Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Keeping things in moderation: The HIMYM Emmy event

Just got back from moderating the "How I Met Your Mother" event at McGee's bar in Manhattan (the inspiration for McLaren's), featuring the four castmembers pictured (in focus) above (Jason Segel was off filming a movie), plus co-creator Carter Bays and director/mama bear Pam Fryman. As I was up there asking the questions, I wasn't exactly in position to take notes, but interesting things were said and a good time was had by all, and I'll attempt to reproduce what I remember, after the jump...

So they opened with a screening of "How I Met Everyone Else," which the crowd -- a mixture of New York-based Emmy voters, local press, and assorted VIPs (I spent time before the Q&A in a green room of sorts with a bunch of Fox studio execs, plus Alexis Denisof, but I was too busy sweating out last-minute prep to chat up Mr. Hannigan) -- ate up.

Then I got to introduce the cast and producers, and after some preliminary chat about how Carter feels the episode symbolizes all the things that make "HIMYM" special (playing with time and narrative and continuity while also telling a funny story about friendship over the years) and how the show is filmed differently from a standard multi-camera sitcom (they film over three days without an audience, and they can tell if a joke works if the crew laughs at it), we got down to various details. This isn't necessarily in order, and no quotes will be exact, but among the things discussed/revealed:
  • Alyson Hannigan not only doesn't mind having to constantly wear different wigs because her own hairstyle keeps changing (let alone the college and middle-aged Lilys), she actually kind of digs it, and argues with the producers that Future Ted is absent-minded and can never remember exactly what Lily's hair looked like at a given point.
  • The cast and crew have just as much fun mocking Cobie Smulders' Canadian-ness as the characters have mocking Robin's.
  • Barney and Robin as a couple wasn't part of the original plan, but once they saw how Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie played off each other in "Zip, Zip, Zip" (the Laser Tag episode), the writers started contemplating it. NPH is very conscious of not defanging Barney, and Carter said they're going to approach whatever happens with those two with their chief goal being to not change the things that fans like about Barney.
  • Carter danced around the issue of a master plan, save that they know exactly what the last episode will be. I asked if he and Craig Thomas had ever thought of pulling Lindelof/Cuse and asking CBS for a fixed end date; he wasn't interested in that.
  • He was also evasive about whether Stella will be back much next year (though he and everyone else had nothing but praise for Sarah Chalke; NPH said she's the coolest person he knows, and told everyone in the audience to be sure to hug her if they ever come across her in person).
  • Alyson doesn't think "HIMYM" fans have anything on "Buffy" fans when it comes to obsessing over minutiae, and told a story about some Whedon-ite asking her about a bag of potato chips that was upside down and backwards in a Sunnydale High vending machine, and what that symbolized vis-a-vis the Hellmouth. She patiently explained to this person that it was a bag of Lay's and they couldn't get legal clearance to show the logo.
  • I asked NPH if he gets people quoting Barney's catchphrases at him; he said one time a very enthusiastic, drunk guy said he once tried to use the Lemon Law on a girl, "But it didn't work!"
  • Vis-a-vis continuity, Carter says they have a writer's bible of all the different references made on the show, but it's not obsessed over, and the tail doesn't wag the dog. More often than not, the story makes them realize there's an opportunity to do a callback to some earlier episode. Like, in "How I Met Everyone Else," they knew that Marshall had said in an earlier episode (in a line that was rewritten on the set) that the first time he met Ted, he thought he was the dean, and so they knew they'd have to do a flashback to that once they decided to do an episode with that premise.
  • Future Ted as an unreliable narrator (see "The Goat") does give them some wiggle room in terms of continuity; when I brought up the matter of Barney not being able to drive in one episode and then driving Ted's moving van in another, everyone said "Ah-ha!" and looked at Carter like he just got busted by the teacher. (My goal in life was always to play the teacher who busts the kids; goal completed.)
  • NPH did not need any coaxing to do the Doogie joke at the end of "The Bracket," and in fact seemed surprised at the suggestion, as he's never had a problem with being known for that show. "People always think they have to walk on eggshells about it, like I'm going to punch them in the face," he said (more or less). Cobie asked him if he ever did punch somebody; "Once or twice," he said.
  • Cobie said she and the producers have half-seriously talked about doing a Robin Sparkles mall concert tour, but it would have to be only in Canadian malls.
