Since its 2004 premiere, House has won an Emmy Award for outstanding dramatic series writing and a Peabody Award, along with a Golden Globe for Hugh Laurie in the title role of Dr. Gregory House. Not bad for a show about a physician who’s been called “the most terminally malcontent television doctor since Ben Casey.”
That description was voiced by Barbara Wellner, entertainment vice chair of the Television Academy activities committee, in her welcome to the Television Academy’s presentation of “An Evening with House,” April 17 at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre. Providing an appreciative audience with laughs and insights into the Fox series were Hugh Laurie and castmates Lisa Edelstein, Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer; creator-executive producer David Shore and executive producers Katie Jacobs, Paul Attanasio and Bryan Singer. Elvis Mitchell, host of The Treatment on KCRW Santa Monica and KCRW.com, moderated.
The show was pitched as a medical mystery — a medical procedural where the germs were the suspects — but morphed into something character-driven as well. “It wasn’t really conscious,” Shore said. “We realized we had something unique.”
And someone unique, as well, in Dr. House. “David had this perception: What do doctors really think of their patients? What does the doctor say when they leave the room?” Attanasio recalled. “Here, it’s what they say [when the patients] are in the room.”
Indeed, it was the fact that House called his patients “idiots” in the pilot script that hooked Singer, who phoned his agent while still reading to say he was interested in the show. For his part, Laurie said, “I thought this was about a character trying to make the world a better place. Much to my amazement, he wasn’t. If he had been an arms dealer, he would have done well at that. The fact that he is unlikable makes me like him. The fact that he’s not looking for applause or approval makes me approve of him.”
Dr. House uses a cane because of his own medical problems: a leg infarction that led to muscle death. “We wanted him to be wounded, both internally and externally — it’s a good metaphor,” Shore said. “Because [otherwise], if he’s that good-looking and smart and bitching about everything, no one feels sympathetic toward him.”
Edelstein’s character, Dean of Medicine and hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy, butts heads with House, but does so with humorous banter, an approach, the actress said, that was in the writing. “From a behavioral standpoint,” Singer noted, “if you take All in the Family, Archie Bunker could say all those terrible things because there was Meathead there to balance it, as a liberal. Each character balances House. There’s a delicate balance that makes it all work.”
As for the physicians’ dark humor surrounding their clinic patients, Singer noted that was the only way to deal with the trauma of death. Said Morrison, “I have a friend who’s a doctor, who tells me these stories. There are things way more ridiculous that happen.”
House’s brilliant diagnostician was inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Shore said, whereupon Laurie disclosed that Holmes, in turn, had been inspired by a real-life physician. “The procedural stories are important to us; they’re … the clever spine on which we hang everything, but ultimately it’s about the people — what their attitudes are, who argues with who, the conflict,” Shore said. “The audience isn’t [saying], ‘Oh, I hope it’s the vasculitis show!’”
Nancy Bradley Wiard produced the evening. Robert O’Donnell is director of activities for the Academy.