The final season of the popular television programme House begins with Dr Gregory House hoping for parole, if he can survive five more days behind bars.
Euthanasia declared for the TV series House
For seven years now, he's the most miserable man we've ever let into our living rooms — yet the limping grouch known as Dr Gregory House continues to wow us with his unconventional thinking and flawless instincts as he solves medical puzzles to save lives.
Like the painkillers he pops into his mouth like candy to temper his leg pain, however, even a brilliant TV-drama diagnostician has a shelf life - and to the consternation of many, including its actors, House is headed for expiry as this Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning show enters its eighth and final season.
"After much deliberation, the producers of House M.D. have decided that this season of the show, the eighth, should be the last," says star Hugh Laurie. "By April this year they will have completed 177 episodes, which is about 175 more than anyone expected back in 2004."
While a junkie-MD who mentally abuses his colleagues, makes life hell for his superiors, defrauds the government, rams his car into his old flame's house and who regularly hangs out in rehab and jail might not win our business in real life as a genius bad boy who gets results, he's risen to emperor of the TV universe.
House recently was designated as the world's most popular current television programme, watched by a whopping 81.8 million people in 66 countries, according to the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records.
So why is a world-beater like House getting euthanised? Well, it wasn't a salary dispute and it wasn't ratings. Laurie, who makes US$700,000 (Dh2.6 million) an episode, was reportedly ready to take a pay cut to return for a ninth season.
In the end, it all came down to a fee - the show's licence fee. According to TV Guide, the Fox network, which pays $5m an episode to show producers through Universal TV, wanted to see a cut in this licence fee before considering renewal for a ninth season. Also, Fox was only willing to commit to air a final 13-episode season, while Universal TV insisted upon 22 episodes. And that was that.
This may also help to explain why Lisa Edelstein, as House's on-again, off-again love interest (Dean of Medicine) Lisa Cuddy — and her impressive $175,000 per episode salary — were shaved from the series at the end of season seven. But apparently, it was too little cash saved too late.
When the cancellation scalpel came down last month, the British actor Laurie, 52, took great exception to media reports that he was bored with the role.
"For anyone who's interested, I'd like to correct some naughty misrepresentations of the circumstances surrounding the end of the TV show House," Laurie said in a statement delivered to TV Guide.
"Let me state, publicly and unequivocally, that I love my job and work much harder at it than most journalists work at theirs. As described in the press release, we wanted to preserve some of the character's mystique. We never wanted to outstay our welcome. Very possibly, we could have continued with a reworked formula — House gets a job in a shoe shop and high-jinks ensue — but none of us wanted that. We wanted to keep the band together and go out with as much dignity as we could muster."
But let's set aside House-separation anxiety for a moment; there are still 22 crackerjack episodes to savour this eighth season. And the opener, Twenty Vicodin, finds the snarly doctor in jail, having served eight months of a one-year sentence for crashing his car through Cuddy's front window.
House, wearing a faded denim-blue prison uniform and slouching before a parole board, is told he may be granted parole in five days — if he shows remorse.
"Are you sorry about what you did?" asks a male board member.
"Yes," House answers, confidently.
But the board, unsatisfied, wants to hear a little more in the way of contrition.
"That's the correct answer, isn't it?" says House.
"Are you trying to annoy us?" asks a female board member.
"No, I was just trying to give you the answers you need to cover your asses, fill out your forms and let me out of here."
Thus begins a crisp, suspenseful, life-or-death episode in which House may not even survive five more days. Inmates get wind of his imminent release and demand he pay them a "tax" of 20 Vicodin — not the easiest thing to do when you're in the slammer — or else.
Laurie's career has come a long way since he goofed about in a music video for Kate Bush (Experiment IV, 1986) and traipsed about in full Georgian-period costume for Annie Lennox (Walking on Broken Glass, 1992). The fruits of his pre-House career — Fry and Laurie, Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster — constantly rerun around the globe.
If character is action, as the screenwriters say, Laurie's future may well lie in his musical gifts as a pianist and vocalist. He's already announced a spring west-coast tour in the US to support his debut album, Let Them Talk. Produced by Joe Henry (Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello), the album serves up covers of songs previously recorded by blues legends such as Louis Armstrong, Lead Belly and Memphis Slim.
"House has, in its time, intrigued audiences around the world in vast numbers and has shown that there is a strong appetite for television drama that relies on more than prettiness or gun play," says Laurie.
"But now that time is drawing to a close. [We] 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."
• The eighth and final season of House begins tomorrow and is broadcast Tuesdays and Wednesdays on OSN First and OSN First HD
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