  • During the audience Q&A, somebody asked about the Britney Spears experience, and everybody (NPH in particular) gave the party line about how they just wanted to give her an environment where she was free from the paparazzi so she could do some proper work. I asked Carter if he planned to bring Britney back again next season; he said, mostly sarcastically, that they hadn't put a lot of thought into season four "and how Abby fits into the larger picture" yet.
  • An audience member asked everybody to name their favorite episode, and while I'm blanking on all the choices (Cobie, not surprisingly, chose "Slap Bet," and Carter and Pam both chose "Drumroll, Please," the season one episode where Ted and Victoria meet), NPH brought up the two-minute date from "Ten Sessions," and raved about how impressed he was that they were actually able to fit it all into two minutes. "Don't time it!" Josh Radnor muttered, and Pam reluctantly admitted that the date actually runs 2 minutes, 17 seconds. "Well that was a terrible job by you!" NPH complained.
  • I asked Radnor if he and Bob Saget have any kind of interaction; he said Saget keeps suggesting that they go out for drinks, but Radnor's afraid to go and have to listen to dirty stories about the Olsen twins.
At the tail end, I hit Carter with a bunch of lightning round questions:
  • Has the mother actually appeared on the show yet? Carter was thrown by the phrasing of this and how to answer it, but he cleverly ducked it by saying that, yes, she has: "We saw her holding a yellow umbrella, and she was played by Pam Fryman."
  • Will we ever find out about the goat? Carter got very excited and insisted that they have an amazing plan for the goat, and that he knows people thinks that they don't (hence the 30th/31st day birthday confusion from "The Goat"), but we will find out, and it will be awesome.
  • Will we ever find out about the pineapple? Carter shook his head and said that his single biggest regret in the history of the show was having Future Ted say at the end of "The Pineapple Incident" that he never did find out what the pineapple was about, because he'd really like to tell that story. Josh suggested that maybe they could do it in a way where the audience finds out but Ted doesn't, and when I related the story to some friends, they all independently suggested doing an episode narrated by Future Marshall.
  • How much have Future Ted's kids aged during the telling of the story? After much debate early in the run -- specifically over whether they should be wearing different clothes in episode two -- everybody decided that Future Ted is telling this story over a single day.
  • Will we ever hear the kids speak again? They explained that, early in season two, they filmed a bunch of sound bytes to be used at specific points in the future -- including several "very important" bits of dialogue that were so secret that they had to film those scenes with virtually the entire crew banished from the set. I then asked if that meant that if I tracked down the kids (Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie), they could tell me who the mother is. Pam acknowledged that they probably could, "but we hope they won't. They're very nice kids."
  • Will Marshall and Lily have kids anytime soon, or does the show have no place for babies? This is another hot debate in the writers room, and Carter acknowledged that Sitcom 101 says that babies are death on a show, but he also feels like this is a show about the major milestones in people's lives as they move from their 20s into their 30s, and...
  • Most importantly, Marshall still owes Barney two slaps from the slap bet? Do they have specific slaps in mind? Carter said that gets debated almost as often as the baby thing, the goat, the pineapple, etc., but they have some good ideas and don't want to give the secret away ahead of time.
Overall, the event was a lot of fun. The crowd was filled with fans of the show; I didn't even need to finish explaining Robin Sparkles, because everybody was cheering so loudly at the reference. The cast, as you can imagine, had good chemistry together even out of character. There were a lot of technical issues with the microphones that would cause everyone's (except mine, luckily) to stop working at random moments. First, it seemed confined only to Carter's, and somebody (I want to say Josh, though it could have been NPH) suggested that he was a new character on "Heroes" whose power was to suck the sound out of microphones, and somebody else (I want to say NPH, but it could have been Josh) said that was the lamest super power ever. When I first brought up the idea of Robin and Barney getting together, NPH and Cobie began to mime making out in very suggestive fashion. And when we were talking about the slaps at the end, NPH started complaining about the size of Jason Segel's hands, which led to a lot of innuendo between him and Cobie about the size of a man's hands versus the size of his package, etc., etc., at which point I declared that when we start resorting to dick jokes, it's time to call it a night.

