'House' writers' room: The Huddy breakup and all that jazz
The “Bombshells” episode of “House” this past Monday shocked (and dismayed Huddy shippers) a lot of viewers. It was written by Liz Friedman and Sara Hess. They’ve taken a little time out of their busy schedule to answer a few questions about this critical and unusual episode.
“Bombshells” had two major, major plot points: The breakup of Huddy and the re-addiction of House. What was the rationale behind tackling both of these game-changers in 44 minutes?
Sara: Well, for us the two things went hand-in-hand. A major theme on the show is that people don't change. House has been clean for a year and a half now, but addiction isn't something that just goes away. When Cuddy started dating him, she told him she could accept him just the way he was ... but remember, he was sober at the time. And while she's a doctor and knows the reality of his situation, I think she was able to convince herself for a long time that things would turn out OK. But when someone with House's drug history starts using again, it's a seismic event.
That said, Cuddy doesn't break up with him because he took one pill. We used House's addiction as a symbol of his inability to deal with pain. He's spent so much time and energy trying to insulate himself, but being in a relationship basically means making yourself twice as vulnerable. And he can't accept that. He won't let himself really experience what Cuddy's going through; selfishly, he uses the drug to protect himself, and that leaves her--in any real emotional sense -- alone. Maybe Cuddy thinks she doesn't need him to change, but she does at the very least need him to be present. And in the end he can't do it.
Whose decision was it to incorporate the dreams/nightmares as a plot device?
Liz: That idea came out of the writers' room at House. The staff collectively hatched the notion of Cuddy contemplating various futures with House, each of those futures being a different genre, and those visions ultimately leading to the end of their relationship. In the original pitch, each act was a different genre ... but as we got into it, we realized that the break-up really needed to be grounded in reality, so we re-approached the dreams as a way to show what our characters were really thinking/worrying about.
How did you feel about the results of the fantasies? I still can’t get over the timing of the “Two and a Half Men” sendup, on the day Charlie Sheen is fired. Winning, duh!
Liz: We couldn't be more thrilled about the fantasy sequences. As a long-time horror film fan, I had the best time writing House vs. zombies, using all the tricks I absorbed from endless viewings of "Evil Dead," as well as working for Sam Raimi. And the musical sequence was incredible. It's a rare occurrence for writers when you get to pick a song and write a half-page description and then have more than a hundred truly talented people including the brilliant choreographer Mia Michaels work their butts off to turn that into a completely mind-blowing, unforgettable sequence. It was awesome.
Sara: The Charlie Sheen thing was just a major coincidence; we wrote this long before the meltdown of the last few weeks. It actually wasn't conceived as a direct send-up of that particular show, but in the execution it definitely ended up coming pretty close.
Did this episode take especially long to film, considering the parodies of the specific shows?
Liz: We had one extra day, which is really nothing considering that each of the five dream sequences was a totally different world and look. Production-wise that's the equivalent of doing five teasers. Most directors couldn't accomplish that, let alone have each sequence be better than the last. Our hats are off to Greg Yaitanes, our super-talented and resourceful exec producer director and our stellar crew for that.
Sara:The sitcom and the "Butch Cassidy" sequence were actually shot the same day.
Were you on the set as the fantasy sequences were filmed? Are the writers, as a rule, generally present on set, and if so, are there a lot of last-minute adjustments?
Liz: On "House," writers are on set the whole time their episodes are filming, so we were there for the fantasy sequences. I spent most of the time gawking at the set, the costumes, the actors, completely thrilled and dazzled at what the departments had done to make this crazy idea work. As for script adjustments, those get dealt with ahead of time, not on set.
On a collaborative teleplay like “Bombshells,” do you all sit in the same room and scream at each other until you get the 44 pages?
Liz: We generally divide up the acts, each taking half of the script. Then we swap halves and do a pass on each others material. Then we get in a room together and start screaming.
Sara: Well, there's also some screaming in the early phases, when we're putting together the outline for the script. This was the sixth script Liz and I have written together, so we've developed a pretty good system wherein we try to kill each other for a few hours, then clock out like the sheep and the wolf in that old Warner Brothers cartoon and go get Chinese food.
Liz: Funny thing is, I hate Chinese food.
Do you solicit or accept any input from the cast?
Sara: As an executive producer and our lead actor, Hugh certainly has the ability to weigh in and make suggestions. Which he actually does surprisingly little of. He's a writer, and his respect for the script and the room sets the tone for everybody else. If an actor has a strong opinion about something, we will definitely consider that. But it doesn't happen very often.
Finally, how much, if ever, do you follow the fan feedback on the Internet, and if so, does it affect the direction of the series?
Liz: Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me and I take a peek to see how people are reacting to what we're doing. But I personally don't believe in letting fan reaction dictate creative decisions; not out of disrespect for the fans, but because as a TV writer you have to stay true to the core vision of your show, whether it's coming from you or your showrunner. You let go of that, before long you won't know what you're writing and no one will be happy.
Sara: We certainly appreciate and are grateful to our fans, but scripted shows aren't -- and can't be -- about audience participation. That's what "American Idol" is for. If we bent to every opinion out there -- and there are a lot of them -- we wouldn't be writing "House," we'd be writing a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-type thing. Which, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea. I'm going to call my agent.
Show Tracker thanks these busy writers for talking about their craft, and a fun episode of their highly ranked show.
-- Linda Whitmore
Photo: In the big musical finale, House (Hugh Laurie) dips Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). Credit: Adam Taylor / Fox