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'How I Met Your Mother': 'Big shake-ups' are in store, says executive producer Carter Bays

December 7, 2009 | 11:57 am
98430_FOX_0144b It's almost hard to believe that “How I Met Your Mother” was once considered a bubble show. For the first several seasons, fans waited with anticipation and apprehension for news of a renewal. But co-creator and executive producer Carter Bays was never too worried.

“It just felt like it's a good show. It's a good story,” Bays told Show Tracker. “You just have to have the faith that when you tell a good story, people will want to listen to it.”

They're certainly listening now. Currently in its fifth season, “Mother” is getting more press than ever thanks to classic, lexicon-entering plots like Slapsgiving and Robin Sparkles, a slew of high-profile guest stars (thanks for the ratings bump, Britney Spears) and all-around superstar Neil Patrick Harris, who plays womanizing cad Barney Stinson. This past year, the show was recognized by the Emmy Awards with its first nomination for outstanding comedy series. Fans dissect clues relating to the show's central mystery – who is the mother? – with a level of scrutiny and screen-capturing that is comparable to devotees of “Lost.” And in January, the show will air its 100th episode, which features guest stars Rachel Bilson, Tim Gunn and Stacy Keibler, as well as a musical number starring the entire regular cast.

“It was a very exciting week,” Bays said about filming the episode last month. “Any chance we get to have a little celebration, we pounce on it because it's kind of a ridiculous love-fest over here.”

One love-fest that did not last was the pairing of commitment-phobes Barney and Robin (Cobie Smulders). Recently, I spoke with Bays about what was behind the breakup, why Ted has gotten no love this season and what's ahead for the best friends since “Friends.”

“There's going to be some big shake-ups in the second half of the season between the characters,” Bays promised.

I have to start off with the recent breakup of Barney and Robin and that Ausiello interview because it's gotten a lot of response online. What was the thinking in the writers' room behind that split?

This is always sort of what we planned on. We thought there would be a lot of buildup, but in the end, Barney and Robin aren't necessarily programed for a long-term relationship, especially Barney. But this is also part of a bigger story we wanted to tell, and this is kind of the first step in it.

The show invested a lot of time and story last season on exploring Barney's feelings for Robin, but it ended quite quickly this season. Was there some debate in the writers' room about how long they should stay together?
The thing we were worried about was you keep them together too long and you forget what's fun about Barney. You don't want to neuter the show too much. At the same time, you want to give it its due because there's definitely been a lot of buildup to it. This felt kind of honest. This is what happens when two people going against their better judgment, no matter how much they like each other, they're eventually going to realize it's not going to work out.

Like you said, they really did like each other and they said they loved each other. One of the things I've seen online in reaction to their breakup is that in the episodes post-breakup, they haven't interacted very much or acknowledged each other. Are we going to see them struggle more with each other's presence?
That's part of the story that we're building towards. It's definitely not everything's back to normal, everyone's fine. We're going to find out in coming episodes that everyone's not fine. I think when the dust settles, and the dust is still settling between them, there'll be some big changes in their relationship.

In “The Playbook,” you introduced a new co-worker and potential love interest for Robin. How much will he be around?
He'll be back a couple more times. It's an actor named Benjamin Koldyke. He's very funny. He'll sort of be a new development in the story of Robin's romantic and work life.

This is the first time we've seen you bring in a semi-recurring love interest for Robin.
Yeah, I know. It's something we've never done. We're excited to do it. But it's definitely a slow play kind of thing. He's not the most likable fellow right off the bat. It's going to take a while for his walls to come down a little bit and for them to really connect.

Robinsparkles One of the things you teased this season is a Robin Sparkles and Alan Thicke variety show. Will we see that before the end of this season?
Probably not before the end of the season, but it's nice to have that arrow in our quiver to be able to use. We have a lot of fun ideas for that. The robot will definitely be involved.

Rachel Bilson is guest starring in the 100th episode as a love interest for Ted. What can you share about that story? Is she only signed on for one episode?

Right now it's just one episode. But it's an important character, so we'll probably want to get her back eventually. She's a crucial step forward in Ted's life.

Is she someone whom he meets at the university?
Yeah, I can say he meets her at the university.

There hasn't been as much development on the romance front so far this season. Was that a conscious decision, knowing there would be a lot of mother action in the 100th episode?
We try to distribute it around and build different arcs. I think there was a conscious decision that Ted had such a huge, emotional romantic arc last season that we kind of wanted to show Ted just being happy and carefree, not getting wrapped up in anything too big for a little while. We love to tell the big, romantic epic tales. There's more of that in the future for Ted, but for now we just wanted to see him happy in his new life.

What are the other characters up to in the 100th episode?
Barney has an infatuation with the new bartender at MacLaren's, played by Stacy Keibler. Marshall and Lily have a little marriage story line about them as a couple. Everyone's got some stuff.

98354_FOX_0229b I've noticed that you've had a lot of people from various Joss Whedon shows guest star. Is that just a coincidence?
We're huge fans. Alyson [Hannigan] we became fans of from “Buffy.” There's certainly a big talent pool there, and we've tried to mine that as much as we can.

Any chance we might see the return of Alyson's husband [Alexis Denisof] as Sandy Rivers?
You know, it's always on our minds. It's always something we want to do. He was so great as Sandy. We'd love to bring him back at some point.

We're almost halfway through the season now. Going into the second half, what's the story focus? What are the journeys that the characters are on?
We're going to see some stuff with Robin and Barney. There's more fallout to come from their relationship. We're going to see exactly what this relationship and this breakup has meant to Robin, and, as a result, it's going to set her on a new journey romantically.

– Vlada Gelman (follow my TV musings on Twitter at @stayingin)


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Photo: Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) in happier times; Smulders as pop star alter-ego Robin Sparkles; Ted (Josh Radnor), Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) crack a whip. Credit: Eric McCandless/Fox; Randy Tepper/CBS; Eric McCandless/Fox.