Katherine Heigl's Exit From Grey's Anatomy Totally Messed Up The Plans The Show Had For Izzie

It's no secret that Grey's Anatomy used to be home to some major behind the scenes troubles, and for several seasons. The medical drama debuted in 2005 and pretty much immediately garnered millions of fans, but it also launched with issues brewing among the cast and crew, which went on to bubble over many times during the early seasons of the show. One of the biggest controversies involved star Katherine Heigl, who played Izzie Stevens until her, rather sudden, departure about half of the way through Season 6. Now, the showrunner is revealing that Heigl's exit really did totally mess up the plans that Grey's Anatomy had for Izzie.

Katherine Heigl was one of many fan favorites during her time on Grey's Anatomy, and she even won an Emmy in 2007 for her role. Unfortunately, that was basically the beginning of the controversial end for the actress and her time on the series, as she'd withdraw her name from Emmy consideration the following year, with a public slam to the writers of the show and what they'd given her to work with as Izzie being her reason. Now, though, current showrunner Krista Vernoff, who was the show's head writer during Heigl-gate, has revealed that they had big plans for the character before having to write Izzie out quickly.

When asked how several sooner-than-expected departures have impacted the writers, Vernoff told Variety:

For sure, some of those things radically changed the story plans. When word comes down that an actor is leaving the show, and what you’ve got scripted is a wedding…Katie’s departure changed the course of the Alex-Izzie love story quite abruptly. One of the things about working in television and being a TV writer is you have to be able to pivot. You don’t have to love pivoting, but you’d better be willing to throw everything out and work through the night on a completely different story at the 11th hour.

Well, folks. There you have it. If you're a long-time Grey's Anatomy fan who's been wondering whether or not the show would have had Izzie and her ex-husband Alex get together again back in the day, you now have your answer. After beating cancer but being fired by Webber, Izzie left but then came back for a final scan to make sure she was totally cancer-free. She was clearly interested in reconciling with Alex, and met him to show off the results of her scan. While he was thrilled for her to be completely healthy again, he told her he felt he deserved better and encouraged her to leave town and be happy.

Of course, Izzie did just that, and the next time we heard anything significant about the character, it was in Season 16. Alex was having his own crisis after going through a lot with his new wife, Jo, and having contacted Izzie to help get Meredith out of trouble, ended up finally reconciling with her when he found out that she'd used the embryos they froze to have their twins. To relieve one of the last-remaining original stars of Grey's Anatomy, Justin Chambers, of his role as Alex, the show had his character leave his wife, job, and friends behind to start over with Izzie and their twins in Kansas.

Obviously, the entire course of the show would have been changed had Krista Vernoff and her writing team not had to make a very sudden "pivot" when it came to their plans for Katherine Heigl's Izzie. And while we'll never know just how good those stories might have been, we also likely wouldn't have gotten to some of the characters and stories we have now, and I dare any of you to be mad at dream ghost Derek or dream ghost George.

Grey's Anatomy is currently still Heigl-free in Season 17, and it will return with new episodes on ABC, Thursday, March 4, at 9 p.m. EST. For more on what to watch in the coming year, check out our guide to winter / spring 2021 TV!

Adrienne Jones
Senior Content Creator

Covering The Witcher, Outlander, Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias and a slew of other streaming shows, Adrienne Jones is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend, and started in the fall of 2015. In addition to writing and editing stories on a variety of different topics, she also spends her work days trying to find new ways to write about the many romantic entanglements that fictional characters find themselves in on TV shows. She graduated from Mizzou with a degree in Photojournalism.