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Ending Season Three With a Bang? An Interview with House Writer Lawrence Kaplow

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Lawrence Kaplow is obstinately tight-lipped about the House season three finale, scheduled to air May 29. He does reveal that he co-wrote it with Thomas Moran; that the teaser was conceived before the rest of the episode, shot before the episode was fully written, and took considerable preparation, special effects, and stunt men; that executive producer Katie Jacobs, who'd directed for the first time on the Kaplow-penned "Half-Wit," was directing this one, too; and that the rest of the episode started filming on Friday.

But will he give me any hints what it's about? "I don't think I should." Will it end on a cliffhanger? "Hmmm." Does someone shoot House? "I think fans will be pleased."

So what did I get out of him? About that intricate teaser: "It's not insane, like Mars blows up, but for our show, it's big."

I ponder the headline "Mars Does Not Blow Up in House Finale" as an a propos line from the last episode runs through my head: "I asked you what two plus two equals, and a day later you tell me 'not 25.'"

Perhaps my tactical error was to beg for details while warning him repeatedly that I hate spoilers. Hard to say, though.

Write What You Know: "There are aspects of all our personalities that we give to House."

"You have to understand: Shore is House," Kaplow says, explaining the sense of humour of show creator David Shore, and, therefore, of his indelible character. "It's not even sarcasm, it's just truth, it's painful truth, maybe an exaggeration of reality."

But not surprisingly, Kaplow seems to have a Housian streak of his own. Stubbornness might be part of it. So might sarcasm.

When our interview is scheduled for 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, he asks if I have TiVo. My way-too-literal, brand-phobic brain answers: "Yes. Well, the Canadian version." His reply: "Canadian TiVo … what's that, a VCR?" He toys with me as I flounder in trying to frame a question about his string of addiction-exploring episodes. He mocks me for asking him to recall the early days, "like we were on in 1947." And, as with House's wit, it kept me laughing on a Tuesday evening.

Yet he reveals a humility and humanity that House would scorn, and that even causes Kaplow some lighthearted self-flagellation. He worries he's heightened my expectations after that finale build-up. "I hope you're not going to say, 'Oh my God, he could have told us this, because this sucks.'"

I ask him about the career-escalating year-and-a-half since our last interview, a period that saw him win a Writers Guild Award for "Autopsy" and sign a development deal with 20th Century Fox.

"I was surprised anyone was aware of me. I keep my head down and I am truly interested in the work I do. I have such a good time doing it. I am so happy doing it." He pauses. "That sounds so Pollyanna. Kill me."

Fiction Versus Reality: "This is when real life and our TV show intersect, and you're floored."

He even berates himself for digressing after he tells me the most touching and insightful anecdote of the interview.

"We get excited when we find a really bad disease. We're happy. We're saying 'Oooh, someone's spleen can fall out their eyeball. That's fantastic. And it strikes children. This is so cool!' Because for us, it really is great to find something that plays on all those emotions," he starts. "But there are real people out there with real diseases, the ones that are on the show, and then we get letters saying thank you."

There was a quick line in "Half-Wit," the episode where House fakes cancer to score drugs, mentioning a clinical trial at Duke University. The line was a shout-out to Kaplow's friend, who had been a patient at Duke and who he thought would get a kick out of hearing it mentioned on air. "They got flooded with calls from people who were sick with brain tumours asking if there was hope," he marvels.

"The writers are just having fun, telling stories. But then because it's a medical show, people sometimes are watching it not just to see the characters and who's kissing who, but for answers. And that's where it sort of makes you ashamed."

That intersection between fiction and reality hammers home the importance of working with the medical consultants, including staff writer and doctor David Foster.

"It brings responsibility to try to get the medicine right," Kaplow says, before explaining the constraints of television. "Sometimes we get criticized from doctors who say that would never happen. And the truth is, in your practice that would never happen because this is not the norm, but we have documentation from here backed up to NBC Universal showing that this is possible, this is what can happen. But we can't tell you the 15 steps it took to get there, because that would be really boring."

