With the ink barely dry on an agreement between Universal Media Studios and FOX to renew House, M.D. for an eighth season, I had the opportunity earlier this week to catch up with series executive producer Katie Jacobs. Jacobs acknowledged by phone that agreement was “quite a hurdle, and it’s not over yet.”
With not everyone yet signed for Season 8, “all the pieces necessary to live up to what I think this show can be next season are not quite in place.” But she is also hopeful that everything will be “any moment.”
It’s been widely reported that Lisa Edelstein has not yet signed on for next season. But Jacobs is committed to “giving it my all” to sign the actress, who plays Dean of Medicine Dr. Lisa Cuddy. Jacobs agrees that Edelstein is a crucial piece of House’s (and House’s) world.
“Lisa is such a valuable member [of the cast]. I challenge any other actress on TV to do what she is so—does so, you know, seemingly effortlessly. She goes between drama, comedy, intelligence, sex appeal… It’s certainly not my plan or David’s plan or the creative team’s plan to not have Lisa in the show, and I can just say that I will not rest until I figure it out.”
But signing contracts with the network and the actors is just the start. “In terms of getting ahead of the storytelling” (which is where they need to be by the time they start shooting later this summer), there is much, much more to do. Until all the actors are on board and they know exactly what they are dealing with as far as budget and cast, it’s harder to sit down and plan out the season. And until negotiations with Edelstein are concluded, Jacobs is missing a very important piece of the Season 8 story. “When you don’t have a deal done, you can’t then go and do your job, which is to make the creative right. “If I know how much I have or don’t have, I can’t even begin to do my job.”
Although the series usually begins production in July, this year they’re starting a bit later—in August. A lot of fans read this news to mean the series would be airing later in the year, and not premiere, as it usually does, in September. According to Jacobs, “It was a personal request from [series star] Hugh Laurie, who very rarely makes personal requests. That’s why, I think, if he’s going to make one, he’s certainly entitled to it.” Laurie is releasing a Blues album, Let Them Talk this summer (it’s already out in Europe). He’s been touring Europe in connection with the release, and then he’s also filming a movie, Mr. Pip.
But the slightly later start to the shooting schedule won’t delay the Season 8 premiere. “Usually, you start out [shooting] the season [over the summer] and get ahead of everything; by the end of the season, your time in post production becomes crunched.” The shorter schedule just gives the crew less time to work with each episode before it airs. But it should not affect the season’s start at all.
With the agreement between the network only for Season 8, fans have speculated whether next year Dr. Gregory House will be hanging up his stethoscope and cane. Jacobs admitted to not being “good at predicting those kinds of things. Everybody has an opinion on it. Some say yes, some say no. I honestly—I don’t have any idea. All I really try to do is—I know this sounds like incredibly corny—is, sort of put myself inside the character’s head and try and figure out what is true to that character and where he will be. Right now, all I have to focus on is Season 8.”
And whether it’s the last season or not, House will be back next year for 22 episodes, according to Jacobs. Although some of the cast have only been contracted for an 18-episode minimum due to budget cuts required by the renewal agreement (including Robert Sean Leonard, who plays House’s best friend Wilson, and Omar Epps, playing Dr. Eric Foreman).
“I think it’s a huge tribute to creative team on House that for seven seasons we managed to avoid getting the phone call to make cuts in our budget. But now we’re getting that call.” But Jacobs perceives the positive in the realities of budget cuts. “We may have less dollars to work with, but maybe there’s a silver lining in that,” she said. Maybe there’s an opportunity to refocus, she noted, “to tell better stories.”
Speaking of stories, I wondered whether the setting of last week’s episode “The Fix” in a boxing ring had anything to do with Hugh Laurie’s passion for boxing. “I can say this,” Jacobs offered. “He has so many talents, Mr. Laurie. I have been looking for an opportunity to get him in the boxing ring, because he’s so passionate about [the sport]. And so I’m told, he is quite the boxer, very good at it. He has incredible stamina, and the pain doesn’t seem to bother him at all.”
