Germs, jerks infiltrate primetime

Emmy's new breed: House

HOUSE
Best episode: “Detox.” After an auto accident, a 16-year-old continues to suffer blood loss while receiving care at the hospital. House (Hugh Laurie) must find out why while trying to break his Vicodin addiction cold turkey, thanks to a challenge from Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein).
Most complex character: Without doubt, Dr. Gregory House, representing the yin and yang of the medical profession. A brilliant clinician who saves lives otherwise lost, House is arrogant, short-tempered and drug-addicted. He’s also funny and, in the end, genuinely concerned for his patients.
What should happen next season: A romance between Dr. House and his nemesis Cuddy would prove welcome, humanizing both characters in the process and ratcheting up the sexual tension in a show that needs some romance. But don’t expect sparks any time soon. Thanks to the appearance late in season one of lawyer Stacy Warner (Sela Ward), with whom House had a passionate affair years ago, the doc has his hands full in the love department.

Lending a new twist to a tried-and-true formula is a perennial TV challenge. But David Shore seems to have made just the right diagnosis when it comes to “House,” the hit Fox medical drama he created with Paul Attanasio.

“When you’re writing for TV, there’s the obvious way and there’s the opposite way, which is almost as much of a cliche,” says Shore. “The challenge is finding a third way.”

The idea for “House” came from Attanasio’s reading of the Diagnosis column in the New York Times Magazine, recalls Shore.

“The metaphor is to a cop show, with the bad guys as germs,” he says. But as Shore acknowledges, it’s hard to attribute motives to germs.

“A germ doesn’t hide a knife in another germ’s bedroom because someone’s having an affair,” says Shore. “Why germs do things isn’t interesting, but why people do is.”

That realization caused Shore and Attanasio to start fleshing out the infected characters, and those treating them. Along the way came Shore’s unlikely decision to model the series on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Start with the protagonist’s name, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie).

“It’s a phonetic homage,” explains Shore, pointing out that House’s best friend is Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), whose name bears a striking resemblance to that of Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ sidekick.

Word games aside, the parallels exist, with House making deductions about people based as much on intuition as on research. Not that House doesn’t substantiate his claims medically but he does so following up on his hunches.

“That’s a central theme,” reiterates Shore. “What are people hiding, either knowingly or unknowingly? The diagnosis always has to do with the flaws and foibles of the person House is treating. We deal with various issues, but there are common themes, like results vs. intentions and rationality vs. emotions.”

Shore admits he considers his show “smart TV,” but he contends “House” isn’t pretentious. More importantly, he insists, the series has an emotional, but not maudlin, core.

And then there’s the humor. “It’s a funny show in many ways,” he says. “It’s not just earnest.”

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