Despite the accolades and the sense of responsibility, Kaplow feels no pressure to top himself. "I don't set out to do something special, I set out to do something cool," he says, revealing that "Half-Wit" was born out of the idea that he'd like to see House fake cancer. It then took conversations with Foster to get a medical story to make it work.

As a producer on the show, he has a hand in scripts other than those with his name on them, and he explains how tricky it is to shape the medical stories. "They need to be told simply so the audience can follow them, and at the same time be a mystery. So they are very difficult to pull off and they take a lot of work."

Shaping the season is part of the job, too. "We try not to give the same thing every single week. Sometimes it'll be a lighter story. The goal of every episode is not to make somebody cry," Kaplow points out. "You're not going to therapy when you watch television."

He is one of a handful of writers who have been with the show since those early days, way back in 2004, but he hasn't reached a point where he's desperately hunting for medical oddities to feed House's appetite for a mystery. "You stay buried in a story and then you come up for air and look around the world, maybe you read a newspaper for the first time, and all of a sudden all these stories are leaping at you."

When we spoke, he was coming up for air after putting the final touches on the last script of the season. While he won't even give a clue as to what it's about (not that I'm bitter), he will say the show has hit a stride with the final run of episodes. "I think fans are going to have fun," he promises. I'm going to go out on a short limb and guess that this won't be one of those lighter episodes, though.

The Heart of House: "I guess I'm happy people see him as a role model. I just don't want to be friends with those people."

My floundering question about how we've seen House's drug use progress through the seasons leads him to point out that "we're no longer just talking about pain in his leg, but we're talking about where he is mentally. Wilson is arguing that depression is a choice, and that for Wilson he chooses not to be, and that House chooses to be."

Starting with the season two finale, we've looked deeper into the man who maybe sees his medical skills as a pass into a world where he doesn't fit, who maybe clings to his misery as a sign of his superiority. We saw in "No Reason" — co-written by Shore and Kaplow — that he would give up his brilliance for a shot at normalcy. Then in "Half-Wit" we saw he would make a similar choice for a patient.

So with that knowledge, his sympathy-pushing actions to score drugs by faking cancer take on a more poignant overtone.

"Is it a desperate act to feel good? Is it a desperate act to feel normal?" Kaplow asks. "House would do anything to just be average. And unfortunately he's cursed with a mind that will not allow him to rest. I think that brings about a lot of his pain, forget about his leg."

We've seen House forced to question his strict adherence to rationality over emotion. We've seen him briefly cured of his pain and his limp. We've seen him in rehab and in jail. And yet, he remains the same old House.

As he must, Kaplow asserts. "It's been said before that TV characters never really change. They're born in the pilot and we uncover other flavours in them, but who they are is somewhat immovable."

One of House's immovable traits is his stubbornness (but I bet he would have given me a clue about the finale). You can't say he's not true to himself, even if that self is not always admirable. He almost defiantly refuses to change, even having difficulty with small-scale normalcy like getting a pizza with a friend, or going on vacation.

Kaplow brings up the possibility that change might not be the answer anyway. "There was a really cool study a few years ago about how everyone has a default state of being on the spectrum from miserable to happy," he recounts. "If you're normally fairly depressed or bitter and people are telling you to be happy, the stress of people telling you that, and your efforts to try to be happy, can make you more depressed than you would be in your normal state."

Because House can't be normal, it seems he exuberantly embraces his misery and superiority. Referring to the abrasive doctor's drug-experimentation revenge on a former classmate in his season two episode "Distractions," Kaplow stresses the bigger lesson about his character. "I think if House ended up with a stroke and was slurring his words and was in a hospital bed unable to move, he would still breathe into a tube and his last words would be, 'I was right.' And he would smile."

That doesn't mean House isn't affected at all by these challenges to his point of view. "I do think he's self aware. I don't think he's in the dark about who he is at all," Kaplow responds to the critique that he hasn't learned anything. "I think people like to think that deep down he has a heart of gold. Um, no, he doesn't. He really doesn't."

