It’s the final countdown.
Nine seasons and about 40 potential moms later, “How I Met Your Mother” is three episodes shy of closing its final chapter.
The cast, show creators and director were tight-lipped about the series finale during Saturday night’s PaleyFest panel (moderated by comedian and recurring guest star Wayne Brady) following speculation that the mother — newcomer Cristin Milioti — dies in the near future.
Writers/show creators/exec producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas dodged the question about the potentially morbid ending.
“I think one of the great things about ‘How I Met Your Mother’ is it’s surprising,” Thomas said. “It does super weird things at times and thank you guys for going with it. What a weird show it is.”
However, close scrutiny of everyone’s answers revealed that Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) will exchange vows, the final slap will be dealt, there will be one more scene with a signature three-minute continuous shot and there won’t be another musical number.
The cast got sentimental when they reminisced about their favorite moments from working on the show. Harris, who Skyped in from New York, gave one of the first awww-inducing answers of the night.
“I guess getting to say my vows to Robin Scherbatsky was a highlight,” he told the crowd at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre.
He later thanked his co-stars, one by one. Jason Segel was the only cast member missing in action.
“Cobie, there’s no one in my life that I would rather … there’s no girl in my life I would rather be with,” he corrected himself as the crowd erupted in laughter. Harris then stripped off his shirt to change into costume in preparation for an upcoming surprise musical performance from his Broadway play “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
The actor was about to disconnect the satellite call when he realized he hadn’t thanked director-exec producer Pamela Fryman. “Oh f**k,” he said. “Take off the pants for Pam,” costar Alyson Hannigan suggested.
Hannigan herself later recalled filming her final scenes with Segel, her on-screen husband.
“(I thought), ‘Wow, this is the last time I’m going to be lying in bed with this bozo.’ Not this bozo,” she said, looking at seatmate Fryman. “I’m going to be lying in bed with her a lot. … Everything was so sentimental that week. I think this whole season we just got to really appreciate how fantastic this whole journey has been. We didn’t take it for granted the way we did (before).”
Josh Radnor said they were given custom-made Kleenex on the last day of shooting that read, “Let it all out, no questions asked.” So they complied.
“We had this tradition of meeting before the table-reads in the hallway and walking in together,” he said. “We did that one last time and hugged each other. … We just had to get through this episode. It was beautiful and it was so sad. It was kind of everything you love about ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ It was hilarious and sad and bittersweet and lovely and truthful, but that’s happening in the room and in the script.”
For Milioti, her short experience on the show came full circle.
“The last scene that I filmed was the scene that I tested with on the set in the apartment when I had no idea what I was getting into, even what role I was testing for, although I had a suspicion,” she said.
Even though they found the perfect mother, Thomas wondered what would have happened if they miscast the role.
“Imagine if we’d cast that role wrong; there’d be no show,” Thomas said. “We’d just have to issue an apology and go off the air. … That was such an amazing moment. And also sort of a slightly mischievous, gleeful feeling of ‘We got to wait nine f**kng years.’”
As the evening wound down, the group took audience questions, which included a solicitation for acting advice from an aspiring young actress.
“I was a child actor and it sucks,” Hannigan said frankly. “I was told I wasn’t funny enough to be on television when I was a kid when I was auditioning for ‘Blossom.’ I could not get a ‘Saved by the Bell’ callback to save my life. It’s really hard, but as long as you love it, it’s totally worth it. I hope you have a good therapist.”
The words of discouragement continued when Milioti advised against attending theater school.
“I dropped out of theater school,” she said. “Don’t go to theater school. You want to go to theater school, roll around in a dark room for a while. Pretend to be a zebra and pay someone like $80,000.”
“HIMYM”s one-hour series finale will air on CBS on March 31 at 8 p.m.