HOLLYWOOD -- It's closing time at MacLaren's Pub.
And like most last calls at most drinking establishments, when time is called, there will likely be a few hugs, a few tears and a few final glasses raised.
But at MacLaren's, there will be no regrets. At MacLaren's, the favourite watering hole of the characters on CBS's How I Met Your Mother, closing time will lock the doors on a nine-season run that everyone involved feels is ending at just the right time.
"We really did have an eight-year plan, right from the pilot," series co-creator and executive producer Craig Thomas said recently during CBS's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles, on a day when a group of TV critics and reporters paid a final visit to HIMYM's set inside Stage 22 on the 20th Century Fox Studios lot.
"We kind of knew how we wanted to end it, which turns out to be (after) nine years, which is great. At the beginning of Season 2, we shot part of what is going to air in the series finale with (Ted's) kids.
"Yeah, it's surreal that the ending is coming. We shot that little bit with the kids in fall of 2006, I think, and it's part of the end game. You will see it on March 31st; it's really weird to get to that point. I miss everybody already, but I think it's only going to hit us once it's really over."
Thomas, along with fellow producers Carter Bays and Pamela Fryman, and cast members Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Cristin Milioti, were understandably a bit wistful as they reminisced about their HIMYM experiences and looked ahead to the series' March 31 finale (the show airs Mondays on CBS and Citytv).
"I had been part of a couple shows that I loved being on, and they got cancelled within the first season," Segel recalled, referring to his short-lived stints on a pair of Judd Apatow-produced series, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. "So I really felt like there was no way you could equate quality with whether or not it lasted, and I was always ready for this show to be cancelled, and then the fact that we got along so well made it almost a sure thing to be cancelled.
"It's just the best gift ever that it stuck around for so long. We lucked out. It's been a dream experience."
Interview sessions on the TV press tour tend to be filled with declarations that "This is the best cast ever," and "We all get along so well," but there was something about this final interview with the HIMYM bunch that felt so sincere.
Segel said that much of the credit for the show's all-for-one mentality belongs to executive producer and resident director Fryman, an experienced TV-industry hand who quickly became sort of a den mother for HIMYM's relatively young cast.
"I think we're all inherently nice people and try to be nice people, but Pam Fryman has set a tone on set from Season 1 where it was, like, the thing that took precedence over anything was that we all get along and that we all be kind and good to each other, and that the set be a pleasant place to be," he said. "I can't imagine doing this for nine years in a different sort of environment, and I don't think it was just being smart. I think it's who Pam is in her heart.
"This has been like the nicest place to come for nine years, and nobody could get out of line without feeling really dumb for doing it, you know?"
How I Met Your Mother's final season has been a departure from familiar sitcom style in that the entire campaign is taking place in the span of a single weekend -- the weekend of Barney and Robin's wedding in the upscale coastal enclave known as Farhampton.
Concentrating the narrative of an entire season into a 72-hour span has been a challenge for the show's writers -- and some would argue the gimmick has resulted in some episodes that don't live up to HIMYM's usual comedy standard -- but it has provided an effective blueprint for Ted and the long-discussed mother (played by Milioti) to finally meet.
"We're going to get more glimpses of their relationship, for sure, and some big moments in it, and there's also this wonderful episode, our 200th episode, that fills in the eight years in the life of the mother," said Thomas of the episode called How Your Mother Met Me that aired earlier this week. "Cristin is amazing in it, and there's a lot of fun intersections between her life and our gang. Our gang is in that episode, but really it's her episode, and I feel that kicks off the end game of the season and the series."
The penultimate episode (March 24) is The End of the Aisle, and the hour-long series finale, which airs March 31, is aptly titled Last Forever.
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