The untold truth of How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother ran for nine seasons on CBS—an instant hit thanks to its original premise and solid cast, anchoring what could have been just another typical sitcom and changing it into something more. While you may think you know the story of the show, there are quite a few behind-the-scenes secrets that even big fans may be shocked to hear.

Would-be cast members

It's hard to imagine anyone else taking over for the How I Met Your Mother gang, but the show could have been very different. Co-creator Craig Thomas revealed in a Reddit AMA ahead of the series finale that Cobie Smulders almost lost the role of Robin to Jennifer Love Hewitt, who was already well known for Party of Five and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Hewitt apparently turned down the role so she cold take the lead in Ghost Whisperer.

According to E!, Josh Radnor also almost missed out on his part, with producers reportedly also looking into Felicity actor Scott Foley. Foley has experience as a hapless sitcom love interest from his time on Scrubs; nowadays, the actor is taking on more dramatic fare as Jake Ballard on ABC's Scandal.

Jim Parsons, who would later find fame on another CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, says he went out for the show as well, auditioning for Neil Patrick Harris' Barney Stinson—something he told Live with Kelly and Michael was "one of the stranger experiences" of his life. According to Parsons, the character description for Barney was a "big lug of a guy," something the actor couldn't quite figure out the meaning of. Parsons, who's won four Emmys for playing Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, wasn't bitter on losing out on the role, though, saying, "Look, it all worked out fine… Neil's better for the part, let's be honest, and it all went that way."

One other rumored recast comes from Sarah Chalke's Stella, who reports say was initially supposed to be played by Alicia Silverstone. Silverstone dropped out, supposedly, after a star with an even bigger profile signed on—Britney Spears, who had a multi-episode arc as Stella's put-upon office assistant Abby. Reports at the time said that producers were trying to write another part for Silverstone; however, that never came to fruition.

Back-up plans

How I Met Your Mother was a risky bet. A multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track but also a serialized plot was practically unheard of at the time, and co-creators Thomas and Carter Bays were unsure how it would be received. While it ended up being a hit, the two decided to put in contingency plans so their main stories could still be resolved even if the show was canceled early in its run.

Hence, Victoria. Ashley Williams' Victoria was first introduced in season one, episode 12, at Stuart and Claudia's wedding. Her relationship with Ted escalated during "Drumroll Please," in which he tracked her down and kissed her in the last few moments of the series' initial 13-episode order. Bays and Thomas have confirmed that Victoria was the show's backup plan in case of cancellation, adding, "Ashley Williams reading this, like 'Motherf—er! That would have been awesome!'"

According to Alyson Hannigan, the rest of the cast would have been pretty happy with Victoria as the mom as well. The actress said the cast was always pushing for characters to be the mom whenever "somebody great" came on set, including Williams. "We're like, 'Let her be the mom. Let her,'" Hannigan recalled. "We just loved everybody." Thomas echoed this sentiment in a Reddit AMA, saying, "It was hard to say goodbye to Victoria, she and Ted had such chemistry," and calling her the hardest of Ted's girlfriends to write off the show.

Real-life loves

How I Met Your Mother became a family affair behind the scenes, with the main cast becoming good friends and playing big roles in each other's lives. The show's friendly environment allowed Hannigan, Harris, and Smulders to bring on their real-life spouses to star with them.

Alexis Denisof, who married his Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Hannigan in 2003, appeared on the show as Sandy Rivers, Robin's conceited co-anchor at both Metro News 1 and World Wide News. Although Sandy rarely appeared alongside Lily, Denisof and Hannigan remain solid partners in real life, with two daughters, Satyana Marie and Keeva Jane. There was almost another member of the Hannigan-Denisof family to appear on the show as well—according to Hannigan, one of her daughters was signed up to play Marshall and Lilly's second child, but she aged out of the part and someone else was cast.

Harris brought his husband David Burtka, who he married in 2014 with longtime HIMYM director Pamela Fryman as the officiator, on as Lily's ex-boyfriend Scooter, who's still pining over his high school love. Burtka and Harris, like Hannigan and Denisof, rarely shared scenes together; however, fans can get a glimpse inside their real-life relationship on Harris's social media accounts, where the actor often posts adorable pictures of their twins Gideon Scott and Harper Grace.

Smulders married Saturday Night Live actor Taran Killam in 2014, with the pair since having two daughters. Killam appeared for six episodes as Gary Blauman, Ted and Marshall's Goliath National Bank co-worker. The character most notably appeared in the season nine episode "Gary Blauman," in which the gang debated whether or not he could stay at Robin and Barney's wedding; even though he ended up being invited to the party thanks to Robin's insistence, he left anyway, prompting one of the show's most complicated shots as Ted gives a long explanation of where some of the show's more minor characters ended up. Luckily, Gary comes back and stays… to see his real-life wife get married to someone else. Awkward.

