The end when it came was as sudden as it was anticlimactic. One month after the season finale and five months after Isaiah Washington famously lost his cool on the sets of the hit show Grey's Anatomy, ABC finally confirmed that Dr. Preston Burke is indeed history.
To backtrack a little, Washington landed the part of an arrogantly brilliant cardiac surgeon on Anatomy after a pretty successful Hollywood career playing supporting characters in A-list movies with stars such as Harrison Ford and George Clooney, amongst others. Burke was a role he welcomed, coming as it did when he was sick, as he once confided, of playing thugs. But it came with its own set of problems, starting with the cast.
Creator Shonda Rhimes, who says she writes and casts characters without following the standard Hollywood practice of first creating a racial profile for them, auditioned two men for the role of the de facto main lead, neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd. One was Washington, the other was Patrick Dempsey. Whoever landed the role, nicknamed McDreamy, would play opposite the nominal lead character in what was to be an ensemble effort, Meredith Grey. Grey was to be played by Ellen Pompeo.
The role went to Dempsey, at the time an '80s has-been who'd found fairly steady work in bit roles over the last 20 years. Washington, on the other hand, was cast as the equally yummy but missing-the-Mc-stamp of approval Dr. Burke.
The first inkling of any sort of discontent filtered out when Washington openly attributed the casting of McDreamy to the color of his skin. He said it quite clearly on ABC's Nightline when the show was interviewed in the first flush of its success about its multicultural cast and creative team, and repeated it to Oprah Winfrey.
For what it's worth, I think he might have a point. While interracial relationships have become fairly prevalent in America, many people still look at it askance. It is not inconceivable that ABC was particularly hesitant to show the most problematical, as Washington put it, of them all - the white woman-black man relationship. Neither Rhimes nor Pompeo, however, have ever addressed the issue directly, both maintaining that Dempsey was well cast. In fact, Rhimes often delves into her fangirl side when asked about Dempsey.