If my writing partner, Carter Bays, and I hadn't missed New York City so much, we probably never would have created How I Met Your Mother (Mondays, 8 pm/ET, CBS). We wrote the pilot script a couple of years after moving out to Los Angeles, fueled by a near-fatal case of East Coast nostalgia. Like so many writers without a really good idea, we decided to write about ourselves. When CBS greenlit the show, we swore we'd remain true to reality, right down to the awesomely crappy apartment we shared on 75th and Amsterdam, with its tiny converted hallway of a kitchen. Our first meeting with the set designer went like this:
Us: These characters can't afford a huge place like on Friends. This apartment should be much, much smaller than what you usually see on TV.
Set designer: Yeah, that won't work. It has to be big enough so we can shoot inside it with four large cameras.
Us: Oh. OK. Well…can the kitchen at least be really small?
Set designer: No.
Us: [Totally caving in] OK.
So the apartment wouldn't be completely real. Fine. There was still the bar. It's based on McGee's Pub, a great old tavern on 55th and Broadway. We met with our director, and it went like this:
Us: We don't want these guys to have one specific booth they sit in all the time. In real life, it's crowded, so you just take a seat wherever you can get one.
Our director: That won't work. It's easier to shoot if they're always in the same spot.
Turns out reality's tricky on TV! (Except for actual reality shows, which are, of course, 100 percent real.) In fact, if you put a gun to our heads, we'd cave in about some other liberties we've taken, too:
You: [With a gun to our heads] Are the characters you've based on yourselves really that much like you?
Us: [Nervously] Not exactly.
You: [Getting impatient] Did you really know a guy like Barney, who wore suits and said "legendary" all the time?
Us: [Now sweating] Not exactly.
You: Did you really drink as much beer as the How I Met Your Mother gang?
Us: [Long pause] No comment. But here's how all this inaccuracy is perfect: in HIMYM, a father is telling his kids about his glory days. It's a show about memory. And that's how memory works. We all embellish. We all want our life story to feel a bit — wait for it — legendary. So what if the kitchen gets a little bigger along the way? I live in L.A. now with my wife and small child. It's not exactly easy to pop up to 75th and Amsterdam whenever I feel like it. But that's the great thing about the version of New York City in my head — it's a way easier commute.
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