The only thing harder than launching a new show is ending one after a long and successful run. But for CBS' (NYSE:CBS) How I Met Your Mother this week's finale comes with an added hurdle -- how that ending might affect a new beginning.
How they ended the show
Audiences have committed nine years to HIMYM, taking an epic ride in learning how Josh Radnor's Ted ultimately met the mother of his two children. The concept was compelling and it started with a great twist, but nobody is ever truly happy when they get all the answers.
Some have even compared Mother's finale to Game of Thrones' emotional punch to the gut that was last year's "Red Wedding." While it's laughable to compare the two events, the reaction is understandable. (SPOILER ALERT) Fans spent nearly a decade waiting for Ted to meet the love of his life only to learn in the end that's about the number of years of happiness they had before she passed away. Yes, producers killed the mother...nothing says comedy like heartbreak right?
So instead of the Mother, Ted ends up with longtime friend Robin (Cobie Smulders). While it does supply a happy(ish) ending, it's also maddening -- we were led to believe from the start they DON'T end up together. Make no mistake, this was always the plan. Producers shot part of this week's ending back around season two in order to ensure Ted's kids didn't age out of their look for that pivotal reveal. In other words, they were locked into this ending. That meant the entire final season that took place over Robin and Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) wedding weekend meant nothing, because their marriage could never work if Ted and Robin were always supposed to end up together.
Twists and turns
Fans already hated the new structure of the final season and now many felt they had been strung along on top of it, which is a bad combination. After the finale, series co-creator Carter Bays took to Twitter to address fans, tweeting, "We wrote a comedy with dramatic elements till the very end. Thanks for taking that ride with us," and then followed it with, "We did a finale about life's twists and turns and that is not always what happens...but THANKS!"
HIMYM has always had dramatic elements, with the most memorable being season 6's episode "Bad News," which saw the surprise death of Marshall's (Jason Segel) father. Looking back, that should have been a tipoff producers wouldn't go for the fairytale ending. Still, most people were expecting one and felt cheated when it didn't happen.
Now that begs the question -- if you hated Mother's finale, does that change your feelings about a presumed spinoff? Would you go on the ride again knowing you could end up right back here years from now?
Based on Twitter responses after the show, that answer is skewed toward no. But it could be a moot point. In the end, the choice might not even be up to the fans -- the comedy still needs to be picked up by CBS and it will ... if it is deemed good for business. Executives know that for a spinoff to work the original fanbase must be behind it, and right now viewers are still trying to come to terms with the way HIMYM ended.
Meet the spinoff
Yet network executives have to look at the potential show in a vacuum. These aren't easy choices for any company and anything can happen. Last year CBS shockingly passed on two high-profile projects that were at one time seen as locks (Beverly Hills Cop and NCIS: Red). Given the network's strong schedule and development slate, nothing is truly a "lock" and there's no guarantee the spinoff will see the light of day.
Here's what we know so far and why it could be beneficial to the network. It's called How I Met Your Dad and it's being fronted by indie star Greta Gerwig. The series focuses on Sally, a woman with a Peter Pan complex who is on the verge of breaking up with her husband of less than a year. Realizing she's with the wrong guy, she wants to venture out and find Mr. Right.
Beyond the "it's from the HIMYM creators" argument, the show has a few things going for it, including Gerwig. The actress is in-demand (even though you might not have heard of her) -- she's a rising star and the deal she signed also names her as a writer and producer. In other words, she's committed to this and it's not just an actress taking a flier on a pilot. CBS brass are high on her as well and agreed to shift production of the show to New York should the show make the schedule.
Co-starring Tiya Sircar, Drew Tarver, Andrew Santino, and Nick D'Agosto, the series would also prominently feature a same-sex couple -- Sally's best friend, Todd, is married to her brother. CBS has made a commitment to spotlighting more diversity, and this is evidence of that. Tarver also came from the network's "diversity showcase" and has been winning over executives with his talent and personality.
CBS has nine or so comedy pilots, including ones featuring Matthew Perry, Jim Gaffigan, and HIMYM's Alyson Hannigan, among others. Likely only two will get picked up with another two potentially given a midseason order; the decisions ride largely on new series Bad Teacher (based on the movie) and Friends With Better Lives, which premiered after the Mother finale. It's too early to tell how they'll fare, though Lives started off with decent numbers.
It's hard to imagine the numbers pulled in by the finale won't play a role in the decision as well, given the episode was watched by a series-high 12.9 million viewers. It comes down to whether a new show could keep those fans ... and whether one frustrating episode was enough to undo nearly a decade of legendary times.
Brett Gold owns shares of CBS. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.