When CBS announced that How I Met Your Mother would return for a ninth and final season next year, the network took the unusual extra step of proclaiming that the show's heretofore unseen "mother" would be also finally be revealed.
HIMYM co-creator Craig Thomas (who says he wasn't consulted on that part of the release) admits he was surprised that CBS felt the need to spell it out. "The plan has always been to meet this girl at some point," he says. "I think we would be forbidden from show business if we ended the series without meeting the mother, and rightfully so. They want to make sure, I guess, that the audience knows they're not going to be jerked around or short changed in any way."
Thomas says he and co-creator Carter Bays had spent most of this season producing HIMYM with two different paths in mind, in case this wound up being the last hurrah. "We definitely had a Plan A and a Plan B," Thomas says of mapping out the season in case any of the cast — Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel — did not sign up for a ninth year.
Had they not, he says, wrapping the show in just 10 more episodes "would have felt a little disappointing. My fear is that it would have felt rushed. I would have always looked back with regret. It was by no means a guarantee that it would go to Season 9, and we were scared for a minute that it was going to be eight and out."
Segel, whose film career has exploded, was said to be the star most on the fence. But HIMYM has kept a very flexible schedule as its cast explored other pursuits, and Thomas says that flexibility convinced the actors to come back for a final lap. "We've always done everything humanly possible to allow them to do other things," he says. "We looked at everyone's schedule and the calendar, and chose a little bit of a different start date than what we usually do and a little bit of a different end date."
Bays and Thomas were so committed to seeing HIMYM through to the end that the writing duo sat out development season this year. "We know how beautiful and rare this experience is," Thomas says. "We're not showrunners that have he ambition to launch a show and do 10 other things. We've had an awareness of how lucky we are and don't want to split our focus heading into the final stretch." (Bays and Thomas executive produced Fox's The Goodwin Games this year, but that show wound up in limbo.)
Thomas won't divulge whether the extra year altered plans on how HIMYM would introduce the mother: "That's one of the few remaining tricks up our sleeves." But he promises next year will look and feel much different from past seasons: "It's going to be a new way to tell the story," he says. "You're never going to mistake a Season 9 episode from one of the previous eight."
The show's producers have put together a bucket list of plotlines that they want HIMYM to tackle before the end. "There are a lot of loose ends and references and setups that we have to pay off," Thomas says. One item they just took care of: A final "Robin Sparkles" installment, which Thomas admits he would have held for next year had he known for sure that HIMYM was coming back.
But there are still many more stories to tell. "This is the final lap, so there's no more withholding of fun ideas," he says. "There's something very carpe diem about it. We're going for it and looking to not leave anything on the field. I hope that means these remaining episodes will be great."