If anything else comes to me after a good night's sleep, I'll post it in the comments tomorrow.

33 comments:

R.A. Porter said...

It's probably a good indicator that it was a fun event that I was laughing out loud reading everyone's comments from the evening. I just stopped reading "the funny ones" to TheWife when I realized they were all the funny ones.

I will say though, I'm going to have nightmares about Mary-Kate and Ashley as the Aristocrats.

Anonymous said...

Lucky you. That must have been awesome. What makes HIMYM so great is the chemistry they all have together.

Adam said...

Sounds like a fun evening, and thank you for getting some of my questions in there.

I'm wondering what Emmy nominations they're realistically hoping for: Supporting for NPH seems obvious, but beyond that do they have a shot at any of the writing/directing awards, let alone Best Comedy?

dez said...

he said Saget keeps suggesting that they go out for drinks, but Radnor's afraid to go and have to listen to dirty stories about the Olsen twins.


Based on Saget's stand-up, Radnor's in more danger of hearing gay jokes about Coulier and Stamos than anything about the Olsens [shudder]!

Sounds like a fun event, Alan! I'm jealous! ANn happy for you, of course. But also jealous!

dez said...

And, even. Yeesh.

dave s said...

Well that was the definition of awesome. Well done, Mr. Sepinwall.

renton said...

When you wrote earlier that this was a no-media event, I was disappointed.

Not any more. You gave enough detail that I almost felt like I was in the room.

Another reason why I'm grateful for bookmarking this site, Alan.

My only beef with HIMYM... why do I have to wait until October to see the Season 3 DVD set?

Toby said...

if I tracked down the kids (Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie), they could tell me who the mother is. Pam acknowledged that they probably could, "but we hope they won't. They're very nice kids."

You know this calls for a Letterman embellishment in which Pam concludes with "It would be a shame if anything should happent to them....."

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm wondering what Emmy nominations they're realistically hoping for: Supporting for NPH seems obvious, but beyond that do they have a shot at any of the writing/directing awards, let alone Best Comedy?

Realistically, NPH still may be the only one, but you never know. Figure Office and 30 Rock are locks for a bunch, Two and a Half Men has now graduated to automatic nomination status in several categories. That then leads to the question of how lazy voters are going to be about shows like Entourage, whether Dana Delany was enough to get Desperate Housewives back into Emmy's good graces, whether a large bloc of traditional comedy people decide to push for Back to You to "send a message" about its cancellation, etc.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiousity, what time did the actors arrive on the red carpet? Because I actually walked past McGee's around 7 (I live nearby) in the hopes I'd catch a glimpse and I'm wondering how much I missed them by!

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think they were running late, but as I was up on the bar's third floor obsessively going over my notes, I don't know exactly when they showed.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, I remembered this morning that both NPH and Alyson's favorite episode was the same: "Showdown." Alyson was enough of a Price is Right fan that she went over to that set for the filming of Barney's game show rampage, even though she obviously wasn't in any of those scenes. Josh, I think, had a different favorite for each season.

Alex said...

Aw, sounds like a great time! Too bad it wasn't at the Paley Center, but the whole bar atmosphere seems appropriate. I hope the even pays off come nomination time!

