By Brad Pomerance
Special to TelevisionWeek
Yes, he’s that guy from “Stuart Little,” but if you thought he was only a comedian, think again. Hugh Laurie is also a novelist, musician and television writer and now he has become the breakout star of the Fox drama “House.”
“When the show launched, it may have seemed like just other medical dramas, but when you got inside Hugh Laurie’s incredible character, that became the water-cooler part of the show,” said Craig Erwich, executive VP of programming for Fox.
Yet this water-cooler chatter focuses on an exceedingly crabby character. “Mr. Laurie is playing an abrasive doctor, but the audience is in love with him,” said Angela Bromstad, president of NBC Universal Television Studios. “The audience loves that he tells it like it is. Everyone compares him to Simon Cowell [of “American Idol”] and that’s enjoyable to watch,” said Katie Jacobs, executive producer of “House.”
The audience has also fallen in love with the contradictions that Mr. Laurie has masterfully played up in Dr. House. “Dr. House is mean and irascible but entertaining and fun to watch. That requires an incredible performance, and if Mr. Laurie plays the role 1 percent more either way, the audience does not watch. He walks that line,” said Mr. Erwich. “He’s so nasty, but we don’t mind hanging out with him because he is actually funny,” said Ms. Jacobs.
Through it all, Mr. Laurie has proven the consummate professional. “He is always attending to the best interests of the character. He puts integrity into the role above all else,” Mr. Erwich said. Despite leaving his family in London, “He is so willing to work on behalf of the show. He is such a gracious man. He is an actor’s actor,” Ms. Bromstad said.
And in this age of vertical integration, producer NBC Universal has sold the program to an unaffiliated network, Fox. Nevertheless, NBC could not be more pleased at Fox’s willingness to let Dr. House be Dr. House. “Fox has never said to us that we should give him more emotional moments or to soften the character. They are allowing Mr. Laurie to continue down the road he is on,” Ms. Bromstad said.
Still, Mr. Laurie was not beyond turning to his comedic roots when he auditioned for the role. Ms. Bromstad remembers that “he had been told that we were looking for rugged and sexy. So Mr. Laurie walked into the audition wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a button that said ‘Sexy.'”
Others to Consider
2004 Drama Actor Contenders
Winner: James Spader, The Practice (ABC)
Other nominees: James Gandolfini, The Sopranos (HBO); Kiefer Sutherland, 24 (Fox); Martin Sheen, The West Wing (NBC); Anthony LaPaglia, Without a Trace (CBS)