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House Alter Ego

May 8, 2009 | by Richard Rabkin

An interview with David Shore, the creator, writer and executive producer of the award winning medical drama House.

David Shore is not your stereotypical Hollywood producer. He grew up in London, Ontario. He worked as a corporate lawyer before moving to Los Angeles to try his hand at writing. And he has twin brothers, both of whom are rabbis at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. But that works fine for David, because he doesn't like stereotypes anyway.

A few years after his move to Los Angeles, David Shore found success writing for shows like Law and Order and The Practice. But it wasn't until he created his smash hit House that he achieved worldwide acclaim. House, which is the Fox Network's second rated show behind American Idol, follows Dr. Gregory House, a maverick medical genius who heads up a team of young diagnosticians who are given the most difficult cases that have gone unsolved at other hospitals.

David Shore admits House is "me, if I had the guts to say whatever I wanted."

The House character, played by British actor Hugh Laurie isn't your stereotypical protagonist either. He is a bitter, acerbic misanthrope with little to no bedside manner, but his brilliant diagnostic skills force his television patients to tolerate him. His television viewers on the other hand, love him -- over 25 million of them weekly.

One of House's deeply held beliefs is that "people don't change." This was highlighted in an episode called Don't Ever Change about a young woman named Roz, a baalat teshuva (new returnee to Judaism), who decided to leave her job as a music producer for the life of Chassidic Judaism. While dancing at her wedding, she collapses, and is rushed to the hospital where she finds herself in Dr. House's care. House's initial diagnosis is that something must be wrong with her psychologically because normal people simply don't make life changes like that -- from music industry socialite to Chassidic Jew. In fact, people don't change at all. Period.

But over the course of the episode, House begrudgingly accepts that her illness is not psychological, diagnoses her problem, and accepts that Roz's life changes were genuine, and that perhaps, people can make changes, albeit small ones.

Dr. House, who David Shore admits is "me, if I had the guts to say whatever I wanted," and his mantra of "people don't change" may seem odd coming from someone who has witnessed first hand his twin brothers go from unaffiliated Jews, to ordained Orthodox rabbis. That seems like a fairly big change. Not so, says Shore. "They are very religious now, but in many ways they are the same people they were before. On the outside, huge changes yes. But they were good people then, and they're good people now. The outside world sees them as stereotypes, but they are much more complex than that. And that complexity is of course what makes them interesting."

"The outside world sees my brothers as stereotypes, but they are much more complex than that. That complexity makes them interesting."

Shore deals with his television characters with the same complexity, which is probably why they resonate with audiences so much. "We deal with issues of religion a lot on our show because people often turn to religion when they are faced with death. But I try to treat religion and religious people in a balanced way, having people who are complex and nuanced, so I think people, even religious people respect the characters that we portray."

Shore does admit however, that many people in the entertainment industry don't treat religion as sensitively as he does. "I know Hollywood has a reputation for treating religion poorly, and I think they have earned that reputation...most people in Hollywood are not religious and when you only surround yourself with people of like mind then it's easy to start demonizing the ‘other.'"

The "other" in this case, happens to be Shore's brothers Ephraim and Raphael who, like their brother, use the media to communicate their message, albeit in different ways. Ephraim heads up, a site which scrutinizes news agencies worldwide for anti-Israel bias, and then alerts its 150,000 subscribers to respond to the media directly. Raphael produced the award-winning documentary Obsession, that exposes the threat of radical Islam and has been viewed by over 10 million people and is working on the sequel, titled The Final Jihad. Is he proud of his "little" brothers? Apparently so: "I thought Obsession was great. I have a copy of it here, right on my desk. And I go to all the time."

Coincidentally, the Shore brothers aren't the only House connection to Aish HaTorah. The Don't Ever Change episode was written by Leonard Dick who spent a short amount of time learning at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem and according to Shore, even met his wife at an Aish function. "Leonard had some familiarity with the issue, so when he approached me with the idea for the episode, I told him to do it."

Like his television alter ego, David Shore isn't afraid to go against the grain and disagree with his colleagues in Hollywood, particularly when it comes to one of his favorite topics: change. "The way that Hollywood portrays it, that the light bulb goes off, and people make sweeping changes, it's not that simple. I think the changes that people make are limited. Granted, life is all about change, and trying to be a better person. But I think we change incrementally and in the end, those are the changes that last."


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