House Comes to an End: The Cast and Producers Retrace the Series' Highs and Lows
Hugh Laurie, House
Bolstered by American Idol, House quickly became a huge hit. At the end of the third season — which remains the show's highest-rated — the producers blew up the formula and forced House to rebuild his entire diagnostic team. It was the first of many bold (and controversial) storytelling choices. In Part 2 of our oral history, the show's creators and cast look back at the show's most memorable plots. (Read Part 1 here.)
House comes to an end: The cast and producers recall creating a curmudgeon
In the Season 3 finale, House (Hugh Laurie) fires Chase (Jesse Spencer), while Foreman (Omar Epps) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) resign. Although those characters remained on the show, Season 4 began with House hosting a massive competition to build his new team. Among the prospects: Dr. Chris Taub (Peter Jacobson), Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley (Olivia Wilde), Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) and Dr. Amber "Cutthroat Bitch" Volakis (Anne Dudek).
David Shore (creator, executive producer): You want to be ahead of your audience. If you're shaking things up after the audience has asked you to shake things up, it's probably too late. [The original team] had been on three-year fellowships. We never imagined the show would go three years, but it felt dishonest to just keep them going in that position forever. And it also felt a little odd that people would keep working for somebody who was this difficult forever and ever.
Katie Jacobs (executive producer): We had the luxury of trying things before we were told to do things. The network was very supportive. We went to them with this idea of opening up Season 4 in this kind of Survivor game.
David Shore: I came up with this idea that rather than interview 45 people and hire three, House would hire 45 and fire 42 of them. It just felt right, and it had a game show element that this character would play into. It didn't feel like a gimmick.
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Anne Dudek (Dr. Amber Volakis): There was this huge horde of actors who had nothing to do with the show, who all kind of showed up with deer eyes. It was nice because we could really relate to each other. We really did bond because it was a bizarre experience.
Kal Penn (Dr. Lawrence Kutner): What impressed me the most was walking into the actual audition. There were about 10 people in the waiting room, and usually when you audition for something, all 10 of you look the same, relatively speaking. My first reaction was, "Oh, we must be all auditioning for different projects," because the age range went from 20 to 70, there were men and women, every different ethnicity. When I realized we were auditioning for the same couple of doctors, I was so excited that [the producers] wanted to find actors that would fit the roles for reasons other than what they looked like.
Anne Dudek: My first instinct was, "Oh my God, [Amber] is the female House." They kept writing these evil and awful things that my character kept doing. I was trying to maintain some sort of redemptive quality to her, but the direction was always, "No, no -- she's just evil." I sort of had a sinking feeling as I was working on it that the more fun it was for me to do the extreme and the outrageous, the less likely she was going to actually be kept on the team. I thought, "There's no way they're going to keep me because this character is just crazy."
David Shore: I realized going along, "Oh, House isn't just firing people — I'm firing people. We'd write a script and I'd realize, "Oh my God, these actors are running for their scripts to turn to the back page to find out whose time is done."
Jennifer Morrison (Dr. Allison Cameron): [In Season 4] I just always had to take the stance of trusting the writers and trusting what they wanted to do with the show. It was frustrating because I just wanted to work more. The little bit that I did have, I would come in and be happy to have, but if you're going to be on a television show and you're going to be committed to it for all those years, you want to actually be working, not sitting around.
David Shore: That was a very tricky thing. I look back on that and I like what we did with [Cameron, Chase and Foreman]. I think they took on a different voice and a different feeling and a different maturity. They sort of grew up there. But they weren't in a lot and it was difficult to find places to use them. It was awkward.
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House hired Kutner, Thirteen and Taub and decided to let Amber go. The character returned, however, when it was revealed that she had begun dating House's best friend, Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).
David Shore: There was one moment in one episode where Wilson and House realize that Wilson is, in effect, dating House and the two of them are both horrified. That worked out very nicely.
Robert Sean Leonard (Dr. James Wilson): I love those episodes. They were fun to work on because I was so used to working with Hugh every day. It was nice to change it up a little bit.
Anne Dudek: I really liked that, in that continuation, you saw a different quality to this person. You saw her outside of a purely competitive environment. [Ambition] comes from a place of fear of being too manipulated yourself. My idea about Amber was that she was incredibly insecure and in need of something like falling in love anyway. So, it kind of made sense.
Amber died in the two-part season finale, "House's Head"/"Wilson's Heart" which featured House trying to remember the events that led to a bus crash and the death of a "Jane Doe." "House's Head" won the Emmy for best direction for Greg Yaitanes.
