Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dispatch from press tour: 'House' creator talks Thirteen

One of my biggest pet peeves this TV season (so big it made the Festivus list) has been the increasing prominence of Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) on "House," whose screentime and prominence in each episode feels wildly out of proportion for a character who isn't all that compelling. So when the cast and producers of "House" showed up for press tour, I made sure to ask why Thirteen was getting so much burn.

"Honestly, I don't think I realied how much screen time she's getting," insisted "House" creator David Shore when I brought the matter up during the session. "I like Thirteen. I think it's a really cool, interesting character, and the disease and how people react to that disease is really cool. But we are trying to find that with each of them, and hopefully, we are going to be creating a nice balance overall."

After the session, I scrummed with Shore to talk more about the ongoing Thirteen situation (or problem, depending on your POV).

"We've definitely used her a lot," he acknowledged, "because we'd set up something, so it had to pay off. We had to follow it through. It's not because we're going 'She's the focus of the show.' She is part of the show and we had set up something at the end of last year which needed to be followed through and we've done that. The trick with the series is to constantly be dealing with one, as you finish one set up another one and follow-through with that and that's what we're going to continue to do."

Fienberg, also scrumming, asked whether Shore had been following fan reaction on the Internet, where Thirteen ain't the most popular character in the show's history.

"I'm sorry, but I really try not to," Shore said. "That's a no-win situation. On one hand, everyone's got an opinion. Every opinion's valid. Mine's more valid. I'm being glib, but I really do think the reason shows work is because it's somebody's vision and it either will work or it won't work and I have to do what I find entertaining and I find interesting. At a certain point it won't work, but it has to be what I want to do... Every now and again, something's clearly not working and you do take some feedback, but you can't be at the whims of everybody. It's the same thing I have to do with the network when the network has certain reactions.

"I think you have to be careful with that, because you can find completely conflicting opinions and you can drive yourself crazy with that stuff. It's not pleasant for anybody to read, 'Why did he do that? He's an idiot.'"

38 comments:

Craig Ranapia said...

Meh... I don't know if there's anyone else out there who agrees with me, but until Cuddy and/or Cameron float to the top of the waiting list for a spine the more screen time Thirteen gets the better. And I would be good form to wait a few months, considering Grey's Anatomy has just canned their freshly outed lesbian.

Rev/Views said...

He's right in that you shouldn't pay attention to the fans and the rumblings from the Internet when you make decisions about a show *cough* Heroes *cough*.

But you should also have a decent grasp with regards to your characters and understand which ones are interesting/important and which ones just aren't and should be kept as a supporting character.

Looking back at season four and what we've had of five right now I just can't see why Shore let this happen except he's deluded himself that Thirteen is interesting when she's not.

max_h said...

I actually agree with David Shore. Thirteen isn't exactly my favorite "House" character, but who can say that Thirteen isn't vastly popular amongst the non-Internet posting viewers of the show? It may well be the case that online opinion might be representative of the whole in this instance, but is it true for every case in this or every other show? I used to be a regular ER viewer and remembered the extreme dislike that Maura Tierney's character used to get from a small group of posters on Internet newsgroups, and I just wished then the producers didn't take their views seriously and scale back on Abby's screentime, or even worse, write her character out totally.

It's all too easy for a small online minority to shout-out the rest, due to the nature of forum posting. I thought it was great that Tina Fey called out her constant detractors on the Gold Derby forums in her Golden Globes acceptance speech. Though fans of shows may have the show's best interests in mind, well-intentioned meddling could do as much damage as the much-maligned and decried meddling by the networks. I'm actually glad that David Shore mentioned that this storyline is something that they've set up and they want to make sure that they follow through with it. If it fails, at least it's on his own terms. I can't imagine how I would feel about a show whose plots shifts and morphs on the whims of online opinion, whether the opinion is perceived to be the majority or not.

Sorry for voicing what is probably an unpopular view. I love Alan's blog and really liked reading all the comments by fellow posters here (yes, I'm trying unceremoniously to worm my way out of a public thrashing). It's just that I think online fan views, on the whole, should be taken by showrunners with a grain of salt. Please don't throw garbage at me.