He even balks at the suggestion that House shows glimmers of humanity, calling it an "odd" sort of humanity. "He gets annoyed at irrational choices, so he will tell the truth rather than a lie to get his way out of a conversation."

"This was set up in the pilot," he recalls. "When House comes in to talk to the kindergarten teacher and he convinces her to live, he's not doing that because he's a good guy. He's doing it because he's annoyed with her decision. It's a stupid decision. Maybe that's humanity. I don't think it is. I think it's illogical, which annoys him, which is why he says death is always ugly to someone who wants to die."

Beyond House: "It's a procedural, so there are various aspects to each character that are necessary to tell the story."

House is clearly the centrepiece of the series, but he's well-served by a diversity of secondary characters. Kaplow admits to a special fondness for Wilson, a fondness he shares with the show's lead actor.

"Hugh [Laurie] has always maintained that one day the show will be Wilson, and they'll forget all about this wise cracking doctor, what's his name, he took Vicodin or something. He's said that Wilson was the real show," Kaplow laughs. "That's typical self-deprecating Hugh, but at the same time, it is a lot of fun to mess with Wilson. And it's fun to watch Wilson try to keep up, and the two of them torment each other."

But "you fall in love with all of them," he says of the characters he puts down on paper and sees come to life on-set through the talent of the actors playing them. "These people are in your head while you're writing the scripts, and then you watch them move around, and they do it in ways you weren't even thinking."

And what exactly are they doing on-set at the moment, shooting the finale? "Since you're a fan of the show I think you'd be pissed if I ruined it for you."

So he won't tell me how the season ends, or even how its special-effects laden teaser begins, but he will say this: "We've been teeing up a lot of things in the last couple of episodes and those tensions will continue to play out over the next while."

Yeah, that's not vague at all. I can promise you this: Mars does not blow up. Earth, now — he didn't say anything about Earth.

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About Diane Kristine Wild

  • Phillip Winn

    Even this interview made me laugh. Wow, well done!

    I’m really not all that much for spoilers; I prefer to let the episodes come as they do. But now you’ve got even me wondering about the finale. Argh!

  • TV and Film Guy

    Congratulations! This article has been selected for syndication to, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States.

  • Corien

    Whoo!! It’s here!

    This is one great second interview with my favorite House-writer (huh, he didn’t think anyone noticed? though admittedly he shares that first place with David Shore), and I am so very happy that you are as big of a spoiler-phobe as I am.

    I could read this without having to screen for possible spoilers at the same time.
    (I’ve gotten better at closing my eyes very fast – it’s a Pavlov thing – so I only catch half of a spoiler and still remain somewhat clueless.)

    Only now I really really am looking forward to the finale. (Mars not blowing up..does that mean something else probably will??)
    And the rest of Season 3 for that matter.
    And at the same time I don’t because, well,a long House-less summer will follow.
    So, when will they start writing on Season 4?

    Anyway, it’s great to see certain things confirmed, and have some new information added.
    I’m going to read this again. A bit slower this time around.

  • BoffleB.

    Great interview, Diane, as always! So Kaplow says House really doesn’t have a heart of gold? And a thousand fanfics sputter and die, only to be resurrected with someone seeing even deeper into his careworn heart yet again…

    BTW, that’s just the right amount of spoiler for me, though you may have given it away at the end there: so House gets the superpower to blow up the earth and does! That would be awesome. And the new show will be called Anti-Heroes!

    Did you get any sense of whether Kaplow will still be involved with House (writing an ep or two?) once his development deal kicks in?

  • Diane Kristine

    Thanks guys. Yeah, I’m begrudginly happy not to be spoiled. I guess. Boffle, I hope to soon pry some news out of him about the deal.

  • MD80

    I have a bad feeling about all this ‘Fans will be amused’ or something.I just hope it is not some sort of hookup between House and anyone else,even if for a short term.That would NOT be fun!
    Rest,I will be happy to see anything,whether it is Mars blowing up or Neptune!Or even Uranus(which has some relation to human anatomy).

