Thursday, January 18, 2007

Scuffles, Words, Blame and Apology

And isn't that a depressing header. I've been thinking about television and testosterone, co-workers and pranks, altercations and annoyance. Why - you ask? Well, last night I fired up the DVR and watched "Ellen" and "Top Chef". T.R. Knight of "Grey's Anatomy" was appearing on "Ellen" and they touched on the October on set incident with Isaiah Washington. Now, I agree with others that multiple variations of the incident have been reported and I hate to use the Richard Gere standard of truth-finding*, but it does seem that there is agreement that a scuffle occurred involving Washington and that inappropriate words concerning Knight were used. Reports were that the word in question was, "faggot", and following the incident, Knight, who had previously been out among co-workers but had not addressed his sexuality publicly, confirmed that he is gay. Word from the cast and crew had been to the effect that it was an excess of testosterone that had been blown out of proportion. Washington had issued a statement apologizing and it seemed the "Grey's" team wanted to move on.
And then "Grey's Anatomy" won the Golden Globe, so the cast was all in one place and surrounded by press. The incident was brought up, Shonda Rhimes the show-runner was at the mike, but Washington moved to the mike to answer for himself that he never called anyone a faggot.
On "Top Chef" there have been the typical tensions one find when, in reality show fashion, a group of contestants are all forced to live together. Marcel has been the brunt of a lot of hating for being a dork, an arrogant and I'm sure annoying dork, but mostly just a dork. Well, last night was the final challenge before, well, the finals, and so some steam was let off after. In what may be sheer luck on the part of the producers, one of the contestants had borrowed a camera in order to film some of the celebrations. Elia, the remaining female, confessed that she had always wanted to shave her head. Two of the guys agreed to do it also, if she would. It appears one of them did not really believe she would, since he did not, in the end shave anything. But Elia and Ilan - bald. And then the idea came that they should shave Marcel. Marcel had somehow managed to sleep through this frivolity so they went over to him, and Cliff grabbed him and held him down, calling for them to bring the clippers. It seems that the fog of sleep deprivation, celebration, and alcohol had cleared for the others at this point. None of them were shown objecting, but neither did anyone arrive with the clippers. Marcel was struggling to get away from Cliff. Cliff starts to realize that this is not a good plan and finally releases Marcel. Marcel then decides, wisely I think, to remove himself to a room with a lock, away from these fools, which ends up being the bathroom. Ilan did try to follow him, and it was clear that Marcel's chest was all red from the wrestling.
Well, since the standard reality show contract is in play, Cliff was asked to leave. While he seemed genuinely surprised that they chose to view the behavior as threatening, he accepted it, said on camera that things got out of hand and he acted stupidly, and apologized to Marcel before leaving. Marcel graciously accepted. (It will be interesting to see if Cliff pulls a Keith and tries to rewrite history at the reunion, but so far, I'm impressed.)
Certainly reality show contestants are viewed differently than actors, but the juxtaposition is interesting to me right now. Several TWOPers have commented that had Washington used the n-word, the chances that everyone would try to brush it aside would be much less. Clearly Washington is feeling pressure from the media attention, but it seems strange to try to go back now and say that he didn't say the offensive word in question. Sadly I imagine he was trying to quell the talk, and instead he has inflamed it. In fact, up until now most of the cast had seemed to be willing to assist in playing it off. And maybe it's a bit of a Star Jones thing, where Washington has been told that his contract is in jeopardy but not to talk about it yet, and so he is instead trying to talk about the incident.
I'm almost tempted to suggest that one or all of the "Grey's" folks should just do one long slog of a press conference, and get it all out. I'm not sure it works as well in real life as it did on the "West Wing" but I think the initial official quiet on this, has kept it going, paired with the seeming glossing over of two potentially serious issues (assault and insult). Now, I'm not sure it's really any of my business how the people at a TV show address issues with their employees. But by saying publicly that it got blown out of proportion and everything's fine, I think they spawned speculation, with people wondering how do you maintain a professional relationship with someone who assaulted or insulted you without apparent repercussions. As I said, maybe there have been some. And maybe what they are is none of my business. And maybe I'm naive to think that something along the lines of, "we are handling this internally" would have helped anything. But it couldn't hurt.

*Based on the idea that if you hear the Richard Gere and a gerbil story enough times, it sounds true.

Catching up on my TWoP reading, I see poster yingyang made a similar comparison between behavior and results.

1/23/2006 - According to the NYT article, ABC stated that they had addressed the situation with Washington at the time of the original statement, and are re-addressing it now.
And. Top Chef-wise I was directed to the Chef Tom blog (I hate the coding on the Bravo site, so usually avoid it like the plague - and I agree with Tom. They should have sent them all home.