Q&A with 'House' creator David Shore
'When I said at the Emmys, "I want to thank all the people who have come into my life and made me miserable" -- yes, that was you'
LINDA FRUM | Mar 14, 2006
David Shore is the writer, producer and creative force behind the hit television phenomenon House. Starring Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, a drug-addicted, medical diagnostic genius who holds his patients -- and humanity in general -- in contempt, the program is currently the eighth most popular show on television. It averages 22 million viewers an episode. Shore, 46, a native of London, Ont., is an old friend. I knew him when he was still a young lawyer in Toronto. In 1991 he moved to Hollywood to make his fame and fortune. Before creating House, Shore accumulated writing and producing credits on Law & Order, Due South, Traders, and Family Law. It has been about 15 years since we last spoke.
David, I'm really excited to be talking to you.
Really? Well, I'm excited too.
You're huge now.
I'm absolutely huge. It's funny. You went straight to the right word.
Huge, and yet, still skinny?
I've put on a few pounds.
Now, I know your father bought you a subscription to Maclean's so you could stay in touch with Canada. Which means you know how this column works?
I do. It's those two pages . . .
Exactly. So we just have a conversation and I write it up.
Oh, that's a mistake.
I bumped into your old boss the other day. We had a good laugh talking about the time you came to tell him you were planning on leaving the law. He told you you were insane to leave such a promising legal career and strongly advised you not to. Do you remember that?
He thought I was moving here for a woman. Which I wasn't. But the woman he thought I was moving here for I ended up marrying, so I can't convince him he was wrong now.
When you did leave law to go to Hollywood, my memory is that you did it to pursue a career in comedy.
Stand-up comedy, right?
Yeah. That's right. I was planning on writing comedy or doing some stand-up. I got my agent based on a comedy script that I had written. Well, actually he wasn't even an agent at the time. He was a baby agent -- an agent's assistant. And while he was trying to sell me, I wrote a spec L.A. Law script because I was a lawyer. And my agent chose to show the dramatic script to his boss rather than the comedy script, and from that day on I've been a dramatic writer.
There is, in fact, a lot of humour in House.
I hope there is a lot of humour in House. At House I am able to write both comedy and drama. I think comedies often suffer from not having anything to say, which is why a lot of comedies aren't doing so well.
Can I read you something you said when you received your 2005 Emmy Award for outstanding writing for a drama series?
Yes, I vaguely remember that moment.
Let me jog your memory about what you said.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
You said: "I want to thank . . . Hugh Laurie for making me look like a better writer than I am . . . and my parents for making me happy and well-adjusted enough to enjoy this. But I also want to thank all the other people who have come into my life and made me miserable, cynical and angry because this character wouldn't be the same without them." So can we talk about these ideas one at a time, starting backwards?
"I want to thank all the people who have come into my life and made me miserable, cynical, and angry"?
Yes, that was you.
I thought so. So the idea is that House -- who is cranky, mean, misanthropic -- is an extension of you?
C'mon David. That's not true.
Well, I do have a cynical and cold attitude lurking within me. I'm not House, but those words that come out of his mouth -- I almost always agree with them. And I'm writing them because I believe them. They are my thoughts and my philosophy.
How would you describe that philosophy?
House could care less what people feel about what he's doing, good or bad. He could care less about whether people tried their best. The only thing that matters to him is the result. Surprisingly, that makes him a bit of a rebel in our society. But while I may agree with his philosophy, I'm more tactful than House because I don't have his confidence. Plus, I have the burden of being real.
How did you come up with the idea for this character, who has become one of the most beloved characters on TV?
It evolved over a few months. The series was sold to Fox without the House character as part of the initial sales pitch. The show was sold as a crime/police procedural, but instead of bad guys, the germs were the suspects. So it was more of a CSI kind of idea. I was partnered with Paul Attanasio and Katie Jacobs, who are also executive producers on the show. They knew that all the networks were looking for a medical procedural. It was sold that cynically. Paul had the original idea. I thought it was a terrible idea. Obviously, I was completely wrong.
Wait a minute. If Paul had the original idea, how come it's your name that appears at the top of each show: "Created by David Shore"?
Because I'm a whore.