  • Diane Kristine

    It’s hard to imagine the hook up that requires special effects and stunt men, but I guess anything’s possible.

  • Temple Stark

    If House got his leg amputated that would amuse me as an occasional viewer, already tired of the show. The guy’s a genius because he guesses everything else but the right answer? Oh and he’s sympathetic because he’s an addict? Oh and half of what he says would get him fired in a New York minute, but he’s a genius so all is gorgiven. It’s circular and it doesn’t work for me, but then I’m just me, one viewer among millions. :-)

    There’s some touching moments to the show but most of them are so contrived they fail to emote.

    – Temple

  • Temple Stark

    !@#$% I meant to add good brief interview, and I don’t like most TV shows as I find it impossible to view them without the veil of real life, so I’m not the typical viewer.

  • Grace

    I disagree with him. I think House does have a good side. I saw it with Stacy and lots of other times.
    I hope season 4 will be better than season 3. I wasn’t that impressed…..especially not with the Tritter arc and the rehab stuff. And I hate the House/Cuddy House/Cameron thing. Neither one is the right person for House.
    Just tell stories like in season one. Don’t make House suffer anymore than he already does.
    BTW, I LOVE this show and NEVER miss it.

  • Josh

    Great job, as always, Diane.

  • Elyn

    Great interview! I never really like reading a whole interview, but this one was quite entertaining.

    Can’t wait til the season finale! I’m a spoiler-loving fan and I’m still looking around for anymore possible spoilers for the ending. I never miss an episode! I love this show!

  • NLP

    I don’t “hope” Season 4 will be better than Season 3 — by default, it’ll HAVE to be. I almost uniformly hated Season 3 for (a) the Tritter arc; (b) the addiction/rehab baloney; (c) turning Cameron into a b!tch; (d) having her soullessly hook up w/ that wombat; (e) by & large abandoning the relationship between House & Cameron that they –TPTB themselves! — spent the 1st 2 seasons slowly building; & (f) trying to put House w/ Cuddy in any way, shape, or fashion. Ick! Other than that, great season, guys!

  • Diane Kristine

    I think you’re watching a different show if you think they’ve been building to a House/Cameron climax. They’ve been playing with House/Cuddy since the pilot. They’re toying with both matchups while never committing to one (or all three, if you want to add Wilson into the mix).

  • Diane Kristine

    Grace, yeah, I don’t think he meant House doesn’t have a good side AT ALL, or that he doesn’t occasionally care about people. He was more reacting to the attitude in some fans that underneath it all, House is a nice guy and if only the right woman would come along, or if only he wasn’t in pain, his good heart would shine through (that’s gotta be the fanfic standard, right?). He’s a bastard with human emotion, but a bastard through and through. And I wouldn’t have it any other way – that’s part of what makes him such a great character.

  • d alper

    Best line ever in a TV series could possibly be: “…just because she’s a hooker does’nt mean she does’nt enjoy the sex!” Awesome, perfectly written, perfectly acted, directed and perfectly placed musical ending. My next CD purchase will be the compilation of that last haunting tune the show’s producers choose to close the episode as its finale. Great piece. Thx

  • Kaonashi

    House and Cameron should never, ever be put together seriously. It’s too gross to think about. He is way too old for her. But a House/Cuddy thing? That would be amusing to watch. Cuddy/Wilson would be kind of weird since they’re so similar in personality. I don’t think it would work out. But a House/Cuddy thing would be hot. Imagine the snarky banter they always have, but then they’d have lustful sex when they go home. Yowza.

  • Kinema

    To the person who referred to Chase as “that wombat”, incase you didn’t know the actors who play Chase and Cameron are in a relationship in real life, hence the Cameron/Chase relationship going atm i guess…

  • Lakpops

    House/Cameron relationship would be MUCH better for the show. Unfortunately since Chase and Cameron are together in real life, that might be the route they’ll take :/