Lynette Rice
January 26, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

They’re still buzzing about the F-word on the set of Grey’s Anatomy — and no, it’s not the one that you’d expect. While cast member Isaiah Washington attempts to mend fences for repeating a homophobic slur during a tense backstage moment at the Golden Globes on Jan. 15, the studio and the actors are beginning to focus on another prickly subject: finances.

An insider tells EW that several key actors have quietly begun contract renegotiations with Touchstone TV as the hugely popular medical drama readies for a fourth season. (The studio made the first move earlier this season by offering what a source familiar with the deal calls ”overly generous” salary increases.) A studio spokeswoman declined to comment, but one source said the proposed pay hikes vary, with Patrick Dempsey rumored to be mulling a raise in excess of $200K per episode. Either way, the actors face a tough choice: Accept the early offer or hold out for more money — and risk looking greedy. Notes a talent manager familiar with the talks: ”Studios come at actors early in a combination of common sense and graciousness. It’s in nobody’s interest for it to become ugly.”

And that’s the last thing the cast needs as they attempt to move on from the Globes fiasco. At press time, both the network and the studio declined to comment beyond their Jan. 18 statement saying Washington’s actions were ”being addressed.” Exec producer Peter Horton admits he has ”no idea what will happen” to the actor, who met with reps from the gay rights organization GLAAD on Jan. 22. But Horton tellingly adds that ”you can’t ignore the fans, other actors, or the controversy [this] has caused. This is a big decision for [ABC and Touchstone].” And since it comes just as negotiations heat up, we’re betting all parties hope it’ll be made quickly.

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