Rev/Views said...

Oh and I forgot to say thanks for asking Shore about this when you had the chance. Maybe it'll result in a dialing down of The Thirteen Show and a return to House M.D.

Craig Ranapia said...

Maybe it'll result in a dialing down of The Thirteen Show and a return to House M.D.

Yeah, Gregory House is so interesting:
1) Sexually harass Cuddy, who doesn't kick him in the junk like any woman with a micron of self-respect would.

2) Kill the sucker of the week for the first time.

3) Make some vile racist remark to Foreman and/or the Guy Who Went To White Castle Who Isn't in Star Trek XI.

4) Tell everyone around you they're drooling retards. Because the fact they haven't distributed your corpse among every dumpster in a twenty mile radius hasn't made that perfectly clear.

5) Trot out some girl on girl gag that was too vile to pass muster on 'Two and a Half' men.

6) Take enough vicodan until you hallucinate a miracle cure.

7) Wilson's pathetic co-dependent enabling makes me wonder, again, when he's going to come out of the closet... as a masochist who likes verbal abuse.

8) Gregory House broods because he's a deeply wounded genuis, as opposed to an abusive, manipulative junkie bastard.

Rev/Views said...

Please note that I used the title of the show in the text you quoted. As such I thought it was clear I was talking about the show as a whole concept and not the character of Gregory House (who I would refer to as House, not House M.D.)

As such I can't really say much else because we're already writing about entirely different things.

In short, you've misunderstood me my dear sir.

Bryan said...

I'm just curious as to why someone so incensed and infuriated by a racist/misogynist/junkie Doctor would waist his time even watching the show much less writing about it. You must have some sort of medical condition. Maybe mold - or some sort of autoimmune disease.

Alex said...

Shore's a jerk plain and simple, does he really think his vision is working? Season 5 is a lame joke, ratings are down and Cameron and Chase fans run out of patience. And he's stupider than I thought if he didn't realize that Thirteen was getting a large amount of screentime versus other cast members.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Like Rev/Views, I agree that Shore shouldn't let the concerns of Internet fans -- or even critics like me -- dictate what he does.

But there can also be a myopia to being the chief creative voice of anything, and the danger lies in becoming so confident in your own ideas that you have no idea you're writing the next "Studio 60."

Shore did seem surprised both by the perception that Thirteen was getting so much screentime and that some people might not be wild about that, like it was the first time it had occurred to him that she might not be universally beloved. And that in and of itself shouldn't change the way he does things, but it could conceivably make him step back and ask himself why he thinks Thirteen is so great, and maybe doing a better job of translating what's in his head into what's on the screen.

Namaste said...

I'm with Max up above. Shore can't win for losing if he tries to follow every knee jerk reaction of the Internet forums. People I know who follow the show intently, but aren't online simply don't care about any of the supporting characters. (One of them once referred to "that blond guy with the accent," three season into it.)

Even if I think Thirteen has gotten too much attention (which is a minor issue for me, not a hyperbolic capslock of rage issue), I have no right to tell him what to do. It's his show, his imagination, his baby. I'm happy to follow along.

Besides, he's right. Once he set up the positive Huntington's diagnosis, he set in motion a story line that he has to play out. To ignore it would be insane.

Elise said...

Alan, did you hear that Cameron and Chase are not even going to be in the 100th episode because the episode deals with more Thirteen and more House/Cuddy foreplay? It doesn't matter that Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer helped make the show a big success.

Bryan said...

I'm not a 13 fan either but is it possible she's getting much of the blame for a larger problem? The entire tone of the show seems different - just watch some of the old eps on USA- it's not as dark and gritty. I hated the Chi McBride character and storyline but the overall the show was still very good - now it's just blah even when 13's not around.

WWWeaves said...

About Studio 60 and single vision, I can see that Studio 60 was lame episodic television, but it is a really fantastic 22 hour series. I found it on Hulu, a setting in which the writing crackles.