Greg Yaitanes( director, executive producer): It was literally one of the best scripts I've ever read for television. What came to mind was a very specific vision for that episode, both in performance and in the look of the transition between what was real and what was imagined — the process of searching your own memory. That episode was special to me, not just because I won the Emmy, but because my son was born the day after I finished it.
Katie Jacobs: That episode was supposed to air after the Super Bowl, but then the writers' strike happened. I always knew that Greg would be the best director for that. So when he won his Emmy for directing that episode; that is a great source of pride for me. It's my proudest moment [as a producer]. That's just where I get off: creating a space for everybody to do their best work.
Anne Dudek: It was really amazing to have a full span of someone's experience. I don't see a whole lot of writing of characters like this on television. Like, who would place the "cutthroat bitch" all of the sudden in a hospital bed where she's facing the last moments of her life? I feel so blessed that I got to be the actor involved in such well-written and well-produced episodes. I won the lottery in some ways. This is exactly what you would want as an actor. Exactly.
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Although Foreman and Chase remained on the show to the end, Cameron was eventually written out after she divorced Chase for knowingly killing an African dictator.
Jennifer Morrison: I was devastated when they told me that Cameron was going to leave. That was not a happy conversation for me. But obviously, that show changed my life tremendously, and I have incredible gratitude for it.
David Shore: Jennifer was fantastic, but we made a decision that we felt we'd run the course with that character.
Jennifer Morrison: By the time she was leaving, [Cameron] was very confident in what she was capable of, and a lot of that was because House had taught her to stand up for herself. In a weird way, over that time, House taught her to stand up to him, and the only thing left to do, unless he was going to change and grow, which he was unwilling to do, was for her to leave.
The show shocked audiences again with one of its best-kept secrets: the sudden suicide of Kutner.
Kal Penn: There was an opportunity to serve in the White House. I said to myself, "My first love will always be film and acting, but there's always a time to have fun and do things like that. If you have the opportunity to help serve your country, you have to say yes."
David Shore: If he came to me saying, I've been offered an arc on another TV show, I might have said no. But he wanted to do something with his life and I'm not going to stand in his way. I was proud of him for doing that and I appreciated him coming to me months and months in advance so that I would have time to think about how to do it right.
Kal Penn: David said, "OK, let us figure out what that's going to look like and we'll get back to you." Ten days later, I find out I have three episodes left and Kutner's going to shoot himself in the head. I'm like, "Is this your way of telling me you're angry with me?" It took me by surprise. I asked him, "Have I been playing this guy depressed the last two seasons?" That's what they wanted to achieve: Unfortunately, just like in real life, people who take their own lives don't often show any symptoms. They said, "We know that this is going to piss the audience off. It's going to make them very sad, it's going to make them go through the same emotions as if somebody had done that in real life. We want to convey that as realistically and respectfully as possible."
David Shore: I was shocked at how surprised people were, but I guess it's the type of thing you expect at the end of a season. It was actually kind of cool to be able to shine a light on an issue. The other thing it gave us was that [House] prides himself on having answers for everything and being able to figure out everybody. And yet a person he had worked with for almost two years does something and House is baffled by it.
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Kutner's suicide had long-reaching effects. The final episodes of Season 5 found House hallucinating about having sex with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) , as well as seeing visions of Amber and Kutner. When he realizes he's lost touch with reality, he checks himself into a psychiatric facility. The Season 6 premiere, "Broken" was directed by Jacobs and began a season featuring a sober House.
Katie Jacobs: The notion that I had at the end of Season 5 was not to go inside the psychiatric hospital, but to lose House behind the doors of Oz. [We'll] Just have three months pass like we usually do and then he'll show up. I said, "No, as a fan I'm going to want to see that journey." I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to do an episode that actually had more the structure of a movie. You didn't have to know anything before — you could see it from beginning to end and it would be complete. When I turned it in, the response, generally speaking, was, "People are looking for a reason to tune out in Season 6, and I think you've just given them the reason."
David Shore: We're terrified every episode that the fans are going to check out. We had done a number of departure episodes prior to that, but that was probably the biggest departure. We're starting the season, and none of it is set in the hospital. But it was huge.
Katie Jacobs: I didn't do it to be risky. I was following the character and it turned out to have a huge audience. I remember the network came down and brought a glass of tequila. But it was very scary. I remember I was so scared I brought my agent into my office and I said, "You're going to watch this and you're going to tell me if this is terrible. Do not let me pull my pants down and the show's pants down in front of an audience." I also remember Sunday before it aired we were lucky enough to be nominated at the Emmys. Mad Men won, but Monday night, "Broken" aired and I think it had like 20 million people watching it. I would much rather have a big audience than any trophy.
