'House' series finale preview: What to expect when the cast checks out

After eight seasons and 177 episodes, "House" ends with an outbreak of poignant goodbyes. In the emotional run-up to the series finale — the episode, titled "Everybody Dies," airs May 21 at 9pm on Fox — each shooting day brought cheers, standing Os and misty-eyed send-offs. "A succession of daily memorial services, it was," as Hugh Laurie puts it. "Someone would yell, 'Hey, everybody, this is Omar Epps' last scene!' 'This is Jesse Spencer's last scene!' 'This is B camera operator's last scene.' The art director's. The sound technician's. It became hard to process all the finality."

It's amusing to imagine Dr. Gregory House himself in a situation like that. TV's greatest medical grump was never a group-hug kinda guy, and it's hard to picture House sweetly switching off the lights at Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital the way, say, Sam Malone did at the end of "Cheers." Then again, TV has never known a character quite like House — charming yet sadistic, brilliant yet impossible and somehow a sex symbol even with the limp, the unshaven mug and the pockets full of Vicodin.

Laurie was an equally unlikely prime-time star. When he landed the role in 2004, he was a 45-year-old British actor known mostly for BBC sketch comedies and playing the dad in the Stuart Little children's movies. "I was perfectly content being a gypsy actor, or at least I thought I was," Laurie says. He soon found greater meaning barking out medical advice and insults with pitch-perfect American snark. (Colleague to House: "You're late." House to colleague. "You're fat.")

Ever the English gent behind the scenes, Laurie leaves the series like a rock star and, in fact, is spending his summer playing piano on tour with Copper Bottom, the actor's acclaimed blues and jazz band (he has no definite plans beyond that). TV Guide Magazine reported Laurie's final-season salary as $700,000 per episode, and he's been generously dispensing thank-you gifts, including replica House canes for everyone on the cast and crew. On the last day of filming, Laurie chartered a private jet — "like the one Led Zeppelin used," he laughs — and flew the production to an undisclosed location 26 minutes outside L.A. for the final shoot. "The flight attendant gave me control of the microphone so I could bid everyone farewell," Laurie says. "Then, frankly, there was more man-hugging than you want to know about."

What fans most want to know about is how "House" will end. The finale welcomes back some familiar faces, including Jennifer Morrison as Cameron, Olivia Wilde as Thirteen, Amber Tamblyn as Masters and Kal Penn as Kutner — as in the Kutner who killed himself in Season 5. "We want a concluding episode that feels like a summation in some sense, something that takes an overview," says David Shore, who created House in the image of his own lovably cranky self. "The ending is very personal to me, but it's tough to make a good series finale. They've failed more than they've succeeded. I hope people are satisfied, but the show has to end either way."

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Click here for the full story from TV Guide and check out the series finale tonight on Fox.