The series' stars weren't the only ones who got to appear with their spouses (or future spouses) on the show: one very lucky couple actually got engaged on set. The ring Ted accidentally proposed to Robin with in "Something Blue" was used for a real proposal just minutes later by Timothy Russo, who popped the question to his girlfriend Jana Rugan. Russo says his brother had a friend who worked on the show, and, since it was Jana's favorite, his brother suggested he propose on set. Russo's brother was able to get him a spot for an extra in the background of the proposal scene, but when the director shouted a secret signal, he actually proposed instead. "At first she thought I was messing up the scene, then it dawned on her and she started crying and everyone was clapping," he said. "It was awesome."

Hidden pregnancies

Hannigan and Smulders both had children while on How I Met Your Mother, but only one of their characters actually got pregnant on the show. The rest of the time, producers found some pretty creative ways of hiding their stars' growing bellies.

In season four, both actresses announced they were pregnant within weeks of each other (something which, while very adorable, was a real headache for the writers). Thomas said that Hannigan's pregnancy was "expected" while Smulders' was a little more surprising but still "delightful." "After the shock wore off, we found a way to write around it or have fun with it," he told The Chicago Tribune.

The show used traditional methods of hiding the actress' pregnancies, including large handbags and baggy clothing. However, Thomas said they also used some items that they thought would intentionally use to tease to Hannigan's growing belly, including a globe and a basketball. "Why be subtle about it?" Thomas said. "Let's make an extra joke out of it." (Hannigan's real belly was shown twice in "The Possimpible," when Lily "The Belly" Aldrin proved herself in a hot dog eating contest.) Hannigan was, eventually, written off the show temporarily (the story being that Lily had to take some time away from the group after Barney told a very, very dirty joke), while Robin was kept around, but with some limitations. According to Thomas, scenes in "The Front Porch" had to be shot carefully for both Hannigan and Smulders, but both actresses, no matter what was thrown at them, were "incredibly good sports" about it.

The second time Hannigan got pregnant, things were a little easier to manage, with the show writing in Lily's pregnancy in season eight to match up with Hannigan's.

No live studio audience

How I Met Your Mother may have a laugh track, but the show, unlike most multi-cams, wasn't actually filmed in front of a live studio audience. Due to its strange story structure, episodes of HIMYM take longer to film than most sitcoms (three days compared to a usual three hours), so producers decided to film in an empty studio. "There's no way we could shoot this amount of material in front of an audience," Thomassaid in an interview with The Chicago Tribune. "It would blur the line between 'audience' and 'hostage situation.'"

Executive producer Greg Malins credited the lack of a live studio audience with the show's ability to not be "a slave to the audience," saying, "You're not writing to their reactions and writing to the lowest common denominator." Writer Jamie Rhonheimer agreed, noting that the show can tell more "emotional stories."

The show's laugh track comes after the completed product is shown to an audience. In an interview with New York Magazine about the future of the sitcom laugh track, sound engineer John Bickelhaupt cited HIMYM's quiet laugh track as part of an increasing trend to shy away from the "raucous sound" of past sitcoms in favor of a more "subtle track."

Real-life connections

Some of the show was based on the lives of the creators and their significant others, with Thomas revealing at the William S. Paley TV Fest in 2006 that Marshall is based on him, while Ted is based on Bays, and Lily is based on Thomas' wife Rebecca, who he started dating during his freshman year of college. According to Thomas, Rebecca played a big part in Hannigan's casting, saying that she would only let him put her on TV if she could get Willow from Buffy to do it. Luckily for everyone involved, Hannigan was free to take the part.

The actors also have a lot in common with their characters. While he isn't actually from Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights like Ted Mosby, Radnor is from a suburb of another large Ohio city, Columbus. Smulders, like Robin, hails from Canada, having grown up in Vancouver. Segel, though, grew up in L.A., not Minnesota like Marshall, while Harris was raised in Albuquerque, and Hannigan in Atlanta.

Segel did have something big in common with his character, though. Marshall claims to be a basketball dunking champion currently suffering from dancer's hip in season four's "The Possimpible," and it turns out Segel is actually a former star athlete as well. In an interview with the BS Report podcast (as reported by Maxim), former NBA player Jason Collins said Segel, a backup center on their high school basketball team, did actually win a dunking contest while in school (he even went by Doctor Dunk for awhile). According to Collins, even back then, Segel "knew how to entertain the crowd."

