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November 28, 2014

Carter Bays Is Excited About Season-Long 'How I Met Your Mother' Story Arc

by Joel Keller, posted Sep 15th 2010 4:30PM
Scene from 'Big Days' - the season six premiere of 'How I Met Your Mother'At one point during our conversation a couple of weeks ago, 'How I Met Your Mother' co-creator Carter Bays stopped my probing for guest star names and possible season six plots to express how hard it was for him and his partner, Craig Thomas, to talk about the upcoming season without giving everything away.

"We do these interviews and we always have to play this cat and mouse game where we don't want to give away all the stories," he told me. "If there's something exciting, you want people to watch it. We want people to know that there's this episode with Glitter, Robin Sparkles' buddy showing up. Stuff like that you do want to tell but at the same time you don't want to say too much about it because you don't want to ruin the joke or anything." As we've seen, news of casting coups are hard to keep quiet.

Indeed, Bays is enthusiastic about this coming season, mainly because the show is getting back to the emotional story arcs it was known for during its early seasons. As he and Thomas mentioned in July at the press tour, they're returning to that style after a season of one-off stories that even they admitted was hit and miss. We talked about that, whether they see a light at the end of the creative tunnel, and if they suffer from "mother fatigue" at all.

Well let's start out talking about the big summit meeting you had at the TCAs. I think the most surprising thing about it was how honest you guys were about the last season. What made you own up to it and say hey, this is how last season went?
It's weird, I look back on that and I don't feel like we dropped the ball with the season or ended in a total stinker, there were some episodes we really loved and there were moments in there that we look back on that we'll be like "That was a great 'How I Met Your Mother' moment."

But by the end of the season, we started really feeling like we missed the old way of doing things. This last season it really kind of set out to be that we're not going to do a big master plan that year. We have a large catalog of ideas for episodes that were stand-alones, didn't fit into any kind of arc, and we never had a place to do them, because there was always some sort of a bigger story we were telling, so we wouldn't be able to fit them in. So we just decided last season that this was going to be the year that we put them in. We just got syndicated, (becoming) a show you're going to see on re-runs you are going to be watching as you're chopping onions for dinner.

So we wanted to make a batch of episodes like that, that you could sit down and watch them and have it be digestible. And I think we did a pretty good job of doing that, but it wasn't satisfying the way seasons have been satisfying for us in the past. Like the second season ending with the wedding, Ted and Robin breaking up, the rich emotion that we were able to mine from our own lives, we haven't really been doing that as much in the past.

And this year as we were in pre-production, as we were getting ready, we started talking about what kind of stuff we wanted to do and we started talking about our own lives and sort of the stories came out of that and we kind of had a few of the major arcs of this season come from real life in a way that really just feel emotional and real and vital and we're just really excited about telling them.

So syndication was in the back of your minds?
I think it definitely was. I would say it was maybe in the middle section of our minds, the fact that it's going to be seen in this context. We wanted to write episodes for that. We wanted to write little stories like we kind of looked at like a box of chocolates. They're all kind independent of each other but they're each their own perfectly crafted morsel that you can enjoy and digest and you're done with it.

When you heard people say that the season did feel a little up and down, there was lot of that juice missing that was there in other seasons. Do you think it's because the continuing story wasn't there?
Yeah, I think part of it this last season and actually a little bit the season before was when I stopped checking websites and blogs and I think we all decided we have to make our own show and not get too swept up in the public opinion of this or that. But yeah, we definitely heard about it.

It seemed like it was Barney and Robin, that was the big thing. It seemed like that was the turning point where people were not on board with Barney and Robin breaking up so quickly. It's funny, because I love Barney and Robin together and Neil (Patrick Harris) and Cobie (Smulders) together are dynamite chemistry-wise, but I don't think that's the story we ever wanted to tell - the story of Barney and Robin as a couple. It just never interested us, and I think it really interested a lot of the fans, so that I think was a big difference of opinion.

And to be fair, they were great together and it was fun to seeing them interact in that way but we didn't think we were going to do that that long and we didn't think people would want them together for that long.

Was it tough for you guys to figure out what kind of boyfriend Barney was going to be like as opposed to single and out there, the old kind of Barney?
Yeah, it was definitely difficult and there were some things about it, I loved the episode 'Bagpipes,' the side of Barney that is "I was the best at being single, and now I'm going to be the best at being in a relationship." That competitive, kind of petty side, Neil plays that very well. I always thought that was fun. I think our vision for the character was to present being a boyfriend as something he tries on, he sort of feels out but ultimately isn't right for him just yet.

As far as the rest of that season was concerned, there seemed to be, like you said, a lot of really good episodes in there - 'Girls vs. Suits,' the one where Barney tries to break his own record, I forgot the name.
'The Perfect Week'?

