Q&A with House Executive Producer Katie Jacobs

I interviewed Katie Jacobs last week for the Blogcritics article Behind “Half-Wit” and Beyond. For more her and less me, here’s a lightly edited transcript:

What are you normal duties on House as executive producer?

I cast every episode, I do all the editing and music, post-production on every episode, I oversee production and choosing of the directors, and then I collaborate on the scripts.

You choose a lot of the music that’s on the show then?

Yeah, in post while we’re cutting an episode, we spot and we put in put in some temp score. So I figure out what’s the best spot, and then the composer goes over it and revises it and gives me his suggestions. And songs have become an important signature to every show, ours included. I get a lot of great suggestions from people around me and I sit on it, stew, worry and obsess, as I am right now – I have a mix later today – and then I decide at the last minute which song I’m going to use.

[Laughs] Really?

Sometimes. Sometimes it’s clear right away. But other times, well, you know.

You do seem to do a good job of matching the mood to the song in the end.

Oh, well thanks, I think we have a lot of opportunity on this show. I’m excited because we’re actually doing a CD. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a compilation of a lot of the songs we’ve used throughout the three seasons, but it’s also got two tracks that are covered by Hugh (Laurie) and his band.

Is the Elvis Costello song going to be on there, “Beautiful”?

You know, that’s a good question. We would like it to be. I don’t know if we’ve worked the terms out yet, but that’s the intention.

What’s your favourite part of executive producing? It seems like a broad role.

It is a broad role. I am blessed with having great partners. On one hour TV, the enemy, so to speak, is the amount of work and the amount of time. I mean, to do 24 hours of TV every year is a phenomenally large task. Audiences, and rightly so, have come to expect the kind of quality on TV that they have in film. So every eight days we’re shooting another episode and no matter what, you’re really up against it. But we have a great workplace in terms of the synergy between David Shore, Hugh, the actors, the other writers, the producers and myself. We’re all on the same team, we’re all trying to climb this mountain together and make it better and better and better. So I think my favourite part of this experience is just how much I enjoy my partners.

How did you get into producing in the first place?

I actually went to graduate school, film school, at NYU and I directed. I came out here and I signed at ICM as a director, and then I got horribly afraid. At the time, and I still think it is true today, as a new director, unless you’ve written a script and control your own material it’s very hard for you to get a foothold or the opportunity to direct. I have always loved working with writers, so going from being too afraid to direct, I went into development, and working with writers and developing ideas for movies and for TV, and that’s how I started.

I was going to ask what made you try your hand at directing, but I guess that was your first impulse.

It’s not like it’s been burning inside of me for years. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve been doing. The interesting thing about TV, just by the very nature of it, because every eight days you’re shooting another episode, is that you have a new director every eight days. The hierarchy In features is everybody tries to serve the director’s vision. While we try to have that same ethic in TV, the continuity between every episode for the actors and for everybody is the executive producers. So it seemed natural that I would sit in the first row of seats rather than the second row of seats, you know, behind the monitor. If not for any other reason than to have more authority to the incoming directors, but also I was really strongly encouraged by the actors in particular, because I’ve been with them since the beginning, I’m so close with them, I adore them. I always want to see them do their best work. So I finally said OK, I’ll give this a try.

Did they behave better for the boss?

Yes, absolutely! They’re always incredibly well behaved but I think there was a certain excitement. We have a core group that have been together since the beginning. They’re always well behaved, but we were all kind of excited about my trying out this new role. So it was very cool. It was a lot of fun.

What made you pick this episode, or was it just the timing was right?

Initially I was supposed to do another one, and David Shore was going to direct this one, because it followed Christmas and he would have time with all his duties as an executive producer to prep over the Christmas break. Then he was too busy, so I stepped into this slot. You never know what story you’re going to get. I wish we could say we’re that far ahead, but we’re not. I didn’t pick the story, I just picked the slot.

Do you feel like you learned anything new about the characters or actors you hadn’t realized before, seeing them from that different perspective?

