‘Private Practice’: Why Did Audra McDonald (Naomi) Leave the Show?

Private Practice was a medical drama that aired on ABC from 2007 to 2013. The Grey’s Anatomy spinoff starred Kate Walsh as Addison Montgomery. Following her divorce from Derek Shepard (Patrick Dempsey), Addison moved to Los Angeles to work for her college friends and former couple Sam Bennett (Taye Diggs) and Naomi Bennett (Audra McDonald)

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 13: PRIVATE PRACTICE - "Ex-Life" - As Archer recoups from surgery, Derek has Addison work with his pregnant neuro patient; after Sam suffers a sudden asthma attack, Bailey and Naomi work together to find the root cause of Sam's sudden attack; and at Oceanside Wellness, Cooper, Violet and Pete work together to treat a mother suffering from postpartum depression, on "Private Practice,"
PRIVATE PRACTICE-Audra McDonald as Naomi Bennett, Kate Walsh as Addison Montgomery|Eric McCandless/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

In 2011, McDonald shared why she left the ABC hit in season 4. 

Audra McDonald frequently traveled from New York to LA to film ‘Private Practice’ 

Before Private Practice, McDonald was most known for her stage accomplishments. Throughout her career, she starred in Ragtime, Porgy and Bess, and Shuffle Along. She also received multiple Tony Awards for her Broadway performances, including Best Lead Actress in a Musical for Porgy and Bess

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In 2007, Shonda Rhimes approached McDonald to play Naomi, a recently divorced fertility specialist. She was also a founding partner of the Oceanside Wellness Group, the practice Addison moves to in the series. The role caused the actor to move to commute from New York to LA frequently. According to TV Line, her character was “scaled back” due to her travel demands. 

Audra McDonald’s exit as ‘Naomi’ 

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McDonald stayed with Private Practice for four seasons. In February 2011, she announced to TV Line that she was leaving the show as a series regular. In her interview, she said she wanted to spend more time at home with her husband, Will Swenson, and her daughter, Zoe Donavan

“I have spent four amazing years working with the best cast and crew on television at Private Practice,” McDonald said.“Though I am stepping away from the series as a regular in order to spend more time in New York with my family, I am not closing the door on Private Practice or the character, Naomi. I am beyond grateful to Shonda Rhimes, ABC, and the team behind the show.”

Rhimes fully supported McDonald’s decision to focus on her family. In a statement, she confirmed that she admired the actor for committing to LA for shooting. 

“We are so appreciative of Audra and her talents and look forward to having her return to Private Practice as often as possible. Audra has been a bicoastal commuter throughout our four seasons on the air, and, ultimately, we respect and appreciate her desire to spend more time with family in New York.”

Audra McDonald returned for the ‘Private Practice’ series finale

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Although McDonald left Private Practice full-time, she agreed to come back as a guest in future episodes. On the show, her character also moved to New York to be with her and Sam’s daughter, Maya (Geffri Hightower). However, she comes back in the series finale for Addison’s wedding to Jake (Benjamin Bratt). At the end of the series, Naomi and Sam get back together after a brief hookup at Addison’s wedding results in a pregnancy.

“I’m so happy for Naomi in the end because she deserves that happiness. I never felt like it was quite over with her and Sam,” McDonald told The Hollywood Reporter of the finale. 

“I do think it’s fitting they end up together. It’s hard to replace first love, and they have so many roots in the earth — they have this child and a grandchild,” she continued. “The love story between Sam, Addison, and Naomi ends the way it’s supposed to — it was just figuring out where that love needs to live, and I think it ends in the right place. I’m very satisfied and happy. I’d have been really sad watching that last episode if I had not been a part of it.”