Some of you may not remember, but when House M.D. first premiered back in 2004, there were another medical mystery premised show hitting the pilot trail as well. Simply called Medical Investigations, it starred Neal McDonough, known at the time from Boomtown and Band of Brothers, Kelli Williams from The Practice, and Anna Belknap, newcomer at the time and now from CSI: New York.
The pitch, as per IMDB, with the subtleness of the invisible and the potential deadliness greater than a bomb, disease can the most dangerous threat of all. When such outbreaks occur, an elite team of medical investigators from the National Institutes of Health, lead by Dr. Stephen Connor, is on the case to get to the bottom of the danger anywhere in the country.
House M.D. as stated premiered that same year. The pitch, also via IMDB, the series follows the life of anti-social, pain killer addict, witty, and arrogant medical doctor Gregory House with only half a muscle in his right leg. He and his team of medical doctors try to cure very ill ordinary people in the United States of America. This new pilot starred Hugh Laurie, known only at the time for Stuart Little, Robert Sean Leonard, best known for his role in Dead Poets Society, and Omar Epps from E.R.
So as an objective observer and someone who watched both shows when they premiered, who did I think would win the battle? At the time, it was Medical Investigations. It had a CSI feel, had known dramatic actors, offered a fair amount of action, drama and grossness to keep people interested, and had the advantage of an ever changing locale.
Obviously this was not the case, as House M.D. is in its seventh year and is showing no signs of slowing in the near future. So what is the difference? To put it as simply as possible, Hugh Laurie is the difference.
At the time of the premiere, Hugh Laurie was not known in the states at all. Now he is amongst the most recognizable people on television, even over the Kardashians. Before his role on House M.D., Hugh was known in the United Kingdom as a very successful comedic actor, having starred and guest starred on many of the BBC’s highest rated shows. His first introduction to the American public was as Mr. Little in the live action movie Stuart Little.
The character of House M.D. started as one you love to hate, but over the years he has grown on the public. Laurie and the writers have slowly peeled back the onion to reveal the man inside the bristled diagnostician shell. Never before, with the exception of E.R., has a prime time show gone through the upheaval of casting like House and survived the aftermath. The reason House M.D. has defied the odds, garnered critical acclaim, won four Emmys, two golden globes, and is seen in over 65 countries worldwide is Hugh Laurie.
This character, this idea, would have never worked if not for Hugh Laurie’s brilliance. Now, I know I am gushing, however I am moving toward a point. One of the most important things that happened with the acceptance of House by the viewing public, in my humble opinion, was the permanent change of landscape. Television drama went from mediocre status to a place that encourages characters and real actors. It is my belief that House M.D. paved the way for shows like the Closer, Dexter, Weeds, Californication, and Breaking Bad, by proving that not all protagonists look, act, and sound the same. There is a way to be realistic, without going to reality. Most importantly, it expressed that the prime time TV viewers are ready for outside the box thinking, and are now expecting it.
I will watch House MD for as long as it is on. Through the cast changes and revolving addictions alike, I will always be back for more. House, both the actor, and the character, are simply brilliant, and that keeps me tuned in.
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