In addition to her duties as executive producer, Jacobs has also occasionally climbed into the director’s chair. Several especially notable episodes in the series run have found her behind the camera, including Season 3’s “Half Wit,” Season 4’s “Wilson’s Heart,” and the two-part premiere to Season 6, “Broken.” Jacob’s sensitive touch with the actors and deft touch behind the camera has been particularly effective at tapping into the emotional core of the stories. Although she doesn’t direct often, she says both she and the actors enjoy it. “I think that the cast enjoys it and I enjoy it. It’s a very good time when I get the opportunity to be on the floor and work with them. We all have fun. I love to direct when the scripts are as glorious, when the actors are as talented, when the crew are as talented as this.”
She clearly enjoyed directing “Broken,” which was real departure for the series. It was completely different than anything they’d tried before, featuring none of the regular characters except House, and it is set completely away from Princeton-Plainsboro as it focused on House’s experiences as a patient at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. Although, Jacobs notes the risk in doing something so different for the series, she felt that it was important not start Season 6 with House having already gone through therapy over the summer.
“For me, it felt like a valentine.” So, the episode picks up just shortly after Season 5 ends, with House about to enter the the pysch hospital. “Oh, what a cheat it would be if he just showed up [back in the office], you know, having gone through that experience, and [we] didn’t get to see how it went down.”
Jacobs has been working exclusively on House for eight seasons, treasuring the experience. “How rare it is to work with people you like and to have the audience like your work—is, you know, I pinch myself.” But she is also now venturing in a new direction to work on a project—with Amber Tamblyn (Martha Masters on House). “This is something that’s so exciting. Amber is inspiring and amazing, I will tell you. I was watching this scene she was in with Hugh in [House’s] inner office, and in the four takes that she did, she did a different version of one of the lines each take. And each one of those versions I believed. And that’s very unusual for me. You know, either I believe something or I don’t.” Jacobs realized then that she wanted to collaborate with Tamblyn.
Although the project has yet to be named, the series is set in the “world of public education. Ed Burns, who co-created The Wire and Generation Kill is writing the pilot here at Fox, for Fox.” The “school [at which the series takes place] is kind of a petri dish where all of these different ideas will be represented. [Amber’s character] comes in to work in the school with her own very unique slant. And that is as much as I will tell you,” she said also noting “there’s a big-ass part in it for Lin-Manuel Miranda.” House fans will recall that the Tony-winning Miranda plays House’s Mayfield “manic Hispanic” friend Alvie in “Broken” and “Baggage” during Season 6. Miranda plays another teacher at the school in the new project.
But Jacobs will continue to be very much involved with House. “I look forward to the challenge in Season 8. You know, the longer you stay with a character, the more you’re obliged to look deeper into his soul. And the more life experience he has had… In seven years, we’ve seen quite a variety. So [the question is], where is he now, and where is he going? And, in my mind, that’s got to be entirely, new in some way.” Jacobs observed of her hero, “for House at this point it’s: ‘I’ve struggled with addiction. I’ve been sober. I tried love.’ So, the challenge—but also the opportunity—is what’s next for him? What I look forward to in Season 8 is getting deeper into what’s going on in his mind. So it’s both a big challenge, and one that I really look forward to.”
Indeed House has been through a lot over the years, but, I asked Jacobs, has he been changed by those experiences? “He’s been through a lot, but I am not sure people change. However, I think they can, through experience, recognize their fears or their Achilles’ heals and overcome them or, reach beyond what they thought was possible for themselves. But, by and large, I don’t think House changes. I think that at its best, House will sort of understand himself better, and understanding himself better, maybe make choices that serve him in whatever it is he wants out of life. It’s up to him now. What does he choose?”
House airs Monday night with “After Hours,” and I will have a preview article up for this season’s penultimate episode sometime over the weekend.