The New York Times Magazine has a medical diagnosis column written by Lisa Sanders. Paul read that and said: "Hey, that's a good idea for a series." It wasn't much more involved than that. I took that idea, developed the characters, and wrote the script. And Lisa Sanders is now a consultant on the show.
So when did House come into it?
Once we sold the show to the networks we said, "Okay, now we need more to this. This is going to get very dry because germs don't have motives. A germ doesn't kill someone and then hide behind the pancreas and pin it on another germ because the other germ was having an affair with his wife. Germs just do what they do -- which is potentially very dull after a few episodes.
Each episode is infused with complex medical information. Are you basically a doctor now?
A little bit. But in a way it's better the more I stay in the dark about medicine. This may be a cop-out and a rationalization, but I think one of my strengths for the show is that I come at medicine as a layperson. I am interested in the story turns that aren't really medically motivated. I am more interested when House does something outrageous -- and everyone knows it's outrageous -- than just discussing medicine in a way that only a doctor would find interesting.
When doctors go to parties, everyone wants to tell them about their aches and pains. When you go to parties, do you get bombarded by people wanting to tell you about their weird medical predicaments?
And is it annoying?
Yes. I tell them to go talk to one of my writers. I need good medical mysteries for the show, but that's not what excites me. For me it's about finding out what's going on around the medical mysteries.
Now let's go back to that Emmy speech. You mentioned your parents. I want to know: who are they prouder of? You? Or your younger brothers: the twin rabbis?
My dad was interviewed recently and he said he was proud of all his children. But I think he's prouder of me.
And your mom?
C'mon. My brothers are rabbis. Big deal. Who cares?
All right, so now let's talk about what you said about the actor Hugh Laurie. He plays House. Critics seem unanimous that without Laurie as House, the whole show might not have worked. Laurie makes the character intriguing and forgivable. Had you not cast Laurie in the role, do you think it's possible the show might have failed?
Yes. It was obvious from the beginning that this character was a little "out there," and that in the wrong hands, he could just be hateful. Somehow, Hugh Laurie has managed to turn this role into one of People magazine's sexiest men in America. When I was writing the character that was not what I had in mind. I've always liked the character, but certainly he's not traditionally likeable. He's very nasty. We auditioned a lot of people for the role. I was familiar with Hugh's comedy work, and I knew he was putting himself on tape for us, but I would never have expected him to be this good. I think the fact that he's a great dramatic actor who can do comedy makes him so perfect for this role. As a writer, it lets you almost write anything.
How quickly did you know that Hugh Laurie was your man?
It was one of those stories that you read about that sound so incredible. Obviously I did not write the character with him in mind. But as soon as he read for it, it was: "Yes!" He wasn't even the way I had pictured the character. But it was: "Oh God, this works!"
How daring was it to base a television show on an unlikeable character?
There's more and more of it happening. For years television made the mistake of saying: the character has to be likeable. Well, no, the character has to be interesting. I fully expected to get a note from Fox saying: "Make him likeable. Give him a puppy. Write him a dying grandmother." But I never got that note.
I suppose American Idol judge Simon Cowell had already given the folks at Fox a good education on the power of nasty.
Yeah, we did hear that. Someone at Fox said: "This show is: if Simon Cowell was a doctor."
After you wrote the episode for which you won the Emmy, you said you weren't sure if it was the best thing you'd ever written or the worst. Is the creative process normally that mysterious for you?
It was the first time I've had that kind of reaction. I don't usually write stuff that is that "out there." But that episode was very different and I honestly wasn't sure if it was the most self-indulgent crap I'd ever written in my life, or not. Apparently it was not.
Now that you've had the experience of producing a Top 10 show, the urge to stay on top must tug like a Vicodin addiction. Are you already thinking about your next series?
Yes, and the people who employ me are thinking about it too. Everything has a creative life. The greatest show on TV eventually becomes a bit tired. And what I'm saying is: I'm going to get tired of this at some point.
Possibly even before the viewers get tired of it?
Hopefully they won't get tired of it before I do.
David, I'm sure there are plenty of other lawyers across Canada who, right now, are sitting at their desks dreaming of life as a Hollywood writer and producer. What words of advice or encouragement can you give?
Give it all up and come down here. Because it always works out. Actually, no. I had no reason to believe I could do this when I moved down here. It was an unbelievably stupid decision. But thank goodness, it did work out.
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