Once upon a time, “How I Met Your Mother” was a midlevel sitcom facing cancellation. The show about a gang of friends in their 20s was showing signs of life, signing guest stars like Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias, but it wasn’t what anyone would call a hit.
Then all of a sudden, the writers strike of 2007-08 came to a close, and the show caught fire. Audiences discovered the talented cast. Neil Patrick Harris made a big splash in Joss Whedon’s strike-busting Web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” and Jason Segel wrote and starred in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which opened in April 2008 and earned $105 million in domestic box office.
Twentieth Television saw its opportunity, offering the show for syndication in summer 2008. By that August, “Mother” was sold to Lifetime and stations for nearly $3 million an episode in cash license fees and barter advertising. Lifetime alone paid an estimated $750,000 an episode, a price at the top of the off-net sitcom sales chart.
That was exactly the right time to sell that show,” says Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television.
Just a month later, the economy fell apart, giving TV stations little cash to spend. In 2009, NBC Universal’s “30 Rock,” Twentieth’s “My Name Is Earl” and HBO’s “Entourage” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” all sold in barter-only deals, while Warner Bros. and Debmar-Mercury earned just a bit of cash for “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns,” respectively. All of those shows launch this fall, except “Earl,” which premiered on TV stations in September.
This show skews young and it appeals to women and men, which is its real added value,” Twentieth Television prexy Greg Meidel says. “It fits in perfectly with stations’ established sitcom blocks.”