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A Conversation with House, MD Executive Producer Katie Jacobs

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Warning: Very mild spoilers ahead

House, MD executive producer Katie Jacobs has a lot on her plate. As “showrunner” of the hit series, she, along with series creator David Shore, are largely responsible for House’s feel and look; its stories and direction. Approaching its 100th episode, and in the middle of its fifth season, House was the only network series nominated for a Golden Globe award. The show's star (and executive producer) Hugh Laurie was the only star of a network drama nominated in the drama category. I had an opportunity to sit down with Jacobs by phone the other day to chat about the show and reflect on its upcoming milestone 100th episode (airing February 2).

Although House, MD came away empty-handed from the Golden Globes, Jacobs said that the nomination “made us really, really happy.” She pointed out that the other nominated series (including the winner, Mad Men) are “wonderful, ambitious, and original.” But she also pointed out that “they don’t have to do 24 episodes a year. To be included alongside them, when we have to produce so many shows a year,” she continued, “is really an honor — especially in our fifth season.”

House returns Monday, January 19 (NOTE: Another new timeslot for the show!) at 8:00pm ET with an episode entitled “Painless,” an ironic title given House’s own problems with pain. This week’s patient, suffering with pain more “advanced and severe than House’s,” according to Jacobs, has been referred by House’s former fellow, Cameron. The patient's pain has become intolerable  “to the point where painkillers no longer work,” Jacobs explained. “He’s at a place where House may find himself at in years to come. That’s the focus of the episode.” She continued, “House is in a constant state of pain; believes that his drug use lets him do his job and relieve his pain. Cameron introduces the patient to House hoping that he sees some sort of version of what it might be like for him if he doesn’t take better care of himself. She is worried about House, how he deals with his pain.”

As you all might recall, when last we saw Dean of Medicine Lisa Cuddy back in December, she had rescued a left-for-dead baby, hoping to first become a foster mother and then adopt the child. “Painless” picks up with Cuddy dealing with the challenges new-motherhood.  As anyone who has tried to cope with the trials and tribulations of being a working mother of an infant knows, it is an incredibly challenging task. The them resonates deeply with women who try (and not always with success) to find some sort of balance. “Would it be fair if we didn’t present the challenges that it presents?” asked Jacobs. “Hopefully at some time she will find a balance, but it takes time,” she added. “One of the things that is going to happen at the end of the next episode – Cuddy will see if perhaps someone else can do her job for a period of time so she can spend more time being a mother.”

In the last new episode “Joy to the World,” as Cuddy contemplated motherhood while peering at her new baby in the hospital nursery, a subdued House watched on before quietly wishing Cuddy a Merry Christmas. I asked Jacobs whether the sexual tension between House and Cuddy will cool off now that she’s going to be a mom. “Theused with permission from FOX tension and chemistry are still there. Neither one of them is actively fessing-up to looking for a relationship, but they are drawn to each other. None of the flirtatiousness is going to go away. The stakes are very high for them. The attraction is still there. We are absolutely going to continue that. It’s real and it’s palpable. And it’s who they are.”

About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • barbara barnett

    Bliffle (and thanks Sheelagh for your response)–at its core House isn’t a conventional procedural. The procedural is the comfy formula upon which the rich character study can be hung. House is a character drama–telling the story of Dr. Gregory House. Sheelagh is right on the money. CSI, it’s not.

  • bliffle

    Procedural? Why on earth would you think that a procedural such as CSI is the only alternative to Soap Opera?

    It’s pretty weak to hang all the interest of a program on one character and the actor who plays him.

    As time goes by House becomes more of a petulant child and that becomes even less interesting to any viewer who has actually had to raise petulant children.

    Besides, I think Hugh Laurie was much better in the “Jeeves and Wooster” series about 15 years ago when he teamed up with his pal Stephen Fry for the Wodehouse classic. His comic obliviousness was brilliant. It still comes out sometimes in scenes with Wilson.

    The House episode I’ll tune in for is if the producers bring in Fry for the kind of psychiatrist role he’s been playing lately on US TV. That would be a hoot.

  • fhmd

    Thankyou Barbara for another well written article. Most of the questions that lingers me had all been answered. I look forward to more great new episodes of House in 2009. I think DS, KJ and company are still doing a beyond wonderful job after all this time. After 4+ years, it still remains the only must watch show for me.

    No show will pleased all its audiences and I,for one, am glad TPTB have stick with their guns and continue with the visions that they have for the show. I don’t love all the episodes and there are even a few lemon episodes (for me), but they are far and in between the many many great epsiodes: S1′s Paternity, The Socratic Method, DNR, Three Stories. S2′s Autopsy, Failure To Communicate. S3′s Lines In The Sand, Finding Judas, One Day One Room, Half Wit, Fetal Position. S4′s Mirror Mirror, Frozen, House’s Head, Wilson’s Heart. S5′s Birthmarks, Joy, Last Resort … just to name a few.

  • housemate20

    loove it that the huddy saga continues to soar high! thanks for not disappointing us! =)
    thank you also barbara for the article! i loove it swear! =)

  • Alessandra

    Hi Barbara! I’m here just to say hello and thanks for the article: if I could only speak on the phone with KJ! Wpw!
    bye again from Italy and see you soon (I’m waiting for the next review because I desperately would like to discuss with someone who has seen the ep, too, and in Italy we are very, very, very few, since they are at 5×01 now). :(((

  • ann uk

    One of the many things I have to thank ” House ” for is introducing me to groups like The Who ,which I missed in my youth , being too much of an intellectual snob at the time ! I agree that the subtle use of music is one of the great strengths of the show.

