Dr. Gregory House checked out of Princeton-Plainsboro last May for the very last time after an hour that explored the man fans had come to know over eight seasons. As the good doctor rode into the sunset with Wilson, EW spoke with executive producer and creator David Shore, who broke down all the twists. If you missed the finale, there’s always our recap and Ken Tucker’s review. For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, true to form, the finale had me guessing to the very end. Tell me how you decided to end the series where you did, with House and Wilson riding into the sunset.
DAVID SHORE: There was a lot of discussion. The writers sat down and bandied around a bunch of ideas, and the more I thought about this idea, the more it seemed right. Ultimately, it’s House making a sacrifice — and yet not making a sacrifice. It’s House being with the person he should be with, in some ways. It’s not too sweet because it’s Wilson dying and House screwing everything up — and yet it’s Wilson and House riding into the sunset. And it’s House accessing his whole life for 40 minutes before that, which also allowed us to bring back guest cast. It just felt like the right tone and the right story.
How did you break that final story? I think one of the lines people are favoring today is that the final puzzle we solved with Dr. House was Dr. House.
Yeah, that seems right, doesn’t it? His life and what he should be doing, and assessing all the types of choices and the way he’s made choices. Isn’t that what a final episode should be.
I certainly think so, which is why I thought he was going to die. Was there ever a point where you thought you might kill House?
Everything was on the table and that seemed like a natural [choice] in some ways — that is an ending. And this [episode] is a nice ending for the series, but it’s not en ending to House, and that’s part of it. House as a human being — a fictional human being but still a human being — won’t be over until he dies. So there was some talk about that, but this felt better for many reasons.
Did you mean for it to be ambiguous in any way? I watched it, felt at peace with what I saw, and then our commenters took my peace away with their crazy-but-plausible theories. Did you purposely leave room for that discussion and theories that House did die?
Yes, it did occur to me people might see that. And I welcome multiple interpretations. Well, I don’t welcome multiple interpretations usually. I get that, and I find it interesting. But I want people to feel differently about things, but I don’t want people to disagree about what the show is and what the story is. I was aware of that and I was okay with that.
So, was it meant to be taken at face value?
Yeah. It was.
Well, now I feel better.
Yes, it was meant to be taken at face value. House is riding off into the sunset.
Let’s talk returns. How hard or easy was it to get everyone on board?
It was easy in the sense that I called the people you saw in [the episode], gave them a description — barely that — and they all jumped at the opportunity. That was really gratifying. Scheduling was a bit of a nightmare because they all have busy careers, and so I would have loved to shoot that stuff in order and that wasn’t possible. There were some scenes that were shot where part of one scene was shot one day and the other part of the scene was shot another day. So my hat goes off to the AD (assistant directors) department and the production department generally for wrangling everybody. But in terms of people coming back, it was great.
Why was it important to you to bring everyone back?
It was a natural thing to do in the finale, which isn’t enough of a reason for me. What I liked was that the story we were telling lent itself to doing that, and doing it in a different way. And it was nice for me on a human level to see those people again. Mostly it made sense for the story – he’s had different people in his life who have touched him and affected him in different ways. They are a part of who he is, so we were portraying that in a literal way. We had those four characters come back, but in terms of the four people who came back, they weren’t there. They were part of his subconscious. So, literally portraying them as being part of him, I liked that.
That’s especially sweet in terms of Kutner, because he left so suddenly. It was nice closure, I think.
It was a whole notion that he lives on, in a way, through the people he’s touched. Unfortunately, he doesn’t literally live on — that would have been nicer for him. But for his legacy, it exists.
I have to ask about Lisa Edelstein. Did you approach her about a return?
I wanted her to come back, but we weren’t able to make that happen.
One of my favorite parts of the finale were the song choices at the end.
That was all Hugh Laurie. It was completely Hugh. He came to me one day while we were shooting the finale and it seemed right. Again, it was that tone – opposite of what you expect and yet it worked.
Now, if I may get a little nerdy. Foreman, he knew at the end that House had done something, right?
Yeah, that was intended to be a clue that House left for Foreman to tell him, ‘Don’t worry.’
Let’s talk about the codas with everyone, and why you chose those places — Taub with his children and Chase with his own team.
The codas were meant to be, ‘Life goes on.’ House has touched their lives, House is gone from their lives now, but House will always be part of their lives. It was just seeing a little glimpse of them thinking about that and appreciating it. It went along with the song that was playing at that point. “Keep me in your heart for a while.” Both of those songs were our message to our audience – keep us in your heart for a while and enjoy yourself.
Was there anything in the finale that was left on the cutting room floor that you wish you could have included?
There was a little more. We had Martha Masters (Amber Tamblyn) make an appearance at one point, and Olivia. But other than that, there was some stuff that we made slightly clearer. But what always happens to me is that you think you have this nice, tight script and then you go into editing, start chopping, and you’re a few minutes long. Usually it works better shorter and tighter.
Did you ever want that first hour to be for the story and not a retrospective?
Originally we talked about doing a two-hour. That didn’t last very long. Once I had this story idea pretty firmed up, I didn’t believe I could sit through House assessing his life for two hours – as an audience member. [Laughs] At one point, I wanted, instead of 60 minutes, 65 minutes or 66 minutes. But it’s another episode, it should be the same as the other episodes. I shouldn’t be making indulgences.
What was the hardest scene?
It was a tricky one for logistical reasons. The burning building was huge. Shooting that explosion was fantastic. After he falls through the floor, we actually had Hugh, Sela [Ward], and Jennifer [Morrison] in a room with a lot of fire in it. It wasn’t dangerous; we were very safe. But usually when you shoot a take, you can reset and do it again. But this time, every three minutes of filming, we would have to get everyone out of the room and let it cool off for 10 minutes. So logistically that was a challenge. In terms of performances, it was great. These are actors who have dealt with the show for years and years. Every one of them was fantastic.
As a writer?
It was a challenging story to tell. We knew we wanted to start with House in a burning building, tell how he got here and where he goes from here. That was our set up, and the challenge becomes how do we make those flashbacks interesting, knowing he ends up in a burning building and nothings going to go right for him.
In your head, what happened after five months.
That’s something I’m happy to leave to the rest of the world. The story ended where the story ended. I’m happy to let people fill that in for themselves. That’s actually one of the attractive things, to me, about this story. I liked the idea. Normally, I like to tell the story specifically and draw people along. This is the emotion you’re going to feel now. This is the emotion you’re going to feel NOW. But I liked the idea of leaving the audience with an ending they can fill in themselves. But five months from now? That’s less interesting to me than what House and Wilson are doing on the road.
Maybe talking about Dead Poets Society. Loved the Easter Egg, by the way. Which was your favorite or one you were especially pleased with?
That was a good one. We were tempted at one point to do a whole bunch more. We were tempted to do homages or tiny reference to other series finales out there, like have someone get hit by a golf ball or a Korean woman with a chicken to reference M*A*S*H, but we thought that might be too distracting. But I loved the Dead Poets Society and “Nobody cares about the medicine.” Actually, that might have been my favorite.
And “Cancer is boring.”
“Cancer is boring”! I love that that’s the last line of the series.
Lastly, what can you say about the run you’ve had and finishing up the story?
It’s been very satisfying. I’ve got many specific complaints and no general complains. It’s been quite literally beyond my wildest dreams. If someone had guaranteed me that I would get three years on the air and enough of an audience to stay on the air, I would have been thrilled with that. It never occurred to me that it would have this sort of following and this sort of excitement. It’s been amazing. I’m not very eloquent about this because I can’t still wrap my head around this whole thing. It’s been amazing.