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'How I Met Your Mother' Co-Creator Talks Jennifer Morrison and Season 6 Ambitions

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 18th 2010 6:10PM
When an audience's emotional investment in a show is deep and long-lasting, that can actually be double-edged sword. The bonds to the characters and the story can help sustain a loyal fan base, but it's not hard for an engaged fandom to go from passionate cheerleading to vocal disappointment when they feel important aspects of a show begin to lag.

Is there such a thing as a triple-edged sword? 'How I Met Your Mother' (8PM ET Mondays, CBS), which welcomes Jennifer Morrison in a recurring role in Monday's episode, has three distinct challenges: It has to be easy for casual viewers to get into; it has to sustain an ongoing mythology that the show's hardcore fans want to see served with wit and creativity; and it has to take the characters on ongoing journeys of discovery and evolution.

Most half-hour comedies, especially on the broadcast networks, don't bother with two of those three things. In a recent half-hour interview on the 'Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan' podcast, 'HIMYM' co-creator Carter Bays talked about the revitalized sixth season of the comedy, which has one unique challenge built right into its name.

"I hate the gimmick of the show and I love it at the same time," Bays said with a rueful laugh in the chat with myself and Ryan McGee. "I definitely enjoy [the show's ambitious side] but it does get in the way of just telling a simple little story," Bays added later.

In a lot of ways, Bays and co-creator Craig Thomas are in the position that the 'Lost' showrunners were in -- they've got to put out enough teasers to keep people interested in the show's ongoing story arcs, especially the search for Ted's future spouse, without turning off people by not supplying substantial answers. They haven't obviously set an end date for the show yet, as the 'Lost' brain trust did, but Bays said they recognize that some day, they may need to just make the mother part of the show's group of core characters.

When asked whether the network, the studio or the 'HIMYM' staff are for or against that idea, Bays responded, "I don't feel like anyone's not keen on it. I don't feel we need to do that yet, necessarily. We try to leave as many options open to ourselves as we can, in that regard. I don't think we're there yet, but that could be a possibility, especially as we get into later seasons of the show."

For now, Bays and Thomas have committed to re-invigorating the show with several ongoing story lines that are likely to end up merging and overlapping. Season 5, they said in a group interview over the summer, was an experiment with hitting the reset button on the characters and stories each week. That's something most network comedies tend to do, but Thomas and Bays have said that, while they thought the experiment produced some good individual episodes, as a whole it wasn't 'HIMYM's' strongest season.

In season 5, "we weren't feeling as enthralled by the storytelling process as we used to be," Bays said in the 'Ryan and Ryan' interview last week. "That was our No. 1 mission, going back to work -- How do we tell a story that grabs us by the throat and carries us through for the entire 24 episodes" of season 6?

This year, Bays, Thomas and the writing staff are focused on building up multiple story threads for the characters: Marshall and Lily's quest to have a baby, Robin's post-breakup/career crises, Barney's desire to find and connect with his own family, now that his bar buddies might be starting families of their own. And as previously mentioned, in Monday's episode, Ted meets a preservation activist named Zoe, someone who loves classic New York architecture as much as he does -- yet, by taking the commission to build the Goliath National Bank, Ted is participating in the destruction of a beautiful old New York hotel.

As Bays said, they're "kindred spirits" on the opposite sides of the campaign to save the hotel.

Thomas and Bays obviously haven't said yet whether Zoe is Ted's future spouse, but Bays notes that the addition of her to the show is significant. (EW has a clip from Monday's 'HIMYM' here.)

"She's the biggest new character I think we've added to the show in the show's history," he said. Viewers will "learn a lot about her" -- including a few secrets -- "as the season progresses. It'll be kind of a slow burn."

Bays admitted that, before she auditioned for 'HIMYM,' he had never seen Morrison on 'House.'

"All I knew about Jennifer Morrison was this audition that she gave that was really funny and cute," Bays said. "She and Josh did a chemistry read together and they were fantastic. ...[After her guest role was announced, there was a huge reaction], 'Jennifer Morrison's on "How I Met Your Mother"!' I think only then did I realize how much of a fan base she has."

And 'How I Met Your Mother' still has a committed audience too; speaking as a fan who drifted away from the choppy and uneven season 5, I can sense a renewed purpose in the show this year.