I am a little tired of Thirteen. I buy Foreteen only as Foreman being fundamentally bored and frustrated with his life. As for House/Cuddy I'm nervous. But along for the ride.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between not paying attention to every little complaint of the fans & not registering that the show is seriously out of whack (i.e. how can he not notice that 13 is getting more screen time than House & Chase has had less than 5 minutes time this season? And he thinks the story lines are balanced?) to the extent its driving viewers away.


Shore is welcome to ignore ratings - the ultimate in fan feedback - but they are significantly down & have the potential to crash even further. There are Chase & Cameron fans who have been hanging in there, and frankly its a slap in the face to be told now that they aren't even in the 100th ep & to wait 'til S6. He's been saying there will be more C&C for eighteen months & hasn't delivered - why should we believe him? Its simply a cheap ploy to hold on the viewers who will likely now lose all patience with him. Sorry, Shore is also delusional if he thinks that that the never ending 13 & incompetent version of Cuddy he's selling now is an acceptable substitute.

Bill C said...

I wonder if actual people with Huntington's think the disease they've got and how people react to it is "really cool."

Shore's such an assclown.

Andrew said...

There's definitely something to be said for giving the fans what they need instead of what they want. Or giving the fans what they want in the worst possible way. But that also requires recognizing what makes a good story and why that story works.

I'm not sure that Shore has a handle on why the show isn't working this year. I don't know if I could pinpoint it precisely, but if the showrunner is telling critics that a character is interesting instead of showing how that character is interesting through engaging writing, something is wrong with the concept.

Anonymous said...

Who said that Chase and Cameron weren't in the 100th episode?

Craig Ranapia said...

Bryan @ 9.43am:

If that comment was directed at me, I pretty much checked out last season. Did give it another chance after getting some very positive buzz from people whose opinions I respected and had some hope Amber's death would mark a return to form. Sadly, no -- but 'Thirteen' is the least of the show's problem.

I enjoy barely functional sociopathic drug addicts as much as anyone -- and Hugh Laurie is a wonderful actor. But the whole shtick is getting tired. At least, IMNSHO. :)

J said...

I really don't have a problem with Thirteen, and think there are interesting aspects to her character. But her prominence is a symptom of a show that's lost it's focus. There's one Alpha dog in this kennel, his name's in the title, the center's got to hold attention. And other than the single House/Wilson road ep this season, there's been little interesting in or out of the patients' rooms.

I don't care who winds up in the supporting cast, just give me a call when the show's righted itself. Until then, I'll be watching Chuck.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

I don't get it.

I understand not enjoying the 13 plotline, or not liking the actress, or whatever. But I can't wrap my head around the idea that her story is overwhelming the show. Just don't see it.

Remember, ongoing subplots are the one thing that House has NEVER done well. Other than the elimination rounds, many of the subplots on this show have stunk on ice. Vogler was boring, Tritter made no damn sense whatsoever, and Stacy had all of the appeal of something with no appeal at all. And, frankly, 13's subplot would have a long, long way to go before it could be anywhere close to being as off-kilter and distracting as the Tritter nonsense.

Ariadne said...

You've confirmed it -- not only is Shore not reading reviews or fan reaction, he's not even watching his own show. If he were, he would realize that as well as being a bad Mary Sue n at least two episodes this season, Thirteen has had as much or more screen time than House himself did.

Maybe this explains the problems in the quality of the show in the past two seasons. But if Shore is not watching his own show, why should I?

Creative vision is well and good but Shore has been more than willing to play to the House/Wilson fans with text as soon as he realized they were out there, House/Cuddy fans are getting what they want beyond their wildest expectations, and he regularly rewrites the show's canon to support whatever short term storyline he's currently pushing and dropping arcs that have been developed over two or more seasons without explanation. The only time they ever played the "reality" card was to justify getting rid of Chase and Cameron. Nothing else on the show is realistic, including the fact that Thirteen was hired in the first place and then keeps her job no matter what she does, that Foreman couldn't get a job anywhere else after completing "the most prestigious fellowship", that Cuddy hasn't been fired for her inability to control House, or that House ran 8 miles on a missing thigh muscle. At this point the "Shore's creative vision" argument has more holes than Swiss cheese.

