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Katherine Heigl & T.R. Knight: Are they really set to exit 'Grey's Anatomy?'

February 10, 2009 |  3:45 pm

Knight6_jzwab2ncWhatever story twists the writers are planning for ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," they couldn't possibly be as dramatic - or at least as suspenseful, in the literal sense of something suspended that never seems actually to fall - as the slow-motion goodbyes of cast members Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight.

This particular bit of off-screen kabuki was heightened with a new report that quotes fellow cast member James Pickens as declaring that Heigl and Knight are as good as gone.

Fans have been wondering about the actors' tenure for months. Heigl, a sometime movie star ("Knocked Up") with a well-documented fondness for saying seemingly unguarded and possibly career-jeopardizing things, dissed the series last year with a grandiose gesture, removing herself from Emmy consideration and saying "the material I was given" failed to warrant award consideration. Knight, who was at the center of an ugly gay-baiting incident involving former costar Isaiah Washington, is reportedly unhappy with what he feels is too-limited screen time.

A couple points, however, are getting lost in the scuffle to squeeze some sort of definitive news from Pickens' remarks. First, it may seem like old-school skepticism but we'll ask anyway: Not that he's necessarily wrong, but how does Pickens know for sure that either one of his costars is leaving? Actors are not always the most reliable sources of dish on upcoming scripts, let alone information about what's happening off the set. For the record, network and studio sources have declined comment on the Heigl/Knight issue, as have PR reps for the two actors.

But that leads the second point: Why should anyone comment and ruin all this great suspense? Now in its fifth season, "Grey's" needs all the help it can get. Back in the day - that would be the 2006-07 season, to be precise, when it averaged a record 19.9 viewers - it was ABC's top-rated scripted show and bona fide sensation.

That all seems like a very, very long time ago. Fans have complained bitterly about this season's storylines - particularly the remergence of "Dead Denny," a deceased former love interest of Heigl's character surgical resident Izzie Stevens - and the show is slogging through its worst-ever ratings, averaging 15.1 million viewers. A current arc of interlocking episodes with the "Grey's" spin-off "Private Practice" seems to be boosting the latter show without doing anything to help the former.

So by keeping the Heigl/Knight drama alive, Pickens may have just been doing what he could to help out the home team.

-Scott Collins

Photo: ABC