Network, creators agree to end show after eight seasons

The end of “House” on Fox comes at a momentous time for NBCUniversal’s newly energized Universal TV unit.

“House” was the last vestige of the old Universal Television unit as it existed prior to the studio’s merger with NBC in 2004. In the ensuing years, the production unit yielded by that combination was largely focused inward in producing shows for NBC and its sibling cablers.

But the new Comcast-appointed regime at NBCU has cited “House” as a prime example of why the TV studio (which restored the Universal TV moniker last summer) needs to play the field and produce for networks beyond the Peacock’s borders.

“House” has made a mint for NBCU during its eight-season run on Fox through syndication and DVD sales — not to mention garnering consistent critical hosannahs and six lead actor Emmy noms for star Hugh Laurie in the role of the brilliant, unconventional Dr. Gregory House.

But like any series that’s getting on in years, “House” has gradually grown more expensive to produce while its viewership has inevitably dwindled from its peak. For the season to date, “House” is averaging 9.1 million viewers and 3.5 rating/9 share in adults 18-49, which is more than respectable but far off the 5 and 6 demo ratings it delivered in seasons past.

The fate of “House” was up in the air last season, as Fox and NBCU wrangled over a new license fee agreement in talks that went down to the wire close to the upfront last May. This time around, “House” exec producers David Shore and Katie Jacobs and Laurie decided, with the network’s blessing, to bring the curtain down on their own terms.

In a lengthy statement, Shore, Jacobs and Laurie said they “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.”

“House” bowed on Fox at a time when the network’s drama fortunes were at a low ebb. It had a slow start in November 2004, until Fox demonstrated its faith in the series by giving it an “American Idol” lead-in. By mid-2006, “House” was a tentpole in its own right for the network.

In the statement, Shore, Jacobs and Laurie noted that the 177 episodes the show will have amassed by the end of its run “is about 175 more than anyone expected back in 2004.”

In confirming the show’s fate, Fox entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly saluted the “House” crew for being “creatively tenacious and collaborative throughout this incredible run, and they are amongst the most superior talents in the business.”

Meanwhile, the legacy of “House” as a high-end show that will have a long and prosperous run in syndication (in all its forms) is spurring the new Universal TV team’s aggressive push to set up shows at non-NBCU networks. The studio’s prospects include a comedy toplined by Mindy Kaling that just landed a pilot order from Fox.

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