TV is in the end a service industry and whether people watch is the ultimate arbitrator. Maybe the on-line comments are representative of how the general public is feeling, maybe they aren't. House has lost 24% of its audience this year. Smart would be to find out why rather than ignore what you don't want to hear.

Shore's comment last year, in response to a question asking when he was going to keep his promise that Cameron and Chase are coming back, that 'what the audience wants is not what it needs' hit a new high in arrogance, especially since he openly caters to various other parts of the fandom.

This season I'm not only not getting what I want, I'm not getting what I need. And I'm not the only one.

Wants ... needs... maybe it's not what he wants but Shore needs is to take his head out of the sand before it's too late.

Ariadne said...

To Anonymous: Michael Auseillo spoiled that the 100th episode is about House/Cuddy and Foreman/Thirteen, and that Chase and Cameron aren't in it. No mention of Wilson, which sounds like there is little Wilson except in his role of pushing House and Cuddy together.

To me, that's the problems with this season in a nutshell, that the 100th episode, which should include the characters and elements that helped make the show a hit, is instead limited to House's romantic relationship with Cuddy (some love it, some hate it) and the new star of the show, Thirteen.

amysa said...

Anyway...

Alan, if you're actually still bothering with this thread, who was the dude on the panel next to Jacobson. I've only seen a small, heavily watermarked pic of the whole group and couldn't really tell who it was. The most common theory is David Foster, but it seemed odd that he'd be up there and all the other writers would be in the back.

Anonymous said...

David Shore may not want to hear what fans & critics are saying, but he needs to start listening because its clear he's completely divorced from the reality of what's actually on the screen. Of course 13's become the focus of the show, almost every patient is somehow about her (unless is Cuddy-baby related), she consistently gets more screen time than House & Foreman, the same guy who runs screaming from his own mother's debilitating illness is okay hooking up with a dying woman who's only bi when its titillatingly convenient for sweeps.

And I can't even begin to express my anger over the huge dis to both the actors & their fans for Shore not including Chase & Cameron in the 100th ep. The fact that Shore has done this while thinking the show is nicely balanced overall is reflective of both his own self-delusion & the dangers of not getting a external reality check from the real world.

And he's needs someone to ram it into his head that people dying & the diseases they have aren't "cool".

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think Jacobson was sitting next to Kal Penn on one side and the show's medical advisor on the other.

amysa said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree with max and Bryan. I think 13 is taking the hit for something bigger that's wrong with the show. I always found the old crew pretty dull. They weren't more interesting than this new team , but the show was newer so we noticed less. I think the show perhaps has run its course. It's a procedural, after all, and other than House himself, it has never been successful as a character study. That it's failing now with 13 is to my mind more of the same. Taking any focus away from House allows the cracks to show.

Robert said...

Alan, what makes you think that "Shore did seem surprised both by the perception that Thirteen was getting so much screentime and that some people might not be wild about that, like it was the first time it had occurred to him that she might not be universally beloved"? Didn't you know that Michael Ausiello from Entertainment Weekly interviewed Shore and Jacobs the day before and told him that fans resent the fact that Olivia Wilde is getting so much screentime and have even renamed the show as "The Thirteen hour"? He said HE KNEW.

Do you believe that Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer will be integrated more into the show next season or are they once again pulling our chains?

amysusanne said...

I'm not really sure why him knowing makes it any less likely that he's surprised by it. Frankly, I'm surpised by all the hand wringing and whining about how much people miss Chase and Cameron when he wasn't exactly the most popular character the first couple of years and it was hard to find people who didn't actively *hate* Cameron during that time. Some of those people who said nasty things about her are now complaining that she doesn't get any screen time. I find that surprising everytime I see it.

Shore knows about a certain level of thirteen hate or thirteen boredom or thirteen whatever because reporters keep telling him about it. That he already knew about some of it before Ausiello asked him doesn't mean it's not still a surprise to him that there are people who are unhappy. I can certainly see someone expressing that surprise as if it were the first time they'd heard it if it's truly puzzling to them.

