After Gay Slur, Isaiah Washington Gets a New 'Bionic' Lease on Life

What a card: Wolf, left, onstage with fresh faces in the
What a card: Wolf, left, onstage with fresh faces in the "Law & Order" franchise, Jeremy Sisto, Alicia Witt and Adam Beach. (By Frederick M. Brown -- Getty Images)
By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 17

Heading to NBC's "Bionic Woman" Q&A session at Summer TV Press Tour 2007, we couldn't help but feel for the producers of this remake who thought they'd dodged a bullet when they changed BW's deaf sister (played in the pilot by a non-deaf actress, which understandably did not play well with the deaf community) into BW's non-deaf sister -- only to have Isaiah Washington dumped in their laps by the new co-chairman of NBC, Ben Silverman.

Clearly life for the producers of "Bionic Woman" is going to be one damn thing after another.

The sister is no longer deaf because the chimpanzees have been written out of the show, executive producer Jason Smilovic explained to The Reporters Who Cover Television.

BW was to have landed a job working with lab chimps because she could speak to them in sign language, which she'd learned because her little sister was deaf. No chimps, no deaf sister. Deaf Sister is now Computer-Hacking Sister, the reporters were told. They swallowed that without protest.

But, on the Isaiah Washington front, one reporter wondered whether the producers weren't worried people might boycott the show to protest his hiring.

The former "Grey's Anatomy" star, you'll recall, used a slur against gays, apparently in reference to cast mate T.R. Knight, during a fight with another cast member. Washington apologized, then used the slur again at the Golden Globe Awards -- by way of denying he'd said it the first time around. He apologized again and began to do the Stations of the Cross as set out by ABC, including counseling and cutting an anti-homophobic public service announcement, which ran during a "Grey's" repeat. So far so good. But ABC decided not to renew Washington's contract, and since then he's been recanting his apology, saying he was set up by Knight, who masterminded his removal, and suggesting racism played a part.

"We feel he is the right actor for the role, but also we believe in second chances," Smilovic told the reporters here Tuesday. "We are not here to make judgments."

"When somebody does something wrong and you have a systemic problem, the best way to change that problem is not by casting them outside of the system," Smilovic continued, now on a roll.

"It's by allowing them to make amends, allowing them to make reparations and to do the right thing. So rather than excommunicate someone, we felt it was better to give him a second chance."

Bad tactical error on Smilovic's part -- particularly the "excommunicate" gag.

"If it had been a white actor repeatedly and unapologetically using the N-word, would you be so forgiving, and do you think NBC would be . . . issuing press releases [about] how they were able to grab an actor whom they rather blindly view as such a 'get' at the moment?" a reporter asked heatedly.

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