To editorialize for a moment, I frankly wouldn't be unhappy if the show got the mother issue out of the way once and for all this season. If it doesn't, the mother thread threatens to become a distraction for a show that does something very few comedies have ever attempted -- it uses creative structure and ambitious mythology to tell funny, compassionate stories from the heart.

'Chuck' recently dealt with a love story that threatened to distract the audience from everything else the show does well. The ejection of the will-they-won't-they from that show is, to be honest, a blessed relief.

After six seasons, the 'Lost' castaways finally got off that island for good. What would be the harm in wrapping up 'HIMYM's' central question at the end of its sixth season, and letting the show, in subsequent seasons, focus on new wrinkles and developments in the ongoing tale of the MacLaren's gang?

You never know. That approach could be legend -- wait for it -- dary.


A few more notes on season 6 of 'How I Met Your Mother':

* Some Zoe revelations will take place during the show's 'Thanksgiving' episode, which is titled 'Blitzgiving' and will feature an appearance from 'Lost' actor Jorge Garcia, who'll play an old college friend of Marshall, Lily and Ted named Blitz.

* Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk will also guest star on the show this fall. Both appear in the Nov. 1 episode.

* There will be a third installement in the Robin Sparkles trilogy, Bays said, and of course there will be a song that Bays and Carter wrote for the occasion. "People will hate this song and it will be stuck in their heads," he said.

* The show isn't completely done with Robin and Barney as a couple, but it doesn't sound like there are any immediate plans to get them back together. "What's going on between Barney and Robin is palpable and real and far be it from us to deny it," Bays said. "it's now just part of the fabric of the show and I think there's definitely a future there."

* Bays talked more about where season 6 of 'HIMYM' will go in this September interview with TV Squad's Joel Keller.

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Brendan D

Honestly, Mo, I've given up on "HIMYM." I think I feel the same way about it that you do about "House": it decided to go in a very different direction than I was hoping, and I respect it for that, but it's no longer the show for me. Throughout the first two seasons -- and, to some extent, in parts of the third -- "HIMYM" was not only sweet and funny but also intrinsically REAL; many of the plots seemed taken right from real life. But aging hasn't been kind to the plots, and the characters, to me, risk being "Will and Grace"-ified. I can't even watch Barney anymore, as his presence has become the cartoon cutout of a breakout character.

I don't mean to sound so hipsterish on the show; I usually despise analyses like the one I'm giving. But it comes from the place of one who was a HUGE fan of Seasons 1 and 2 (and most of 3), which allowed me to stick through the doldrums of Season 4. But much as you did with the House-Cuddy fake-out when you parted ways with that show, I had to leave "HIMYM" with the Barney-Robin head-fake early in Season 5.

Of course, I'd be willing to give it a second chance. I guess the question is, is it worth my time, when I still have to catch up on "Rubicon" and "Boardwalk Empire?"

October 22 2010 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ColleenO

Kind of like Vera on Cheers!

October 19 2010 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ColleenO

Barney and Robin-- NOOOOO. I always thought Robin would wind up being the mother!!

October 19 2010 at 9:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sludgehound

See below for the meat of lengthy article. Stick to the vibes & let the show flow. Didn't care for the egging routine at end. Just bawl. Thought Rules of Engagement was fuunier episode. Mother just felt flat & played out. Maybe better w/ Tday theme.

The show isn't completely done with Robin and Barney as a couple, but it doesn't sound like there are any immediate plans to get them back together. "What's going on between Barney and Robin is palpable and real and far be it from us to deny it," Bays said. "it's now just part of the fabric of the show and I think there's definitely a future there."

October 19 2010 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Garry

Enough already, we need to have Ted meet the mother of his children!
And if that means the show ends, well better to go out on top, like Mary Tyler Moore, than end up creatively bankrupt, like 'ER'.
There was a show 50 years ago called 'December Bride' where we never got to see Pete's wife, Gladys, who was constantly joked about. But that was a running gag. When they spun "Pete & Gladys' off as a series, it flopped as the actual Gladys could never be as funny as the unseen & unheard one was.

October 18 2010 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Derek

I thought/hope the wedding we saw in the premiere was Barney and Robin's. Also, good on HIMYM for giving the under-served Jennifer Morrison somewhere to go. Her last few seasons on House were a lesson in how to waste a character/actress.

October 18 2010 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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