story for Callie. I believe it belittles the relationship to simply replace Erica with ‘another lesbian.’ If you’ll remember, Cristina mourned the loss of Burke for a full season.
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