David Shore: I can't recall us struggling with sober House because he was never quite comfortable with his sobriety. We knew, at some point, we would have to get him off the pills. But the thing was, it's not about him getting clean. The Vicodin is real and it's an issue and something that has to be dealt with, but it is not the emotional issue that is driving House's life. And so it was much more important to get to the emotional issues behind his problem.
A huge part of the emotional exploration of House came from finally putting House and Cuddy together as a couple in Season 7. They eventually break up after House relapses.
David Shore: You can't dance around an issue forever. We had to put them in a relationship. I am proud of the way we kept House and Cuddy even when they were "House and Cuddy." We didn't turn them into a smiling, happy couple. They still had their issues. They just happened to be sleeping together.
Katie Jacobs: I wanted to tell that story, and I think it needed to be told. But I never imagined it would go on for a full season.
Greg Yaitanes: I may have not been the biggest fan of their relationship in terms of the journey it took. But in terms of how they came together and why they split up, I felt it was so beautifully handled. I think the breakup of House and Cuddy in "Bombshells" — that single scene where she comes to leave him — both actors did some of the best work of their careers.
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The season finale following their breakup featured House ramming his car into Cuddy's home.
David Shore: I know that was very controversial. Most of the firestorms I expect, to some extent. What surprised me was that people seemed to actually think that House was trying to kill Cuddy, which is just not true. He looks through that window beforehand. He knows nobody's in that room. It was him putting his fist through a wall, basically. At the end, he's smiling, which to me was saying to the audience, he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, which was to simply do some damage. And then he pays a huge price.
Due to failed contract negotiations, that would also be Lisa Edelstein's final episode on the show.
David Shore: Things happen that you have no control over. You deal with things as they happen. I wanted Lisa to stay on the show. I wish she had stayed on the show. I made my desires known very strongly and it did not work out that way. That was not a pleasant time for anybody. Having said that, you deal with it and you go forward and you do the best that you can, and I think we've done some really great stuff this year.
Odette Annable and Charlyne Yi joined the cast for the show's eighth and final season, which began with House in jail and featured a number of episodes that raised thematic questions about consequences. The series finale, in fact, finds House plagued by knowing he could possibly return to jail for six months while his best friend Wilson is expected to die from cancer in only five. It's a bittersweet ending to one of TV's most complicated bromances.
Hugh Laurie (Dr. Gregory House): For better or for worse, [House and Wilson] are bound together. They share a way of looking at the world, and I think they need each other.
Bryan Singer (director, executive producer): Wilson is Edith Bunker to House's Archie Bunker. His caring for House enables us to care for House, and the fact that he knows how to handle House helps us handle House. He was my window into House.
David Shore: One of the things we've done on this show that is not portrayed very often on TV is male friendship. I think the House-Wilson friendship is one of the defining features of this show. Romantic love — you can do it well and it should be done well and it should be on TV all the time. But the male friendship thing — it's one of the things I'm proudest of in the show.
So, how's it all going to end?
Omar Epps (Dr. Eric Foreman): David is trying to end this the way he wants to, not the way he thinks people want it to. In some series finales, it's like they're giving people what they think they want to see instead of continuing the creative process. This will end in the way that it needs to end.
David Shore: This was never about me being able to tell a whole story that has a beginning, middle and end. This was about me being able to tell a whole bunch of stories that have a beginning, middle and end. This is a bonus for me that I can wrap it up and go out in an interesting way.
Robert Sean Leonard: It's not going to tie up everything — that's not with this is about. I think the show is going to end very abruptly and in a very surprising way because, as happens in life, you don't live the ending. You just live your life.
David Shore: Human lives don't lend themselves to three-act structures. Moments in human lives lend themselves to three-act structures. Life is about trying to change. It's about trying to get better and trying to increase our happiness and increase the meaning in our life. If we can change just a little, it's a huge success.
Hugh Laurie: I think the audience will be happy, not because House has learned some life lessons — that's not what he's about. I think people will be happy for him. There is something defiant about him, and I think the worst possible thing would be to see his spirit broken. I would find that depressing and that would make me unhappy. The fact that he's still got a "mud in your eye, to hell with you all" attitude, I sort of love.
David Shore: All writers like to write flawed characters. All networks like you to write simple, nice characters. The fact that we succeeded with a deeply flawed character, I hope that's going to continue to open doors for other deeply flawed characters on TV. And the basic message of this character — the message of seeking objectivity, a pursuit of truth, not just blindly accepting what you're told — I think that's what this character stands for and that's, to me, what the show always was.
House's series finale airs Monday at 9/8c. A one-hour retrospective will air immediately before it. What was your favorite House moment?