House Calls

The quirkiest doctor show on TV is right at home in New Jersey.

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Gregory House cracks medical conundrums as the star of the Fox show that bears his surname, and he does it with Mercer County as his backdrop. House, in its third season, is set in the fictitious Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Its star is a cantankerous doctor with nontraditional methods who routinely offends but seldom disappoints.

House was inspired by the “Diagnosis” column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, says David Shore, the show’s creator and an executive producer. When he wrote the pilot, he set it in Boston. But executive producer Bryan Singer, who grew up in Princeton Junction, suggested a Garden State setting. As Shore points out, New Jersey had the Sopranos, but it didn’t have anything like House.

Now that it does, local flavor is added to episodes. (House is filmed on a set in Los Angeles, while some New Jersey footage is used in spots, such as the opening credits.) In an episode where House goes on a road trip with a patient to Atlantic City, for instance, an attendant pumps their gas. Shore says the good doctor has also made reference to “going down the Shore.”

Two actors on the show hail from New Jersey. Lisa Edelstein, who plays hospital administrator Lisa Cuddy, House’s boss, grew up in Wayne. Robert Sean Leonard, who plays Dr. James Wilson, an oncologist and House’s confidant, grew up in Ridgewood.

David Foster, an executive story editor and the only physician on the show’s writing staff, says the stories on House are often fictionalized accounts of real-life occurrences. “The stories we tell on the show are usually based on the kernel of a true story that we find from medical literature, or a friend of the family who’s a physician tells us a story they learned at a cocktail party,” Foster says. “Usually, those are what we call three-beat stories, stories with a simple beginning, middle, and end. The work of the show is taking the simple stories and fleshing them out into a full episode, with all the twists and turns and character developments that we see each week on the show.”

Before he moved to Los Angeles to write for House full-time, Foster split his time between Boston, where he saw and treated patients, and New York and Los Angeles, where he wrote for shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Gideon’s Crossing. With all the back-and-forth, one thing in Foster’s household remains constant: His family still takes an annual summer vacation at the Jersey Shore.

One key element of House’s character is his malfunctioning right leg (the result of a blood clot), which causes him to use a cane. This helps explain the doctor’s surly attitude. “Clearly the two are related in a complex sort of way,” Foster says, “but I don’t think he was Mr. Sunshine before the accident.”

Foster’s favorite part of doctoring was forging connections with his patients. House, no doubt, does not share that enthusiasm. “I don’t think he really cares about anyone,” Foster says. “He cares about solving the puzzle, clearly, but it’s for his own selfish reasons.”

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