I like Hannigan's theory about Ted not remembering Lily's hair at certain points in time because it's just so true!

Allison said...

Cobie said she and the producers have half-seriously talked about doing a Robin Sparkles mall concert tour, but it would have to be only in Canadian malls.

A small army of my friends and I have vowed to break out our jean jackets and roadtrip to Canada if this happens.

Michaela said...

Thanks for asking my question! (About Robin & Barney.) They play so well off each other in Zip, Zip, Zip and various other episodes that I always wondered.

TheOtherSideOfTheStory said...

Oh man. Mall tour. In Canada. I am SO there. They should totally do it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The NJ.com version of this post has a photo of the cast at the event, for those who want to see. (I can't use it here; we pay Getty to use their pictures on our own site, not elsewhere.)

barefootjim said...

Two and a Half Men has now graduated to automatic nomination status in several categories.

Everything wrong with the Emmys in a nutshell.

Also: too bad about not having an end date, which I promise is the last time I'll harp on that specific point and just go back to hoping that they have enough good ideas so that it's a moot point.

Oh, and they are able to have that last episode.

Mark P said...

Does Entourage even qualify for this year's Emmys? I thought their last season ended before the 07-08 start date.

Alan, thanks for posting the '15 best Lost episodes' link that my pal Kyle and I wrote last week. I greatly enjoy the blog and especially enjoyed this post about my favourite non-Lost program. If Robin Sparkles ever came to a mall up here, I'd be first in line.

Vlada said...

Thank you for the extremely detailed recap. It was a joy to read.

Nicole said...

I'm sure the Eaton Centre in Toronto would have room for a Robin Sparkles tour stop. The West Edmonton Mall would also work too. The show is carried on Global, so I'm sure some kind of synergy could be worked out. It couldn't be any worse than those Canadian Idol tryouts we have to occasionally endure.

melanie said...

Alan, thanks so much for this. It was almost as good as being there.

Ballyhoo said...

It's too bad you didn't have a chance to talk to Alexis Denisof, because I would like to know why he quit working as an actor, and what made him give up his acting career.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alan! You have the best job, evah!

Hooked on Houses said...

I love this show and loved reading all your inside scoop on it. Thanks!!

Rick said...

Here's hoping that an episode narrated by Future Marshall would use Dave Coulier.

Alan, could you talk sometime about a writer's bible? I get the concept of it, but I've always been curious what goes in one, what's left out, how often it's used as a reference, how one is indexed... just a thousand questions.

Anonymous said...

Alan Sepinwall wrote:
NPH started complaining about the size of Jason Segel's hands, which led to a lot of innuendo between him and Cobie about the size of a man's hands versus the size of his package, etc., etc., at which point I declared that when we start resorting to dick jokes, it's time to call it a night.

Yet, we've all seen Segel in all is glory (Sarah Marshall). You're telling me there were no "I expected more" jokes?

Andrew said...

rick, here's a post from Jane Espenson about show bibles

Via wikipedia, here are links to the bibles for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers

lemonade said...

Awesome post!!

Cant wait to find out who the mother is!

AsSeenOnTV said...

Oh, so lucky. I love HIMYM. The cast seems to get along so well, and if you ever watch the bloopers, you'll see the almost kisses, like the one between NPH/Cobie at this event, seem to be a fairly common occurrences on set. Thanks for sharing!

Julie said...

As others have said... thanks Alan! I'm sure writing this up was time consuming and I want you to know all of us HIMYM fans loved hearing about it.

And to Rick... Coulier as the Future Marshall made me about spit out my beer! (It is Friday night and all)

John D'arc said...

no one asked about the girl in the club on St Patty's day? The girl Ted bumps into, and the camera lingers on for no apparent reason?

Anonymous said...

Well done picking up on the continuity point re: Barney's driving.
And I would have expected questions about the girl Ted bumps into and apologises to at the St Patty's day party aswell..