Grey's Anatomy just delivered a major shocker to its core base.
Fan favorites Jessica Capshaw (Arizona) and Sarah Drew (April) will exit the ABC medical drama at the conclusion of its current 14th season.
"The characters of Arizona and April are permanently woven into the fabric of Grey's Anatomy thanks to the extraordinary work of Jessica Capshaw and Sarah Drew. As writers, our job is to follow the stories where they want to go, and sometimes that means saying goodbye to characters we love. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with these phenomenally talented actresses," co-showrunner and executive producer Krista Vernoff said in a statement.
Added creator and exec producer Shonda Rhimes: "It's always hard for me to say goodbye to any of my characters. Both Arizona Robbins and April Kepner are not only beloved but iconic — both the LBGTQ and devout Christian communities are underrepresented on TV. I will be forever grateful to both Jessica and Sarah for bringing these characters to life with such vibrant performances and for inspiring women around the globe. They will always be a part of our Shondaland family."
Capshaw has been with Grey's for 10 seasons, nine as a series regular playing Arizona, the openly gay pediatrics surgeon who has been embraced by the LGBTQ community. With former star Sara Ramirez (Callie), Capshaw was part of one of broadcast television's first lesbian weddings. The character helped Grey's receive multiple awards from LGBTQ watchdog group GLAAD, while also representing a traditionally underserved community.
Capshaw responded to news of her forthcoming exit on Twitter: "For the past 10 years I have had the rare privilege of not only playing Arizona Robbins but also being madly in love with playing her. Arizona Robbins is kind, intelligent, funny, insightful, bold, playful, fierce and really good at her job. She was one of the first members of the LGBTQ community to be represented as a series-regular role on network television. Her impact on the world is permanent and forever. Forever. I am grateful that I have gotten to bring her to life and for the life that she has brought to me. I am sad to see her go, but I am consoled by the idea that she will continue to live on and on in all of our consciences and our imaginations. Shonda, thank you for the ride on this incredible rollercoaster."
Drew, with the Shondaland drama for nine seasons (eight as a regular), came in as an intern and has been wildly praised for April's commitment to her faith. (That storyline is currently being explored as the character is in the midst of a crisis of faith this season.) Drew reacted to her upcoming exit with a lengthy statement on Twitter: "Thank you for all of the love. I know you're sad. I'm sad too. I haven't really had the time to process this information. I've been with it for less than 48 hours, so I'm not ready to say my thank yous and give an all encompassing statement about my nine years here. That will come later. For now, I'd like to say: I love you, and I love April, and her story isn't over yet. And the really good news (for me at least) is that I'm here on set shadowing one of my favorite people, Kevin McKidd, with my beloved Grey's family all this week and next, so I get to process all of my feelings surrounded by the community that has nourished and nurtured me for almost a decade. For that, I am so grateful."
As Vernoff's statement implied, the decision for Capshaw and Drew to exit was a creative one and not based on salary. (Vernoff has been outspoken about salary parity, among other issues.) While Grey's is not officially renewed for next season, it's a shoo-in to return after star Ellen Pompeo signed a two-year deal that makes her TV's highest paid actress on a primetime drama. No other series-regular exits are expected to come this season.
Vernoff took to Twitter to address the implication that Capshaw and Drew's departures were related to Pompeo's massive $20 million deal. "The suggestion ... that our cast changes are in any way related to Ellen Pompeo's salary renegotiation is wrong and hurtful and misguided," she wrote. "It smacks of an old, broken, patriarchal notion that women must be pitted against each other and that one woman's success will be costly to others. Ellen Pompeo has not only advocated passionately for her fellow cast members, she has taken the time to educate women worldwide as to how to advocate for themselves and that must not now be twisted. The decision to make changes to our cast was a creative one. The only thing as constant on Grey's Anatomy as Ellen Pompeo is our penchant for reinvention. It is a part of our success and what keeps the show exciting. We love these actresses and we love these characters and it felt true and right creatively to wrap up their stories. And that is the whole story."
Capshaw and Drew become the second and third series regulars to exit Grey's this season. They join Martin Henderson (Nathan), who was written out after a two-season run.
The exits come as Grey's — ABC's No. 2 drama behind The Good Doctor — is in a period of change. After saying farewell to series regular Jerrika Hinton (Stephanie) last year, star Jason George (Ben) is transitioning to Station 19, the firefighter spinoff. The drama, which welcomed back Vernoff as co-showrunner (after her stint in seasons one through seven) as Rhimes prepared her move to Netflix, also recently introduced six new interns as the veteran drama looks to repopulate its ranks. Former star Kim Raver also recently booked her return, with Scott Speedman set to guest-star this season.
Remaining series regulars on Grey's are original stars Pompeo, Justin Chambers, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr. Kevin McKidd, Jesse Williams, George, Caterina Scorsone, Camilla Luddington, Kelly McCreary and Giacomo Gianniotti are regulars as well.
Grey's remains more important to ABC now than ever as Rhimes exited her longtime home with producers ABC Studios for a Netflix deal said to be worth north of $100 million. Last week, ABC used Grey's to set up the Station 19 spinoff, which is exec produced but not written by Rhimes.
Deadline was the first to report the news.