CBS starts talks for ninth season of ‘Mother’

Net in negotiations with 20th for more of hit comedy

CBS and 20th Century Fox TV have begun negotiations on ordering at least one more additional season of “How I Met Your Mother.”

The series’ unexpected ratings rejuvenation last season renewed interest from both sides in extending its run beyond the upcoming eighth season CBS already committed to, but that could be tough given all the dealmaking that needs to get done: Contracts for creators and exec producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas don’t extend beyond the 2012-13 season, nor do deals for any of the five stars. CBS’ two-year license deal with 20th expires next May as well. Reps for CBS, 20th and Bays and Thomas declined to comment.

At this point, sources caution CBS and 20th have engaged in only preliminary talks, with no timetable in place for getting all these deals wrapped up. But the good news for “Mother” fans is that they’re even talking about the future, which wasn’t the case until relatively recently.

While in some years past the Eye held off on renewing “Mother” until May, the net will have to move much earlier this time around to give the show’s producers time to put the creative plan in place that will either extend or wrap up the series’ plotlines. Bays and Thomas already know how lead character Ted Mosby will meet the love interest alluded to in the series’ title and are prepared to get the endgame going either at the end of this season or the next. Writers haven’t yet begun work on the show’s coming season.

Complicating the closure of those deals will be the cost to CBS given that 20th is no longer on the hook, as is customary: Studios typically don’t get billed after the first five years of a series’ run in exchange for deficit-financing the production. It’s expensive enough to absorb the rising costs in any long-running series, but with “Mother” coming off its second-most watched season to date, the cost to CBS may have increased.

It’s rare for a series to experience a ratings resurgence this late in its run, but last season “Mother” averaged 8.5 million total viewers and a 3.4 rating in adults 18-49 — reversing a fade in place since its peak season in 2008-09.

That number would probably have been even higher had NBC not scheduled hit franchise “The Voice” against the show in the midseason. And “Mother” is currently CBS’ youngest-skewing series — and with the median age of its viewership at 45.7, it’s the Eye’s only show under 50.

But whatever lift those numbers provide to the “Mother” pricetag may well be worth it. CBS is heading into a transition year for the powerhouse Monday comedy lineup “Mother” has anchored for years given the departure of “Two and a Half Men” to Thursday for what may be its last season. As lead-in to new 8:30 p.m. comedy “Partners,” “Mother” is being counted on to repeat the success it had last season with “2 Broke Girls,” which is taking over the “Men” timeslot.

The prospect of losing both “Mother” and “Men” in the same season may be too much for even CBS, which spreads its ratings wealth across its sked far more evenly than rival nets. The Eye boasted 16 of the 25 series in 2011-12 among total viewers, including TV’s top rated comedy, “The Big Bang Theory.”

While the series’ creative team needs to know as soon as possible whether this season is its last, CBS may have its reasons for waiting to complete negotiations until after the season starts. If CBS successfully launches some new comedies while maintaining the health of its others, its dependence on “Mother” would be diminished. Under those circumstances, it’s possible the added expense to keep “Mother” wouldn’t be worth it.

But it could also be in CBS’ best interest to determine sooner than later whether this season is “Mother’s” last because that fact could be built into the show’s marketing this season, just as ABC hyped the finale of “Desperate Housewives” last season.

Getting CBS and 20th to agree on a license fee will be the biggest issue. Series from “Friends” to “Everybody Loves Raymond” managed to squeeze out additional seasons due to the generosity of studios forced to pay a pretty penny to get the gang back together one last time. “Big Bang” may offer some means of comparison, with Warner Bros. TV agreeing in 2011 to fork over an estimated $4 million-plus per episode for three more seasons.

Bays and Thomas are nearing the end of a three-year, eight-figure deal they signed in January 2010. Their interest in continuing could be affected by how their next series for the studio, Fox sitcom “The Goodwin Games,” fares in midseason. Even if they bow out of “Mother,” CBS could certainly keep the series going with different showrunners, though that isn’t seen as a likelihood.

In January, Bays addressed the question at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour but was noncommittal. “I would imagine, going into the final season of the show, we’d hint people to that,” he said. “It’s hard for us to say that on May 14, 2000-whatever, we will officially be out of ideas.”

The future of “Mother” could hinge on the willingness of the talent to continue. Jason Segel, who has been moonlighting as a movie star in films like “The Muppets” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” has spoken openly of his interest in moving on, telling GQ in an interview earlier this year, “I think after eight years, I’ll feel like I honorably did my commitment.”

Neil Patrick Harris has also stayed busy between award shows and other roles, while Josh Radnor has a budding career as an indie film director. Cobie Smulders and Alyson Hannigan have not been hurting for work, either.

That said, “Mother” has been good to all of these actors as far as carving out time to pursue other interests, which could make it in all of their best interests to hang on for another season should CBS be willing to give them raises beyond the varying low six-figure sums each are said to currently earn per episode.

It’s less likely that the show would continue without any of them, though it’s possible the busiest of the bunch could bump down to a recurring role. “Mother” has soldiered on without all five before, taping episodes without Hannigan while she was out on maternity leave in 2009.

Last week, CBS demonstrated its willingness to reward top talent to keep a good thing going, getting the supporting cast of TV’s top-rated drama, “NCIS,” to sign contract extensions, including Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette and Sean Murray.