When former “Late Show With David Letterman” scribes Carter Bays and Craig Thomas decided to create their first network comedy, they began with little more than a title: “How I Met Your Mother.”
“We thought it sounded clever,” Thomas says. “We soon discovered that when you say this phrase to someone unfamiliar with the show, a common response is, ‘Whoa, what the fuck did you just say about my mother?’ Oh, well.”
Thankfully, the folks at CBS were instantly intrigued. Barely two years after first hatching the idea for their show, they’re getting ready to start work on the second season of CBS’ most talked-about new laffer since “Two and a Half Men.”
Critics and auds have responded to the show’s mix of non-shticky comedy and character-driven plots — storylines that often result in a few tears welling up between laughs.
While it’s not yet a runaway hit, the skein consistently built on its “King of Queen” lead-in last season — and it’s now set to replace “Queens” in the pivotal 8 p.m. Monday timeslot.
It helped that, as with so many successful comedy writers, Bays and Thomas had great timing.
“We pitched the show to CBS at just the right moment,” Thomas says. “They were very open to the idea of adding a younger show to their schedule.”
Still, the scribes didn’t want to simply copy the well-worn “Friends” formula. They came up with the notion of doing a show that was essentially, as Thomas puts it, “a life story being told by a future version of one of the characters.”
The idea was to give the stories more emotional heft while also allowing an opportunity to shake up the multicamera format that’s been in place since “I Love Lucy.”
“Our goal was always to make a classic multicamera sitcom — we like to hear the audience laugh, go figure — but with the fast pace and cinematic feel of a single-camera show,” Bays explains. The result is a half-hour with an average of 60 scenes vs. about five for the typical multicamera skein.
“That’s a surplus of 55 scenes, folks. Fifty-five scenes,” Bays quips. “And who stands to gain from all those bonus scenes? That’s right, you, the consumer.”
Execs at 20th Century Fox TV and CBS helped Bays and Thomas assemble a cast that’s a mix of relative newcomers (Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders) and established thesps (Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel). Landing those actors was key to the show’s, er, flight, Bays says.
“It’s like asking, how key was Neil Armstrong’s expert command of the lunar module to the success of the Apollo 11 mission?” he says. “Sure, someone else designed the hardware, but if that flyboy at the stick isn’t the best in the business — I mean, the cream of the aviation community — you’re eating moon dust.”
Best episode: “The Pineapple Incident.” Ted (Radnor) gets drunk and has a night he’ll never forget — and yet somehow can’t quite remember. In 22 minutes, this episode hit all the joys of mid-twentysomething life: rapid inebriation, commitment-free intercourse and drunk dialing an old flame. But we never really find out what happened with the pineapple.
Funniest character: Barney. Continuing his criminal life as a scene stealer (see “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”), Harris is the anti-Ted: commitment-phobic, selfish, sexist and very, very funny.
What should happen next season: Ted and Robin (Smulders) deserve at least a few episodes of true love before their inevitable break-up.