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March 4, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: Will 'How I Met Your Mother' End in 2013? Co-Creator Carter Bays Tells All

by Maureen Ryan, posted Mar 10th 2011 6:15PM
'How I Met Your Mother' has always enjoyed paying homage to 'Lost.'

Since the comedy began in 2006, it has, like the ABC island drama, used season-long arcs and structurally ambitious episodes to tell its story, and this season creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays even cast 'Lost' alumni Jorge Garcia in a prominent guest role.

So when the news broke this week that 'HIMYM' had been renewed for not one but two additional seasons, I had to ask: Are the producers going to pull a 'Lost' and set an end date for the show now?

In the interview below, executive producer Bays talked about whether he and Thomas have set an end date, he addressed whether they'll stay with the show beyond the current sixth season, and he talked about whether the show's cast has been locked in for the seventh and eighth seasons as well. He discussed where all the characters are going, and how the mother of the title fits in.

We got used to 'Lost' executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse saying they had a plan for the show's endgame, and for some time now, it's been Bays and Carter's turn to say that too. But Bays added that they're not going to necessarily unleash that endgame in the upcoming seventh and eighth seasons. The show could go beyond that, Bays said, and if it does, he and Thomas are sticking with it as day-to-day showrunners.

Below is a transcript of our Thursday conversation. It has been edited and slightly condensed. There are a couple of small spoilers but you'll get warnings before you come across them.

Maureen Ryan: You guys are obviously huge fans of 'Lost.' Are you going to set an end date for your show?

Carter Bays: We knew this question was coming. We're not, no. We [understand] the reasons 'Lost' did it and certainly it made sense for them. Right now we're contracted to go through season 8, and at that point, there is every chance that that's the end of 'How I Met Your Mother.' If that's the case, then that's our end point. But we are open to doing this as long as we feel we have stories to tell, and, of equal importance, as long as people want to watch it. If it still feels exciting going into a season 9, then we'll keep doing it.

Would you and Craig still be the showrunners and actively working on this show day-to-day as long as it's in existence? Or could it conceivably go on without you at some point?

I can't imagine handing off this show to anybody. I think that goes for Craig too. This show is our baby, it's the thing that we've turned down other work to keep doing. I think the one thing we wouldn't do is ease up on it creatively. If we did a ninth season or a tenth season, it would be because Craig and I have a story to tell and we're really invested and still want to do it.

And it would be you guys doing it? Sometimes a show will continue and the creator will still be in the mix but not actively in charge of the show from day to day. But you perceive being hands-on as long as the show is in existence?

Yeah, very much so. I think this is something that our agent probably doesn't want us to say, but yeah, we are more than happy with our single thing that we focus on. There's plenty of work and I think we are still, even six years in, in the honeymoon phase with this show. We can't imagine creating another vessel into which we can pour our creativity that would fit us as perfectly. It's the show we want to write.

We shot a pilot last year and we've talked about developing again, but for the time being, this show's our baby and this is our calling right now.

Is the cast also locked in for seasons 7 and 8?

Yeah. All the actors are booked through season 8. Everyone has a lot going on. It's been cool this past year seeing Josh [Radnor's] movie, and Coby [Smulders] got cast in the 'Avengers' movies. It's very exciting. That will complicate it even more when we do reach that crossroads at the end of season 8, but at the same time, it's not PR [spin] to say that everyone loves it here. We have a lot of fun on the set. There's a huge feeling of gratitude on this show. When you have that, it's hard to imagine letting go of that.

Well, Neil Patrick Harris is so busy doing... everything in the world, that I thought you might want to have Charlie Sheen come by and mix it up on your show.

[laughter] I will just say, the news events of the past month have made me so happy to work with the five actors I work with and to enjoy working with them as much as I do.

Let's say at the end of season 8, you were going to lose an actor or two. When you think about that scenario in your mind, would losing cast members upset the balance of the show too much?

Yes, it would be very hard to do this show with just four of them or just three of them. That's a decision we luckily don't have to make yet and if we did, that would be a difficult one. I think we would probably try to accommodate a reduced schedule for whatever actor didn't want to return. But luckily that decision is still a ways off.

Was it a surprise that they wanted to lock the show down for two more seasons?

Not that we ever take any of this for granted, because it's so awesome to have this opportunity, but 'Big Bang Theory' and 'Two and a Half Men' both got two-season pickups, so there was a little element of "It'd be nice if we got that." And we did. I think everybody's happy with how the deal shook out and it's a great working relationship we have with the studio and the network. In this business, everything is being shaken up all the time, so to have a modicum of stability -- we're just over the moon to keep getting to do this.

So I have to ask you about the whole mother thing.

'The Whole Mother Thing.' That will be the title of my memoirs.

I know I've asked you this before and so have many other people, so sorry to be repetitive, but would you ever just introduce her and have her be part of the mix for a season or two? Or do you not want to lock yourself into that?

