EXCLUSIVE: I hear that House co-stars Robert Sean Leonard and Omar Epps have closed deals to return for the series’ upcoming eighth (and likely final) season, which is inches away from reality as a renewal agreement between Fox and House producer Universal Media Studios is being finalized tonight. Leonard, Epps and Lisa Edelstein are the three original cast members whose current deals expire at the end of this season. Edelstein’s deal is still not done, with the process delayed by the fact that she has been overseas. However, she is expected to close. Star Hugh Laurie has one more year on his three-year contract, and newer cast members, such as Olivia Wilde, also have more time on their deals.

Faced with a 15%-20% license-fee reduction sought by Fox in light of House‘s declining ratings, UMS has been looking for ways to cut above-the-line costs, including asking Leonard, Edelstein and Epps — who most recently have been making $175,000 an episode — to take both an episode and salary cut for next season. I hear the across-the-board guarantee for next season has been set at 18 episodes. I also hear that Leonard will be returning at his old salary, while Epps and Edelstein’s paychecks would go down some. UMS had been looking to close the actors ahead of signing a new license-fee agreement with Fox for what is expected to be House’s final season. That is now imminent.