Yeah.
'The Playbook' was (also) fun.

When you guys sat down to write those, were those designed to be the one-offs that you guys were thinking about, so we're not telling that overall story?
Yeah, they definitely were. 'The Playbook' definitely fit into the story because it's ultimately about Barney learning
how to behave around his ex-girlfriend and not be a total douchebag. But that being said, 'The Playbook' was an idea for an episode that had been sitting on for a while. We knew that one day, at point we wanted Barney to take out this big leather bound volume and be like "Guys this is my playbook." That seemed like a fun episode to do.

Were you guys getting, to put in a succinct phrase, a "mother fatigue?" Were you guys doing that because the whole search for the mother was that wearing you guys down at all?
It's weird and I think it's another thing I gather we get a lot of, is people really want to know who the mother is, and we don't feel like this show lives or dies by that question. That is a big question and it will be answered eventually. But it's a long fun story, that's not the only reason we're telling this story, to tell you who this girl is and how Ted ended up meeting her. It's about the characters, about all the fun stories we get to tell in the interim.

It's fun to go back to it, like 'Girls vs. Suits' was a fun way to nudge that story a little further and see a little more than we've seen in the past. I guess we had kind of felt like we didn't want to be beholden. We as fans of the show aren't just fans of it for the fact that it's going to be an answer to a question posed by the title. We are fans of Marshall, Ted, Barney, Lily and Robin and the fun adventures they get into.

That all being said, this year we're starting to open that up a little more. We are bringing that element of the show back in. That being said because these words will come back to bite me in the ass because people will, "It's episode three and we still haven't found out who the mother is yet." It's a long story, but hopefully it'll go on a little more.

I just got a description of the season opener where we see Rachel Bilson's character, who is the roommate of the mother. Is that kind of the avenue we're going to be exploring in that part of the story?
That she will end up being part of it, and I have to be as general as possible and as vague as possible, unfortunately. She'll be a part of it, there will be an element in 'Big Days,' the first episode, that will present a new framework through which we're going to watch this story unfold. I think that's the most succinct way I can say it.

When you guys have laid this out, even in a general way, has there ever been a thought that if you introduce the mother now, you can continue to tell this story of these five people, even after that mother was revealed?
I think we definitely know that and I sort of feel like I shouldn't speak one way or another coming down the road but yeah, that is always a possibility.

Do you guys see a light at the end of the tunnel now that you're going into the sixth season, is that a reason you're coming back to this story line again?
We definitely do. The number one moment of clarity for us as we started this season and started telling this story -- and I really hope people like it, because we're really excited about it and it's going to unfold slowly because it takes place over the course of the season -- but the moment of clarity for us as we've been breaking this is realizing this show is going to end. We always knew how it was going to end and we've written elements of the last episode of the series, we know where the series ends up, but it was always kind of floating out there in the distance.

Even through all the ups and downs of our early years of being on the bubble constantly, we kept ourselves willfully naive enough to think that this show was going to go the distance. We didn't want to blow our wad too soon. But now it feels like it's the sixth season, we have the cast through the eighth season, who knows what happens after that. Lawyers and agents swarm in. If we're lucky enough to still be on the air and to have the ratings at that point. But regardless, it made us realize that it's now on the horizon.

There is an ending to this story and we knew that we had the ending but how we got there, we haven't quite figured out, and these past few months we figure out how we get there and as we've been figuring it out, it takes our breath away. It's exciting to write this stuff now, to know that every little clue... at first there was a little bit of that 'Lost' thing where we'll eventually get to (it). There's a statue of the foot with the four toes. where we'll figure out where that goes later on. (Now) we actually know where we're going with things and we're setting up things we know are going to pay off later on.

Like the goat for instance, we never knew what the goat story was, we were like, "Wouldn't it be fun to say we had a crazy goat story?" and give ourselves that challenge. But now, everything is working towards a purpose, and it's kind of fun crafting this mystery, crafting this story.

So you're telling people to be more obsessive than they are now. Are you ready for that?
You know, yeah. I don't know, there was never a moment I didn't love 'Lost' even in the times they weren't giving us what we wanted. I don't think anything we're going to be doing is going to be unfairly jerking people around. It's going to be a fun ride and we've actually, just looking at the stories that we've broken so far,

I'm very proud of the fact that we really have made episodes where you can just come in, and it's hard for me to explain myself without giving it away, we sort of held ourselves to the two different standards of: is this satisfying for someone who's been watching every episode until this point and is it satisfying to someone who's never seen the show up to this point? A few of them especially are really just satisfying on both of those levels at once. I realize that's extraordinarily vague without giving an example but we're trying to serve both of those audiences and I think we've been successful so far.