Theoretically, we're open to everything. We do have a story blocked out that we want to tell, and I can't say whether it involves meeting her or not, but it's a question that I still continue to not be able to answer. As much as people may complain about it on Twitter or whatever, that's the show. [The reaction] is interesting. I get it, and I understand why people go to the reaction, 'Just show us the mother already!' I take a little bit of enjoyment in, like, we have this little piece of information -- in this day and age where every bit of information is available to everyone all the time, it's kind of nice that there's this one thing about our show that you just don't know. Not that we want to torment anyone with it, but it does feel like there's a lot more to the show than this one question.

I agree, but I just think, at times, it threatens to become a distraction. I do think the show is so solid that I'd almost rather not have this lingering piece of the mythology hanging out there.

Yeah, I know, I know. We made our devil's bargain by calling the show 'How I Met Your Mother.'

[The next paragraph contains plot information about the movie 'The Godfather']. I watched 'The Godfather' recently, and it made me think, if they had called 'The Godfather' 'How Michael Killed His Brother,' you'd hate the whole movie until the end of the second one.

But yeah, it makes people not want to enjoy the journey as much as if it were 'The Ted Show.'

I think part of it is, you show things like that wedding at the start of the season, you put these markers in the show, big clues about when Ted might meet the mother. I think what happens is, people want to see if that leads to anything substantial.


So what can you say about that in terms of this season or beyond?

It's not up to us to say how well we're [revealing] it, but we have all the information. We're not dropping hints that we don't know [the answer to]. With something like the goat, we don't know [what the entire story is there] and that's just a fun writer's game for us because we have to figure out how to do a goat story.

The bigger stuff --the how and the where and the when of [the mother] -- we know all that. We don't have the exact time frame, we know that it's probably two years, maybe three years, maybe four years. It's somewhere in that ballpark, so we do need to figure out how quickly or slowly we reveal the information that needs to be revealed and how quickly we have the dominos fall that lead you to that event.

So there's a template for that, but you are looking for a place to slot it in?

It's not even speaking about the mother, per se, but how the series ends. There are elements to it that don't have to do with the mother, and in that sense, it's a matter of pacing yourself and figuring out how long it take you to get there and not making it boring along the way. Luckily I think we have a story crafted for these next two seasons that has a lot of twists and turns and hopefully is a real journey for all the characters, not just Ted.

Is it reassuring to know you don't have to sweat out the next couple of renewals and you have at least that time frame to plan things out?

Yes, absolutely. That's really exciting. Every year we look at the big empty whiteboard and break it into 24 little boxes. Now it's 48 little boxes. We can have much more of a macro view. We've always done that in the past, but it's maybe been foolish naivete, planning that far ahead with a sitcom in this day and age.

Last summer, you and Craig said that this season there'd be a lot more emotionally grounded stuff, and I think that's definitely happening, kind of more with Marshall and Lily and Barney. That was by design, I presume.

Yeah. Certain characters emerge and recede in the series. There have been stretches where we weren't giving Marshall much, we'll totally cop to that. There were a number of reasons we did this story line, but one was, 'We've got this movie star Jason Segel, let's give him some acting challenges' and it's been exciting to see him do it.

Marshall has definitely been a star this season, and Barney, and there's more interesting stuff for Barney coming up as well. Looking forward, there's going to be a lot of Robin next season. A number of exciting things are going to happen in the finale that will set the tone for season 7 and pretty much define the story of season 7.

So the finale will once again have a big impact on the story lines?

Yeah, definitely, on a number of fronts. We're starting to break the first episode of season 7 and there are a lot of threads to pick up.

Speaking of Barney, everyone loves the inappropriate man-child, but Neil is so great at playing the emotional moments as well. Do you want to have him grow to the point that he could be in a committed relationship again?

Yeah. There were reasons we took him out of that relationship with Robin but one of them was not that Barney's not funny in relationships. It'll still be Barney. And just like there are only so many times Barney can dress up in a scuba suit to pick up a girl, in real life, there's only so many times we can do that on the show before eventually it's like, we've done that, it's time for something new.

[The next sentence contains mild spoilers for the next episode of 'HIMYM,' which airs March 21.] I don't think it's a secret that John Lithgow plays Barney's dad. [The episode] is going to be a real excavation of who Barney is and why he's the way he is.

It's going to be kind of like a big therapy session for Barney, in a really good way, that I think will kind of leave him different and kind of a better guy. There will be a new journey for Barney once this is done.

So the last five episodes will ramp up the stories you've been telling this season?

Yeah. Everything that's sort of been simmering for the last 19 episodes is going to come to a boil in the last five.

Ted and Zoe, that comes to a boil?

I don't want to give away spoilers but there's some pretty clear conflict there that will get resolved between them.

Fun bonus fact: Maybe fun isn't the right word, and maybe this is something you already knew, but Bays and I got to talking about 'Bad News,' the episode in which Marshall found out his father died. Bays mentioned that Jason Segel's reaction was shot in one take, and Segel improvised the line "I'm not ready for this." Impressive.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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