Despite reading Scientific American as a kid, David Shore never really knew much about medicine. So when the honchos at Fox put out word they were looking for a fresh medical drama, Shore wrote what he knows: cops and crooks.
"I figured, what if instead of looking for bad guys, we're looking for germs," says Shore. "The germs are the suspects."
Hugh Laurie stars as the ill-tempered title character in "House."
(Nigel Parry -- Fox)
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After years writing legal dramas such as "Family Law," "Law & Order" and "NYPD Blue," Shore, 45, substituted a cranky medical sleuth for his standard crusty police detective and started pumping his physician friends for ideas.
"I'd go to a party and ask, 'Tell me about the weirdest case you ever had,' " recalls Shore. And he started scouring medical journals, looking for the rare diseases, missed diagnoses and just plain icky cases that had real doctors scratching their heads.
The result was "House," arguably the finest in a trio of new medical shows aimed at bringing the familiar genre into the 21st century. Named for the lead character, Dr. Gregory House, the show is an addictive blend of psychedelic special effects, Sherlock Holmes-style mysteries and -- in an unusual move for a prime-time series -- an ill-tempered physician.
From "Marcus Welby" up through "ER," blood and guts -- or at least a hefty dose of human suffering -- have made for good television ratings. But screeching ambulance sirens and frantic interns yelling "Stat!" now seem awfully '90s.
This season, "Medical Investigation" on NBC went the deadly-disease route on Friday nights, with plenty of "CSI"-like graphics. "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC is more soap opera than medicine, and the ideal dessert after "Desperate Housewives."
But "House" is something else entirely. Not quite somber, not quite fluffy, it appeals to our inner Columbo. "Patients only come to House with things other doctors can't solve," says Shore.
Every Tuesday night the clock ticks down as the team at the fictitious Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital races to figure out just what the devil is about to kill this week's patient. Why, we wonder from the comfort of our living rooms, haven't they done a full body scan? Have they checked for vasculitis, cellulitis, encephalitis and transverse myelitis? Come on! There's only 11 minutes left in the show.
Played by a Brit, Hugh Laurie, House pops pain pills, watches his favorite soap opera on the job, shuns the traditional white coat and avoids patients because they'll only lie and mess up the diagnosis. This is not the physician you want at a loved one's deathbed. And yet we are drawn to him in the way we could not resist Archie Bunker or Andy Sipowicz all those years they behaved like Class-A jerks.
These days, Shore presides over a stable of young writers, and Laurie is yukking it up with Jay Leno. "House," which airs Tuesday nights at 9 on the Fox network -- is drawing an average of 12 million viewers, in part because it follows "American Idol" -- and has been renewed for a second season.
But before there was a show at all, it was just Shore and his neighbor Harley Liker, brainstorming over family barbecues.
"It was pure nepotism," Liker jokes, describing the friendship the two struck up while their children attended Valley Beth Shalom nursery school.