Welcome once again to "On the Futon With...," a new (hopefully) weekly feature where I sit down and talk TV with some of my favorite people in the industry, all the while trying to give the impression I'm not some overgrown fanboy.
THIS WEEK'S GUEST: "How I Met Your Mother" executive producer Greg Malins.
Greg Malins, like most people, has his favorite shows. But unlike most people, he gets the chance to work on them. That was the case with "How I Met Your Mother," a show he became a fan of last season during his tenure at "Will & Grace." And so with that show wrapping its run, there was only one place he wanted to go - "How I Met Your Mother."
I recently had the chance to sit down with Greg at his 20th Century Fox Television office, where we talked about "Mother," kids and being in your twenties. And no, we did not wear suits.
Brian Ford Sullivan: You've told me before that you lobbied hard to get on this show. What drew you to it?
Greg Malins: I really liked the characters and I thought the show was genuinely funny. But mostly I loved the way they told stories. It's a little unconventional and it seems like something sitcoms need to do now.
BFS: Did it ever make you think "this is how my twenties were" or make you flash back to say "I did crazy stuff like this before"?
GM: Yeah, I mean the characters aren't very different from me at that age. Not that I'm that much older... [Laughs.]
BFS: [Laughs.] Right, two years ago when you were that age.
GM: Yes, please put it out there that I'm only 31. I'd really appreciate it. I did feel like I could identify with the characters, I mean for me it's been an easy show to write, which in my opinion is a mark of a great show. It was conceived very, very well. For someone to come in and find it easy to write... That's a huge credit to [creators] Carter [Bays] and Craig [Thomas].
BFS: So one of the unique things about the show is it's shot multi-camera like a regular sitcom but it's not done in front of a studio audience. How does that play in to how you write the show? Do you think about it differently because you can do 40 scenes [in an episode]?
GM: For sure. I think in the pilot there were 65 scenes, something like that. And you can go to a set for just one line if you want. You couldn't do this show in front of an audience because it would be hard to find people willing to sit there for three days. Unless you had a really, really good warm up guy. And free pizza. People seem to be willing to do anything for free pizza. And if you throw candy at them. Who doesn't love that?
The other thing is not having an audience, the jokes don't need to be pushed. A lot of other shows you'd maybe have to push things, and make them less real to get a big reaction from the audience. You know, you pitch a joke on the stage with "penis" in it or "breast" in it and they go nuts. So the fact that you'd don't have to cater to that - you know, making 200 people go mad - you can do jokes that are a little more real.
BFS: So who's the easiest character to write for? Who speaks to you the most?
GM: I'm like Ted and Marshall both in a lot of ways. I'm not like Barney at all but I find it easy to write for him. Maybe that's why. He's the guy who says what you wish you said. And Lily and Robin have been fun to write especially now that we're finding out more about their characters. Like the thing about Robin being really into guns. I really liked that.
BFS: And Robin's Canadian.
GM: [Laughs.] And Robin's Canadian so you've got that. But I'm also really good at writing stage directions, "they sit on the couch," "Ted turns on the TV" stuff like that. That's probably the easiest for me.
BFS: So does the room ever devolve into one giant Barney one-liner fest?
GM: [Laughs.] Yeah well there's obviously tons of lines we come up with that could never be on television... in fact we often are specifically told they could never be on television. Yeah, pitching that stuff can sometimes get out of control. It's fun. And sometimes lawsuit inducing.
BFS: So in terms of your previous work, how is working on this show different than say "Friends" or "Will & Grace?"
GM: They're three very different experiences. "Friends" was just nuts. Sometimes the audience would come and just stare, like they were there to see the Beatles or something and not say a word. They'd just stare at the cast and whisper, "oh my God, it's Matthew Perry!" And you're like "pay attention to the show, what are you doing?" And "Will & Grace," especially by the time I got on, the show had reached kind of a very different level of reality, so those jokes were really fun to write because there's no limits. You could do or say anything and they could get away with it. Especially Jack and Karen. And "HIMYM," that's what they call it here. But as I found out on my first day at "Will and Grace," they don't call it "WAG," it's a little more grounded. Not that one is better than the other. It's just different and I was ready for that I guess. And hopefully this show will catch on as big as the other two did.
BFS: So do you have time to watch any other sitcoms? Or any other shows?
GM: Yeah [thanks to] TiVo I can watch everything. I watch "The Office," "Earl" "The Class"... what else, "Entourage," does that count as comedy? And a lot of dramas, [my wife and I] get sucked into everything. "The Amazing Race," we got sucked back into that. "Survivor," "Kidnapped," "Jericho," "Heroes"... it's like I'm at this weird point in my career where I enjoy watching TV more than I like working in it. [Laughs.] And if I could just get a little more money, I would just retire and that's what I'd do - watch TV instead of having to write it. [Laughs.] Because I really love it.
BFS: I'd be willing to apply for that job. [Laughs.] Oh wait... it's a good job. It's not so bad. [Laughs.]
GM: What else do we watch... "American Idol," "Boston Legal" is one of the funniest shows on TV in my opinion.
BFS: On to more serious stuff... do you think the fact that Ted inevitably doesn't end up with Robin, does that make you worry that people won't invest in their current relationship?
GM: Yeah, it is kind of a fear before I got here. Before I came on I kept on wondering how that was going to work. But I don't know, I don't think it's true that you can't invest in them if you know they're not going to end up together. I think you can still invest in them in the here and now.
BFS: Yeah, I think it's actually a testament to the show that people care about, that I [as a viewer] care about Ted and Robin being together.
GM: And I think the actors too... we had no idea they would be so great together, they play off each other so well. At the beginning we had no idea how it was going to be - maybe it was going to be four episodes and then they'd break up, maybe they'd break up in 10 episodes. Now who knows? Maybe she is the mom. I say that because I don't really know who is. Craig and Carter haven't told me that yet. Maybe I haven't worked here long enough.
BFS: So if you had to tell someone who's never watched the show, what's your 30-second pitch? Why should they watch?
GM: It's funny and interesting. Those are the two things that drew me too it. I was just a fan. I just watched it because it was funny and it was interesting and different. How many seconds do I have left? Watch HIMYM Mondays at eight on CBS. I guess I'd just keep saying that until I ran out of time.
BFS: And lastly, bottom line - what's it like to get to do this every day?
GM: It's incredible. And it's even more fun now than when I started out. I'm certainly less scared. I mean the first month on "Friends" was rough. I don't think I said anything. [Laughs.]
BFS: So you just sat in the room waiting to be called on?
GM: Sort of. [Laughs.] I was really quiet for a while. I just wanted to get a feel for what it was like... it was a great place to essentially learn how to write. But in terms of jobs, yeah, it's great. If you've gotta have one, this is a pretty good one. You just sit around with really funny people and they crack you up all day. It's good, I just write jokes. That what my kids say I do.
BFS: When people ask what Dad does?
GM: They say "he works up a joke." [Laughs.] A few nights ago I heard noises coming from upstairs at my house, it was like ten, and it was my two year old who'd snuck out of his room and was sitting at my computer. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was writing jokes. It was so cute. But then I read them and they weren't that funny.
Special thanks to Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, Kourtney Kang and the rest of the "Mother" staff being "legend... wait for it... dary" during my visit.
NEXT WEEK'S GUEST: "Brothers & Sisters" executive producer Ken Olin.