    That said, I still wish we could have more classical music, especially played by Hugh. I have heard snippets of him playing Chopin and would love to hear more. I am sure House would be a lover of the classics as well as jazz and pop.

  • blacktop

    Late arriving at this party, but many thanks Barbara, for this excellent interview with Katie Jacobs. Her first-rate intelligence and creativity shine through in her comments here as they do in the show itself. I am delighted with the direction she, Shore, and Hugh Laurie have taken “House” this season, focussing on the twisted dynamics of family and loss. The death of Amber, the loss and recovery of Wilson’s friendship, the death of House’s father, Thirteen’s internal conflict over the cruel death of her mother, the loss of hope and then sudden discovery of joy through Cuddy’s baby, the looming threat to House’s complicated relationship with Cuddy, all these storylines play closely into this season’s theme. The writing and acting have been superb this year.

    As you and others have noted, this show is a character study of one relentlessly complex man. The medical procedural is the bare skeleton upon which the real meat and soul of the show is hung. We are indeed fortunate that Hugh Laurie has chosen to give his time, energy, and terrific talent to developing “House” for our enjoyment.

  • Amie

    Thanks again for sharing this interview, Barbara.

    I love the music in House, always so fitting and the songs are really great. I don’t know if this is appropriate to post this here so feel free to delete my message if it isn’t, Barbara, but I’ve started a play-list on this (completely legal) website.

    I’m only halfway through season 3 at the moment but I’ll complete it when I have the time. Just trying to make a small contribution to the house fans community…

    Can’t wait for your review on Painless ;-)

  • Louise

    Thank you for confirming that the desk in Cuddy’s office was arranged by House. What a interesting discussion of the music. But, most of all, the Executive Producers of House have avoided what those on St. Elsewhere did not–in trying to keep the program exciting and new, they haven’t gotten mean toward their characters. I feel like the people running this show care about their characters and are protective of them. That’s why we, the fans, love the characters so much but also why we trust them not to lose the edge . . . and not to let our honest, insistent clammoring for things that might damage the balance of the show. Bravo!

  • barbara barnett

    Hi guys, thanks for the nice comments. Painless review will be up later this morning. Sorry it’s so late.

    Blacktop, like you, I’ve liked the theme they are exploring this season and feel this is has been a very strong season.

    Annie–sounds great. i love the music of the series. i remember taking a long trip overseas towards the end of season three (16 hours of travel). I downloaded from iTunes every “ending song” from season three (and a few from other seasons). I kept the episodes very much in mind as I listened to those tracks (of course with the three thousand or so other tracks on my iPod)

    Louise–I agree with you. They do still love their charcters and haven’t made them mean or silly. they all have an edge–even sweet Kutner for all of his Zen-ness. There’s something very three-dimensional about each character. No one’s all good/all bad (well–there was Vogler ;)). But the main cast are fantastically drawn.

  • Anna (from Italy)

    Barbara thank you for your fantastic interview.I think I share your preferences because the episodes of season 2 that you mentioned were exactly the ones i liked least. It’s really impossible to please everybody when it comes to shows like House, especially when the audience is composed of educated people ready to be critical to any faults, and not of enthusiastic teenagers. I adore the show: there have been changes, some for the better, some for the worse, but this season is full of poignat moments. I am looking forward to your Painless review!.

  • PATTY

    I can’t read the entire article either because of the picture of House holding Cuddy’s baby, but I must protest anyway. Undeniably, there have always been sparks between House & Cuddy (and quite frankly I am sick & tired of the “Huddy” acronym. It’s childish, to say the least), and there probably always should and will be. BUT in real life as in the fiction world of TV, it is never a good idea for co-workers to get involved, especially when that person is also your boss. Invariably, something happens & work relations become awkard. And invariably when that happens on TV, the show is doomed. Sometimes, the sexual tension is what keeps viewers hooked. The show has definitely taken a day time soap turn to be sure. In my opinion, the story lines aren’t really getting a chance to develop, and everytime I watch, I think about the TV Guide interview with Hugh Laurie & Robert Sean Leonard & how the show was going to begin to explore their friendship. Haven’t seen much of that yet. I will continue to watch the show because it still holds my attention & to drool over Hugh Laurie, of course, but the writing has definitely gone down hill starting towards the end of the 3rd season, through the strike-shortened 4th & of course this season.

  • barbara barnett

    Hi Patty–

    I tend to agree about “Huddy” “Hameron” “Hilson”. I seldom, if ever, use those tags in my articles, but I’ve seen them everywhere–even in the mainstream media. So…everyone has their preferences, and who am I to say. The practice goes back a long way.

    I do disagree with your assessment of the show at this juncture. And this season, I’ve liked Wilson better than I ever have (after “Not Cancer,” anyway). There have been clunkers (minor) in all seasons, but I’ve really liked this season, but we all look for different things in the series, so mileages may vary.

  • Debbie

    As much as I love the House/Cuddy “will they, won’t they” I like many fans still prefer the House/Cameron will they “will they, won’t they” Hopefully we can see more of that in the future with an aim to them getting together. That would be so funny and thnk of the storylines!!