I think it cemented everything I believed, which is that they really are available, they’re there to work hard and to fight for that last one percent to make it everything it can be. We work really hard and we want to keep up the challenge of doing good work and always get better and improve. It was excellent to be right in there with them fighting for it to be the best it can be.

How did Dave Matthews get involved? If you’re responsible for casting you must have had some say there.

I did do that. I think it was first season, or second, I was watching a sample for a little girl for a role in House, and the sample was from the movie Because of Winn Dixie. The funny thing is that I was so focused on just watching the sample and not who this person is and who that person is, and it was a scene with Dave. It didn’t register, I didn’t know that was Dave Matthews. I was just completely drawn in by his character and then it turned out to be Dave Matthews. When it came time to cast this episode, I thought, well, Dave is not a pianist, but he is a musician, and … have you seen the episode?

No I haven’t.

It’s about a musical savant. When he was 10 years old he got into a bus accident and his brain was rewired so that he is a music specialist, he can play the piano like you’ve never seen before. I felt like somehow having a musician in the role would serve me well. He was my very first choice after seeing him in Winn Dixie.

I’ve read the description of the episode, and it apparently reveals something new about House. Without spoiling too much, can you say if that marks a turning point in the season?

Well, I think it’s a turning point in the season but not in the way you’d expect it. There is something revealed about … yeah, the ultimate reveal does change things slightly but we’ll never change him too much. His evolution will be gradual.

It seems like he works really hard to keep from evolving, to keep people at a distance, stick with his Vicodin, and yet his status quo wouldn’t seem worth preserving to some. Do you think Wilson’s right, that he enjoys being miserable, or is there something else going on?

I think Wilson is right insofar as I think it’s safer for House. It’s what he knows, to keep people at arm’s length. But I think that is one of the many things that Hugh Laurie brings to the character. If you didn’t see behind his eyes and behind his rough exterior into the wounded quality, you’d never love him and root for him and wish for him to find something other than the miserable existence that he lives.

So no, I do think it’s buried there somewhere, but being miserable is familiar and what he knows, so it’s hard for him to get out of that hole and find his way out.

How do you balance showing him go through these challenges to his point of view, like exploring his drug use and getting shot, and Tritter and still keeping that core character you don’t want to change too much?

This is a real tribute to David Shore, because he is such a complex character. He’s funny, he’s nasty, he is brilliant, he is relentless, he’s heroic, he never gives up. So he’s such a wonderful combination of qualities that so far we haven’t run dry at all.

The great thing about TV is that audiences get to know these people almost like you would to know a family. By the very nature of TV, the fact that you get to tune in with them every week, you really get to explore character in much more depth than you do in movies. In movies, you get to tell one story. In TV, because you check in with them so often, you can slowly get to know them better and better.

Do you think House has learned anything from some of these challenges he’s faced? Do you think he’s learned anything about his relationship with drugs, for example?

I think he takes it all in. I do think he’s smart and he has learned. Whether he is capable of having all of that experience change his actions is quite another thing. He is really deep in that hole and committed to that because it’s the way that he survives. I think slowly but surely he takes it all in, but I don’t know that it affects the way he lives his life quite yet.

In an upcoming episode he talks about going on vacation, and he’s trying to find exactly the right vacation for him. I won’t say whether he goes or where he goes, but the very notion that that’s even a topic for him is huge for House. So we’re having a lot of fun with how much he’ll change and how fast he’ll change and how well he’ll change, all of those contradictions.

Do you always find yourself on House’s side? He is that heroic character but sometimes … not so much.

Yeah, he pushes pretty far in “Half Wit.” He pushes those relationships that he does have pretty far.

The show continues to get even more popular. What do you think it is about House that people are responding to?

I think it’s a combination of things. The irreverence. He says exactly what’s on his mind with no censor. In some ways, it’s a wish fulfillment thing. We all go around in our day facing our boss, facing our friends, and there are things we think but we censor. What fun is it to watch someone who just has no censor whatsoever. I think there’s a vicarious thrill we all experience watching this uncensored. But I think we suffer him because he is smart, he is good at what he does, and because beneath it all you do get the sense that there is a heart there somewhere buried, this sort of wounded quality.

