Why Did 'Grey's Anatomy' Cut Lesbian Dr. Hahn? One minute, actress Brooke Smith has a featured role on one of the hottest shows on TV. The next, she's abruptly removed from the cast. But what ABC is deeming a "creative decision," hints of something else. TV critic Andrew Wallenstein says TV is sending the message that it is OK to be gay — just not too gay.
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Why Did 'Grey's Anatomy' Cut Lesbian Dr. Hahn?

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Why Did 'Grey's Anatomy' Cut Lesbian Dr. Hahn?

Why Did 'Grey's Anatomy' Cut Lesbian Dr. Hahn?

Why Did 'Grey's Anatomy' Cut Lesbian Dr. Hahn?

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One minute, actress Brooke Smith has a featured role on one of the hottest shows on TV. The next, she's abruptly removed from the cast. But what ABC is deeming a "creative decision," hints of something else. TV critic Andrew Wallenstein says TV is sending the message that it is OK to be gay — just not too gay.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Fans of the hit TV series "Grey's Anatomy" may have been surprised last week to see one of its regular characters, Dr. Erica Hahn, abruptly disappear from the show. After all, her romance with another female doctor had just begun to blossom. But that relationship, says critic Andrew Wallenstein, was precisely the problem.

(Soundbite of "Grey's Anatomy")

Ms. BROOKE SMITH: (As Dr. Erica Hahn) There is no gray area here. You can't kind of think this is OK. You can't kind of side with Izzie Stevens. And you can't kind of be a lesbian.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Those words were among the last actor Brooke Smith spoke on "Grey's Anatomy." Passions burned fiercely between her character, Dr. Hahn, and fellow surgeon Callie Torres, only to get snuffed quite suddenly.

Smith was written out of the show, sparking a debate that has raged in the press and the blogosphere. It boils down to this. Was the character's homosexuality cause for her dismissal? The show's producers have issued strenuous denials, chalking up their decision to the long-term creative viability of her character.

In an ironic twist, Grey's is the same show that kicked up controversy last year when another cast member, Isaiah Washington, was dismissed not long after he addressed a gay actor off-air with a homophobic slur. What's most unfortunate is Hahn may have been the most richly-drawn character the show ever yielded, finally played by a respected character actor like Brooke Smith. Dr. Hahn's sexual awakening provided what's otherwise a pretty vacuous soap opera some real moments of dramatic heft.

(Soundbite of "Grey's Anatomy")

Ms. SMITH: (As Dr. Erica Hahn) My whole life, my whole adult life, I have been with men, and it has always felt, you know, fine, good. But I never - I mean, I did, but not - not like this.

WALLENSTEIN: Now, you might be thinking, what's the big deal? Gay is almost cliche these days on TV. So many of the medium's best-known personalities are openly homosexual. But I would submit there are degrees of gay. Take someone like Ellen DeGeneres, who doesn't make it a secret, but isn't seen being overtly sexual on her program. That would make no sense. It's a talk show.

Then consider a sitcom like "Will and Grace" or a reality show like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Actually, take the entire Bravo Network. Yes, they're all filled with gay characters, but none of them really delved into the intimacy of a serious relationship.

In recent months, Grey's was doing just that. It's not the first drama to depict gay characters, but in this genre, gay is played more for shock value, like the requisite lesbian kiss that one show or another seems to try every sweeps period. Grey's may have been doing something more provocative by normalizing a gay relationship.

Ms. SMITH: (As Dr. Erica Hanh): I am so gay. I am so, so, so gay. I am extremely gay.

WALLENSTEIN: We hear you loud and clear, Dr. Hahn. Maybe too loud for ABC and its advertisers, which cater to a country that made its skittishness regarding gay marriage known as recently as election day. Perhaps when they're ready to confront the issue in the fictional world, they can deal with it in the real word, too.

BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is deputy editor of the Hollywood Reporter.

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