The decision to end House after eight seasons wasn't easy — and, it turns out, didn't necessarily have to come at all this year.
According to insiders, star Hugh Laurie and his fellow executive producers David Shore and Katie Jacobs were eager to bring the long-running Fox drama back for one more year, despite conventional wisdom that everyone was ready to move on. One exec believes that Laurie, one of the highest-paid actors on TV (he makes $700,000 an episode), was even prepared to take a pay cut in order to return.
The network wasn't looking to let go of House, which averages a 3.5 rating among adults 18-49 and 9.1 million viewers — good numbers for a drama in its eighthseason. Universal TV, the studio behind House, was also anxious to keep producing the show, which adds millions of dollars to NBCUniversal's bottom line. "Universal was the lead horse, the one driving a renewal," one source says. "It had the most desire and ambition to do another season."
But Fox, which currently spends $5 million an episode for House, wanted to see a cut in the show's license fee before considering a renewal. And although Universal was willing to take back some costs, it wasn't as large a discount as Fox wanted. Insiders also say Universal was pursuing a 22-episode order, while Fox would only commit to a final 13-episode season. "Universal came off as aggressive," one exec says. "It was such a big gap that [Fox] didn't pursue the discussions." Universal insiders say the studio was surprised by the decision and had been willing to work out a compromise.
Last May, negotiations between Fox and Universal weren't resolved until just days before the network announced its fall schedule. That deal included budget cuts that led to the departure of Lisa Edelstein (Cuddy), among other changes. Fox and Universal were likely facing another down-to-the-wire deal this year, and had negotiations fallen apart, it would have been too late for House to put together a proper farewell episode.
That's why Shore had been pushing Fox and Universal since last fall to give him a firm answer on whether the show would continue. Shore, Jacobs and Laurie wanted to wrap House up on their own terms, but faced a Catch-22: Either aim for a renewal and risk not getting to produce a series closer, or push for a proper finale but shut the door on a renewal.
As the decision dragged on, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said in January, "We have just been avoiding it, to be honest with you." The delay also gave Fox a chance to see how some new mid-season dramas performed. Although Alcatraz took a dip opposite the launch of NBC's The Voice on Mondays, it performed strongly for Fox and is a shoo-in for renewal. The new Kiefer Sutherland drama Touch, which begins its full run in March, did well in its January 25 preview. With both shows in his pocket, as well as a potential Terra Nova renewal and five drama pilots in the works, Reilly had more incentive to let House go.
Fox execs and Shore agreed to wrap things up, and on February 8, the cast and crew were informed. By then, Shore had made his peace with the decision. "He was interested in another year," says an insider. "But he wanted to go out as strong as possible."
The show's stars are still processing the news. Peter Jacobson (Dr. Taub) was in New York watching a high school basketball game when he got word. "I seriously cannot say enough how much I will miss being around the whole cast and crew," he says. "A truly lovely, hardworking and generous group of people who are perpetually fun to be around."
In their statement announcing the show's end, Shore, Jacobs and Laurie addressed their desire not to prolong House's exit: "The producers have always imagined House as an enigmatic creature; he should never be the last one to leave the party. How much better to disappear before the music stops, while there is still some promise and mystique in the air."
They added, "The decision to end the show now, or ever, is a painful one. The show itself has been a source of great pride to everyone involved."
Universal TV maintains the rights to shop House elsewhere, but NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt has already said that he won't seek to move it onto his network. In the end, House will have produced 177 episodes, "which is about 175 more than anyone expected back in 2004," Shore, Jacobs and Laurie said in their statement. That's what we'd call a full House.
With reporting by David Hochman.