It is absolutely thrilling that here we are in our third season and we continue to grow and find a larger audience, and we take that as a huge responsibility. We’re always trying to say, OK, now what can we do better.

So I don’t know the answer, but I’m thrilled. I’m very happy about it.

Do you think we’ll see House in a relationship? You keep teasing with the different flirtations, and he seems to have chemistry with pretty much every woman who comes on the set.

Yeah, they all love House. I think it would be hard not to, for sure. Whether or not these relationships will wind up being successful ones is in question. But absolutely, yeah.

With any of the regular cast members?

I don’t know [cagey rather than uncertain].

[Laughs] You’re not going to answer that.

I will say I love the amount of tension that’s growing in the episodes you haven’t seen yet between him and Cuddy. There’s always been a tension there, and we have slightly more fun in dealing with that. How does House feel if Cuddy goes out on a date – though we’ve shown that one. Or Wilson is now three times divorced and alone and has plenty of time for House. What happens if he no longer has as much time because he’s finding himself in a relationship? So we’re thinking about all those possibilities.

That’s a great friendship between Wilson and House, with Wilson acting as his conscience, but also he’s pretty much the one person House can stand. What do you think is the core of that relationship?

It’s developed the way that it has in part because of the brilliant chemistry between Robert Sean Leonard and Hugh Laurie. They are both so enormously talented and have such great chemistry together that we have really tried to mine everything that’s there. I think Wilson’s own persona is that he tends to try to fix people or nurture people. He’s been married three times and he tends to gravitate towards slightly wounded people, thinking he can make them feel better. So House certainly fits into the same category. And in fact we’re just casting an episode right now, we’ve just cast someone to play his second ex-wife.

So we’re going to see one of the ex-wives.

You’re going to see one of the ex-wives. I’m actually very excited about it so I will tell you, having told nobody, that we just cast Jane Adams in the role. It’s always fun to do that because the more you show about the characters that relate to him the more you expand our world.

The show is so focused on House, are you looking for more opportunities to explore the secondary characters?

Absolutely, and I hope that we are. We did the same thing this season that we did last season, which is the first part of both seasons we had an arc, last year with Stacy, this year with Tritter, then in the second half of that season we did spend more time learning about our other characters. So we’re doing the same thing this season.

Cameron has come up with this idea, this you’ve seen already too, where she feels like she works with Chase, she sees him all the time so there’s this sort of friends with benefits idea.

Chase seemed pretty agreeable to that idea.

I think it seems very practical [laughs].

Well, sure, keep the emotions out of it … I can’t quite see that happening.

Well, she feels fairly convinced that she can. They slept together once last season and it didn’t screw things up, so why not. So we’re having a really good time playing with that. How long can that go on? Maybe it will be entirely successful, but somebody always starts to feel more of an attachment than the other person.

Apart from House do you have any other projects on the horizon?

I have to say it is so rare in this business that you get to work on something you can both be proud of and that is reaching so many people, and where you really enjoy your partners. I am trying very hard to be focused and be in the moment of this experience.

In movies and TV, it’s all a struggle to do the very best work you can do, and then whether an audience comes or not is really something nobody can predict. We have an enormous amount of creative freedom right now because audiences seem to be following the show, so we have a lot of latitude in terms of what the studio and network supports.

I’m trying not to be too greedy but enjoy this rare moment.

You’ve mentioned responsibility, and with the medical issues that come up, do you feel a responsibility in that area as well, that people are looking at it as some kind of comment on health care?

Absolutely, and a lot of it started there. I had done with my partner another medical show called Gideon’s Crossing. When we came up with the idea for this show we wanted to explore many things but one of the things we talked about was what are doctors really saying when the patient leaves the room, and the whole notion of how does the doctor interpret all the information the patient gives them, the whole notion of everybody lies. If he asks you how many drinks do you have a week, they automatically double it. If anything, it encourages people to ask more questions of their doctors. We feel a huge responsibility in all of these different areas.

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