"House" is wildly uneven these days and I agree that there are things that need to be fixed, but I also think it's probably best if David Shore sticks with what he's doing and either makes a tremendous comeback or goes down with the ship because as wildly uneven as the show itself is, so is the fan feedback. If you tried to listen to everyone's complaints and work it out from there you'd wind up putting a bullet in your head before you found a good solution. We'll just have to see how the rest of the season plays out. They promised that Chase and Cameron would be back last season, but they also had a little writer's strike that killed the arcs planned for the second half of the season. Hopefully they'll find a balance in this second half. The show's never struck me as something that should or could go past six or seven years anyway, even when it was top notch.

Robert said...

Amysusanne, I suggest you read again the part where Shore and Jacobs promise for the third time that Cameron and Chase will be integrated into the show NEXT SEASON, the second half of THIS SEASON is almost done fi, and it's going to be as unbalanced as the first half of the season.

Andrew said...

I've always been a "respect the artist" kind of guy, perhaps to a fault. I always think a show should either succeed or fail on its own terms. I'd rather see a show's creator drive it into the ground than see some other guy come in and hold the line.

Ariadne said...

Amysusanne,it's true that the writers' strike disrupted things and Shore has said that he moved the Cuddy/House arc to this season because of it.

However, the strike lost them 8 episodes last year. We're up to episode 11 in season 5 with spoilers up to 14, long past that point, without Chase or Cameron back and now Katie Jacobs is saying that it won't be until next season. (If you believe her this time that is, since she's been saying they'll be back episode 2, then 6 then 10 of season 4.) It's not the writers strike that caused this, it's that Shore etc. never really had a plan for what to do with them.

Many people liked Cameron and Chase from the start, others didn't. People tend to gravitate to boards with posters who think like they do and leave those where posters bash the characters they like. But even controversy can be a good thing -- some people disliked Cameron's stand on ethics but it provided a contrast to House himself and now that she's gone, there are no more true ethical conflicts on the show since everyone goes along with him.

What makes a show a hit is a complex thing. Shore appears to have dropped many of the elements in House's formula without realizing it.

amysusanne said...

@Robert: I don't need to read it again, I comprehended it just fine. He said big things, "game changing" things are going to happen and that they've found a way to use them more. I am under no delusions that it'll suddenly be the Chase/Cameron show during the last weeks of the season, but it's also apparently not going to be some abrupt thing where one day they're not there and the next day they're in your face. The way the season plays out will be a good indicator of where the show is going and if they've turned the corner on those two characters and found a way to integrate them more then that's going to be something that we'll have to see unfold.

Anonymous said...

I love the character of 13 and feel her story arc is in accord with a lot of the show's core qualities. Criticism is always going to be more rampant on the internet because it is more likely for someone to post about something they disliked than for them to post about everything they liked. Olivia Wilde is a quality actress and the treatment of her character's disease has been an enjoyment for me to watch. Just wanted to post that to let people know that there are House fans out there who are enjoying this season very much.

Peter said...

Brilliant, now Shore is leaving comments on Alan's blog.

Anonymous said...

I adore Thirteen. I just started watching House this season, and only continued watching because of the character. I wish more people that appreciate Thirteen would post online. I worry that although Shore said he does not read internet postings, he does. I would hate to have Thirteen's screen time diminished because of a vocal few.

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly new to House. I was captivated by House and his anti-social wit. Thirteen bugs me because she bores me. I have no interest in finding out what happens in regards to her clinical trial. Foreman was ok by himself, but he was pretty boring too. Now they have put the most boring people (The Black Guy and The Bisexual) together. I really just don't care about them at all. I guess this is the inevitable fate of all shows. They will eventually fail to live up to the imaginations of their customers...sigh...

Anonymous said...

"I adore Thirteen. I just started watching House this season, and only continued watching because of the character. "

You're the OC-viewer advertising cherry-on-top new core demographic Shore and his cronies are hoping for. After your menarche, maybe you'll understand what we're talking about.

Thirteen sucks-- angular, scrawny, ugly, HORRIBLE actress, no matter what gender or species they have her sleep with, or malady that may afflict her.