As big How I Met Your Mother fans, we're pretty excited about tonight's 100th episode, which not only features Tim Gunn (we're also big Runway fans), but also a musical number! We sat in on a conference call with show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to find out how the episode came about, what NPH abilities we don't know about and when we can expect to see the Broadway musical version of HIMYM.
TWoP: What can you tell us about tonight's episode?
Craig Thomas: This is the most we've ever packed into 20 minutes and change, and that's saying a lot. I think one of our season finales had like 83 different scenes, and while this doesn't have as many scenes, it's as bursting at the seams as we've ever done. We have Rachel Bilson, we have Tim Gunn, we have Stacy Keibler... Stacy Keibler ties into the second plot, in which Barney vows to give up suits, and it turns out to be like a heroin addict saying , "I'm done with that stuff."
Did the success of Glee influence your decision to do a big musical number in the episode?
Carter Bays: Craig and I, our creative partnership began in a band, and music has always been something that's been on a back burner for us because of this show. We've got two terrific Broadway song-and-dance men in the cast, Josh Radnor and Neil Patrick Harris; we've got Cobie who made her mark as Robin Sparkles; and Jason writes music for his movies. Music is actually a big part of the show, whether we've seen it or not, and we've done a little singing on the show before, but it felt like this was a time -- as fans of the big splashy movie musical -- that the 100th episode was our time to make a foray into that. I think they'd kill us if we did it too often, but now that we've gotten our feet wet, we'd love to do it again. And as fans of Glee, I definitely feel that that show has made it clear that you can do a fun movie-musical thing on television.
Thomas: Per your question, the musical number was actually choreographed by Zach Woodlee, the choreographer from Glee, and he did a phenomenal job with Neil and our cast and about 65 dancers in suits, who all showed up around 5 in the morning so Zach could put this choreography on them before we started rolling at the crack of dawn.
Bays: There's a moment shooting this when Neil jumps up onto a cab and spins and sings all in one shot, and there were a few moments on that spin where it felt like, "Is this the end of the show? Is he gonna fall off of that cab and that'll be it?"
Thomas: Neil's incredibly graceful, but there was a moment or two when his shoes were a little slidy on the cab, and we were watching it on the monitor...
Bays: ...and we realized how fragile a TV show can be.
Thomas: Carter and I were watching on the monitor with the presidents of the studio, and you just saw their hearts leap up into their mouths, as their star slid to the edge of the roof of this cab. Of course, being Neil, he righted himself and nailed it. But there was a moment of, "100 episodes! We made it! Now Neil will land on his head and die, and we had a great run!" But it all came out well. Suffice it to say, that was not the take we used on the final product.
How long did it take to film this episode?
Thomas: We needed an extra day to shoot the musical sequence. We usually shoot in three days, but we needed a fourth, because we did two days of just the musical. It goes piece to piece and sequence to sequence, it's not all one thing. There's a crazy Pirates of Penzance middle section. It was 65 dancers filling the Fox lot's New York street, and Kim Finan, the art director, acting like Cecil B. DeMille with this enormous production number. She'd never shot anything like this, and she kept turning to me and saying, "I hope any of this is usable. I don't really know what I'm doing here." And of course, it came out amazingly well. I feel like this entire endeavor was everyone not really knowing what they're doing. Carter and I wrote this musical number -- we're not musical-number writers!
Bays: We had a piano and a guitar, and we plunked something out, and all of a sudden we have a 50-piece string orchestra playing this stupid thing that we wrote.
Thomas: Our composer, John Swihart, he did a great job arranging it, and he's up there conducting this orchestra, looking like B-roll you see of John Williams conducting the Star Wars orchestra. And we went up to him during a break and said "You're doing a great job! How many times have you conducted an orchestra this size?" And he said, "Normally, I'd lie to you, but I'm just gonna come out and say it. I've never done this. I took one conducting class back at Berkeley in the '80s." So it was this thing of Kim had never directed one, Carter and I had never written anything quite like this musically, and John had never conducted.
Bays: We had school kids operating the camera, a dog operating the boom...
Thomas: We held a car wash to raise money to shoot it. It was just some scrappy kids puttin' on a show!
It seems like, this year, everyone has learned what Neil Patrick Harris can do.
Bays: He actually did my LASIK eye surgery, and I can see so much better now, it's amazing.
How much of that did you know when you hired him?
Bays: We knew what America knew, we knew Doogie Howser and Harold and Kumar. That movie gets all the credit as far as putting him on our radar, because he was so funny in that. The one thing that he did in his audition that set him apart was, it was a scene of Barney playing laser tag. And every other person that had come in and done it mimed shooting laser tag guns and it was always pretty funny. Neil comes in and does a full-on shoulder roll and dives behind the couch. In that little microcosm, you could see 100 episodes of utter commitment and utter going the extra mile to get the laugh.
Thomas: The more you talk to him, the more you find out what he can do. "Yeah, I set up a high wire in my backyard so I can practice my high-wire walking." We had no idea what a show-biz ninja this guy was. Each season, something new comes out that he can do, and he actually directed our 101st episode that'll air in a couple of weeks.
Will you ever do a full musical episode?
Bays: We've talked about that that. We'd have to find a way to do it that would be a signature HIMYM musical. There have been so many other television shows that have done a musical episode -- I guess you could say it's a rite of passage for a show that's been around long enough. But we will never stop writing songs. It's just something we love to do, whether it's for the show or some dumb website that's connected to the show. It's something Craig and I do with our hands when we're idle.
Thomas: One thing we should make clear about this musical number is that it's not like all of a sudden, people are singing in reality. The musical very much takes place within Barney's mind. It's hard to do a full episode, and to me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Once More With Feeling" did it so perfectly that, for me, it would be too daunting. There's no way any musical could be as good as that.
Bays: I think it's more likely that when the show is over, when we're done with our run on the series, we'll do How I Met Your Mother: The Musical, and put that up on Broadway. Maybe have a touring company. That's probably more likely.
Thomas: Maybe put it on ice, even. I say skip the Broadway way part, go right to the ice.
I'm sure Neil Patrick Harris can skate, too.
Thomas & Bays: I'm sure he can.
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