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House Pulls the Plug. Too Soon or Too Late?

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Warwick Saint/FOX

The patient had been diagnosed some time ago by TV-biz observers, but Wednesday Fox called House M.D.‘s time of death for the end of this season, after eight years on air. Fox cited “the decision” that Hugh Laurie and the producers made, but it seems fairly mutual: Fox reportedly wanted to cut the show’s budget substantially, and whatever the other considerations, all sides apparently could not arrive at a figure that would keep the show on the air.

I feel like I can never make this point enough: TV shows are not on the air to get the most viewers possible. That’s desirable, of course, but only as it relates to the real reason commercial networks keep shows on the air: because they make enough money to be worth putting on the air. House’s ratings are considerably down from their peak, but they’re not atrocious. (It’s all about context; what House gets would make it a bright shining light at NBC right now.) But by the time a drama like House has been on the air for eight seasons—eight seasons’ worth of contract renegotiations and raises—it gets more and more expensive to make. Take that, declining ratings, and the fact that Fox has a likely future Monday lineup in Alcatraz and Touch, and the show was increasingly unsustainable.

Creatively—and as The Office has proved lately, “creatively” is one of the least important adjectives in the decision to extend a long-running show—I’d say it was at least time to end the show, if not past time. As a casual viewer, I may not be the best judge of this (House has always been one of those shows that I’m delighted to watch in reruns or when channel-surfing, but never felt I needed to make an appointment with), but I’d say the show could have ended for me at some point before the good-bad doctor went to jail.

My colleague John Cloud will still be recapping the show until it finally flatlines at the end of the season. In the meantime, those of you who are House loyalists tell me: is it the right time?

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