Well give me a couple of ideas, I know we're getting another Robin Sparkles story, we've heard about Nicole Scherzinger being cast. Talk to me, if you can, give me a couple of other stories we're going to see, are we going to return to old favorites this season? What can you tell me?
It's because so much of this is coming into new territory, I really don't want to give too much of it away. It's no secret that Marshall and Lily are trying to have kids now and we're going to see how that complicates their lives, the difficulties that accompany it, how it affects the rest of the gang, that's going to be a big story line.

The Robin Sparkles storyline, have you guys flushed that out a little bit more since you first mentioned it?
Yeah, we have a first draft of the script, and we've written a song. It's a really great song, I'm really very excited about it. The song for the new Robin Sparkles.

Is there going to be a video accompanying that song?
You know I can't really say right now, but yeah, it'll be a worthy third installment in the trilogy.

That's intriguing, interesting. Are we going to see Alan Thicke again by the way?
I hope we do, I don't know if he's booked or if he's confirmed or anything but he's definitely part of that world. It's always a little, we're trying to marry this third Robin Sparkles thing that's small and relatable and simple because you're entering the stratosphere whenever Alan Thicke is part of that world.

What other guest spots can you mention to us?
In the second episode we've got Wayne Brady and Ben Vereen. Wayne's coming back as Barney's brother. Frances Conroy is back as Barney's mom and James' mom, and Ben Vareen, I don't know how much we're revealing about that story line but he could potentially be a very important person in all of their lives.

And who else can you name?
I don't know who I'm allowed to talk about. Laura Bell Bundy is booked for a little arc, the Broadway star, Robin broke up with Don, her boyfriend and co-host and that left the co-anchor chair empty and he's being replaced by Laura Bell Bundy, and it's going to be kind of a bumpy transition for Robin to share the spotlight with this girl.

Let me ask you a question about that part of it. Cobie, we didn't really see a ton of Cobie after Barney and Robin broke up, was it just a matter of you guys not being able to find her stories?
We just couldn't find her, she kept disappearing. We looked all over for her. No, I'm just kidding.

But I mean even the Don story went by very quickly. What difficulties do you find when you have this ensemble and someone is really dominant in the first few episodes and then you're not finding as much for them to do or the stories aren't breaking that way, how does that end up?
It's funny, because I think that's something we concerned ourselves with early on, like how do we give everyone everything everyone equal amounts and make sure, I think it kind of naturally falls, they're a tight-knit group of people, so even if a story line doesn't fit in on one person, they will factor in as a member of the course commenting on it.

Would you have liked to have explored that whole thing with Don more or were the three or four episodes he was in pretty much max out that story?
I think it's a good length of the story. Don like anyone else in our show's universe can always come back at any time, so who's to say the story is actually over?

By the way the bitter irony where Don takes the job she turns down, was there an "Ooh!" that went up in the room when someone came up with that whole ironic piece there?
Yeah, it was definitely, and it was something that we definitely felt on an emotional level as we broke it. We felt like - "Oh man, that son of a bitch." And we sort of trusted that emotion because that's a kind of emotion you want to reach for when you're writing stories like these.

Are we going to see more doppelgangers this year? Are we going to finally see Barney's real doppelganger?
That may be in the works possible, I don't know if I can officially say that yet. But it's funny you bring that up because it could be on the horizon.

What about more slaps?
I can't say. I can't confirm it or not.

Can you believe (onetime 'HIMYM' guest star) Bryan Crantston is now the three time Emmy winner?
Oh my goodness, I could not love that guy more. And that's someone I would love to bring back. We haven't written a part yet but if we could get him at this point.

The second actor, the girl who played Old Ted's daughter you keep seeing in those scenes [Lyndsy Fonseca] at the beginning of the show, now she's in 'Nikita' I believe.
Oh yeah, and she's been in a bunch of stuff. She was in 'Hot Tub Time Machine' too, right?

Is it weird or is there been enough time that people aren't going to associate the woman in 'Nikita' with the girl that's still in those scenes where they're listening to their dad tell the story?
It gets weirder and weirder, but it gets more and more delightful as they grow up. She must have been like 15 when she shot that thing and now, it's fun watching. And the son, David Henrie, I think is his name, he's on 'Wizard of Waverly Place' and he's like nine feet tall now, he was this little kid when we brought him in.

But shooting up people in secret spy rings is a lot different than 'Wizards of Waverly Place'
That is true, but it's good advice to up and coming show runners. If you have two talented actors, shoot all their stuff right away and then you get six seasons worth of stuff, that you can just keep using when they're famous for other stuff. I don't think we can afford them now.

'How I Met Your Mother' returns on Monday, September 20 at 8PM ET on CBS.

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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