Unconventional medical genius heads a team of diagnosticians at a teaching hospital.
2004 - present.
There’s an unwritten rule that American television doctors must be warm and understanding. Of course, there have been exceptions–the gruff but compassionate “Ben Casey;” the maverick hunky paediatrician Doug Ross of “ER;” and the many “father figures” who have guided their headstrong protégés. (Think “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and his young associate Steven Kiley.) But America has never before seen a video physician such as Dr. Gregory House. Abrasive, arrogant and sexist, his saving grace is the fact that he can solve the toughest medical cases. And as played by the gifted British comic and actor Hugh Laurie, “House” (also known as “House, M.D.”) has shown that even U.S. audiences can embrace a character who can’t help acting cruel to be kind.
“House” was created by David Shore, a Canadian who moved to Los Angeles and began writing on such series as “Due South,” “Family Law” and “NYPD Blue.” In 2003, he was asked to create a new “franchise” series for NBC, using the formula that made “CSI” and its spin-offs such a hit for CBS. But instead of forensic police detectives solving crimes, Shore came up with the idea of a doctor taking on medical mysteries–figuring out what the patient was suffering from, and how to cure the problem. Unlike other television doctors, this one would be acerbic, to say the least.
It’s now hard to think of anyone but Hugh Laurie in the title role. But until “House” went on the air, few Americans were aware of the Welsh-born performer and his skills as a comic, dramatic actor, writer and musician. (Of course, UK audiences know Laurie best for his various projects with Stephen Fry, including “Blackadder,” “Jeeves & Wooster” and “A Bit of Fry and Laurie.”) As the story goes, Laurie taped his “House” audition while filming the movie “Flight of the Phoenix;” producer Brian Singer, who didn’t know of Laurie’s background, pointed to him as the type of American actor he was looking for. (Indeed, Laurie’s Americanised accent is dead-on.) Another irony: Laurie’s father was a doctor himself, which may have persuaded him to try out for the role..
Doctor Gregory House runs the department of diagnostic medicine at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey (based on the real-life Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut). He has a team of young doctors under his wing–Eric Foreman (Omar Epps), who specializes in neurology; Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), who deals with immunology; and Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer), whose specialty is intensive care medicine. The hospital’s no-nonsense chief administrator is Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), who forces House to spend time in the medical clinic taking care of patients with more pedestrian ailments. He does–with his patented bedside manner that leaves his patients either speechless or angry.
House’s closest acquaintance in the facility is James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), who specializes in cancer and oncology. Wilson and House have an unspoken bond–and somehow, Wilson seems to stand behind House, despite the fact House berates him on a regular basis. House also walks with a cane, due to a leg pain that leads him to take prescription drugs to ease the constant ache:
Cuddy: "Is that Vicodin?"
House: "Breath mint. Thought you were going to kiss me."
Most episodes begin the same way: A patient becomes sick (usually with dramatic and/or gross symptoms) and is brought to Princeton-Plainsboro, where the younger doctors are unable to figure out what’s wrong. Enter House, whose overriding belief is that the patient never tells the whole truth (“It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies.”). Using trial and error, based on the symptoms, House directs his young staff to try certain treatments and search the patient’s home or workplace for possible causes (not unlike “CSI”). In most episodes, House and/or his underlings find the answer and the patient recovers. Case closed for another week. And these aren’t your typical run-of-the-mill medical problems. House’s unit deals with unique medical conditions based on real-life cases. In 2006, former CNN reporter Andrew Holtz wrote a book called “The Medical Science of ‘House, MD’,” which discussed several of the cases depicted on the series, and how real-life “medical detectives” find the answer. Among the cases “House” handled: A teenager adopted at birth who nearly died because his biological mother didn’t get a vaccine. A husband whose faith in his wife’s fidelity determined whether a radical treatment could cure her or kill her. And a missed eye doctor appointment that revealed a patient’s genetic disease.
“House” itself was in intensive care during its first season. Although it was created for NBC, the network rejected it. Shore shopped the pilot to the other networks and Fox agreed to buy 22 episodes for the fall 2004 season. (Ironically, the show is co-produced by Universal, which is now owned by NBC.) But when “House” premiered in November 2004, it was swamped by the competition and its ratings were near the bottom of the charts. Fox cut its original order from 22 episodes to just 16, a sign that it would not last too much longer. But in early 2005, the show was moved to Tuesday nights, after Fox’s blockbuster talent competition show “American Idol.” The ratings soon rose, and Fox quickly ordered a full season’s worth of 22 episodes. In its first season, “House” ranked as the 24th most-popular series on the air. By Season Two, it didn’t need the “Idol” boost, as a growing number of viewers tuned to Fox on Tuesdays–“Idol” lead-in or not. “House” became Fox’s first top-ten dramatic series since the days of “The X-Files” and “Ally McBeal.” It remains the network’s second highest-rated series (after “Idol”) as of this writing.
“House’s” distinctive style has been parodied by other series. For instance, a January 2007 episode of the NBC medical comedy “Scrubs” called “My House” showed series regular Dr. “Perry” Cox (John C. McGinley) as having the mannerisms and sarcasm of his fictional counterpart. Then he loses his temper when two of his interns discuss a patient’s symptoms, (Intern One: “I learned that watching ‘House’” Intern Two: “House is a genius!”) Cox could stand it no longer: “Look, I know you all curl up on your futons at night dreaming of cracking a real-life medical mystery so that some doctor-supermodel will want to touch your eruption button, but here's the bad news: This isn't a TV show. There aren't any cameras over here (motions toward camera), real medical mysteries don't happen every week, and doctors damn sure don't look like models....So, if you want to solve a real mystery, go ahead and figure out who’s taking my ‘New York Times’ every Sunday....”
The opening theme to “House” is portions of the song “Teardrop” by the group Massive Attack. But due to legal and licensing issues, the theme is only used on broadcasts in North America; other countries use a generic theme specifically written for the show. (However, the DVD sets sold around the world contain the Massive Attack song for the opening credits.)
While “House” has yet to win an Emmy, the show received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting in 2006: “An unorthodox lead character – a misanthropic diagnostician fond of saying humanity is "overrated" – and cases fit for a medical Sherlock Holmes have helped make "House" the most distinctive new doctor drama in a decade.” Indeed, “House” has become the antidote for the pedestrian medical series–in its own gruff, non-politically correct way.
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