Capshaw has been on the show for 10 seasons, nine of them as a series regular, playing Dr. Arizona Robbins; Drew has been on Grey’s for nine seasons, eight of them as a series regular, playing Dr. April Kepner.
Deadline reports that the decision was made by producers, who at the start of each season have to formally pick up the option of each regular cast member. Deadline reports Capshaw and Drew will be the only series regular members of the Grey's ensemble to leave this year.
“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,” executive producer Krista Vernof said. “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.”
Executive producer and show creator Shonda Rhimes underlines the cultural significance of Capshaw and Drew's characters — Arizona, who is a lesbian, and April, who has a very close relationship with God.
“It’s always hard for me to say goodbye to any of my characters,” Rhimes said. “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 performance and for inspiring women around the globe. They will always be a part of our Shondaland family.”
Drew wrote on Twitter on Thursday that she was saddened by the news and has not yet processed the turn of events, which she says she has known about for less than 48 hours.
"Hey guys," Drew began in a screenshot of a note posted 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 9 years here. That will come later."
She continued, "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."
Capshaw also shared her thoughts on being let go from the show, paying tribute to her character.
"For the past ten years I have had the privilege of not only playing Arizona Robbins but also being madly in love with playing her," Capshaw began. "Arizona Robbins is kind, intelligent, funny, insightful, bold, playful, fierce and really good at her job. She was one of the firs members of the LGBTQ community to be represented in a series regular role on network television. Her impact on the world is permanent and forever. Forever."
Capshaw continued, "I am grateful that I have gotten to bring her to life and for the life that she has brought to me. I am so 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. With a heart full of love, Jessica."
Both characters are fan favorites, with each of the actresses boasting almost 2 million followers on Instagram. Drew often posts behind-the-scenes photos, including a shot of her and Capshaw a few weeks ago.
The decision not to bring the two actresses back comes on the heels of the blockbuster deal star Ellen Pompeo secured that gave her a significant salary increase, paying her as much as $20 million a year, including a signing bonus, producing fees, ownership in the show and other extras.
The news comes a week after Grey's fans rooted on social media for characters April (Drew) and Jackson (Jessie Williams) to get back together after Jackson became jealous of April's extra-curricular activities with an intern, even asking Arizona (Capshaw) about it.
Capshaw told Jackson to leave it alone, but later, Jackson sent April's new love interest to perform a gross procedure on a patient out of jealousy.
Seeing Jackson bothered by April's new "dark" lifestyle of excessive drinking due to her crisis of faith made Twitter go nuts, wishing for the former couple known as Japril to get back together.
The couple ended their relationship after the death of their first child, when April enlisted in the army to deal with it, leaving Jackson to grieve on his own.
The couple had another child, Harriet, which they co-parented by living in the same apartment, until April realized Jackson was starting to move on. April decided to move out of the apartment in a attempt to get over ex-husband herself.