According to Hannigan, the cockamouse, the hybrid monster that scares Marshall and Lily out of their apartment, was based on a creature found in producer Kourtney Kang's New York apartment, which the actress says actually flew away from the scene. Basically, the moral of the story is to get some great friends that you can base a TV show around—but also to never move to New York.

The pineapple incident

Thomas has said he regrets having the narrator say he "never" figured out the mystery behind the pineapple involved in one of the series' most notable episodes, seaon one's "The Pineapple Incident," so he decided to rectify it by answering the long-running question in a deleted scene on the show's complete series DVD collection. Released first to Buzzfeed, the series explains exactly how that pineapple ended up in Ted's room after a crazy night of drinking using characters introduced later on in the series.

It turns out the pineapple came from the Captain, who went by the "old sea captain's tradition" of leaving a pineapple outside one's home as a symbol of hospitality. The Captain kept one outside his New York City townhouse, which a very drunk Ted came upon and stole that fateful night.

Many fans questioned why such a pivotal moment in the series wasn't shown on screen. Hannigan responded to fans on Twitter, saying the show ended up 18 minutes longer than it was supposed to, leading to scenes being cut. (She didn't specify which episode, but the deleted scene came from season nine, episode 20.) Still, at least we know there's a canonical ending to the pineapple mystery.

Casting the mother

When a show spends eight seasons building up to just a short glimpse at one character, finding the right person to play that character is clearly going to be difficult. For HIMYM's creators, though, finding just the right actress for the part actually wasn't as hard as they thought.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bays said casting director Marisa Ross had been talking about Cristin Milioti for over two years, which meant producers were already familiar with her work and didn't have to do a wide casting call. Although they also brought in two other "lovely, wonderful" actresses to screen test with Radnor, it ended up being Milioti who landed the part because producers "believed in Cristin for it." It also helped that Milioti, who starred in Broadway's Once, had a musical background, necessary for Ted's ideal bass-playing woman.

There was one hiccup in getting Milioti on board, though. According to Hannigan, producers were a little worried that the two actresses looked too similar to appear on the show together. Luckily, producers decided they were different enough, and Milioti landed the part. Once Milioti did arrive on set, the train station scene that served as her introduction was populated with extras who were actually staff from the show, something Thomas and Bays called "really fun."

"I kind of felt bad for Cristin because it was really like Jesus has risen when she showed up on the set—the whole crew was like 'Here she is, the women we've been waiting for for 10 years!'" they said. "And she's like, 'I'm just an actor.'"

The kids

Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie weren't huge stars when they landed the roles of Ted and the Mother's children on How I Met Your Mother. Fonseca, who would go on to star on Nikita and Agent Carter, had most notably appeared on The Young and The Restless, while Henry was still doing guest appearances as Cory's best friend Larry on That's So Raven a few years ahead of landing his breakout role as Justin on Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place. The two ended up playing a pivotal part in the series, urging Ted to move on from the Mother's death and pursue their Aunt Robin. As it turns out, Fonseca and Henrie actually filmed the parts way back in the day, and had to keep the ending quiet for nearly eight years.

The pair said in an interview with TVLine that they filmed the final scene at some point during season two, with the creators rushing to get the piece in before Henrie went through puberty. Everyone cleared the set except Carter and Bays, and the two had to sign confidentiality agreements saying that they'd keep the ending a secret. So much time passed between the filming and the finale that they two basically forgot what it was they were supposed to be keeping secret; Henrie said he "thinks" he remembers, while Fonseca, who was a fan and regular watcher of the show, says it was a "running joke" between her and the creators that she didn't remember. Of course, just because the two didn't remember doesn't mean people weren't trying to get them to spill. "My friends and my family are the worst," said Henrie, "[and] especially people at bars who try to get me drunk to get it out of me."

The two weren't the only ones in on the show's secret. According to Hannigan, she and Radnor found out early on in the show's run that the mother would die in the end, saying "whisperings" started around the set after they had to film a lot of Ted's kids' scenes early on. "I didn't know who the mom was going to be," Hannigan said, "but I did know that the reason he was telling these stories is because she passed away, which was very sweet."

An alternate ending

How I Met Your Mother's ending was controversial to say the least, with thousands of fans signing a Change.org petition to rewrite and reshoot the finale after it was revealed that the mother met an untimely death, leaving Ted to get back together with Robin. It turns out the producers did actually have an alternate ending, although it didn't really include any new footage. Later released on the show's complete series DVD (and available to watch on YouTube), it cuts out the mother's death and Barney and Robin's divorce, and instead focuses on Ted's long, long journey towards happiness, all leading up to him being in the right place at the right time to walk up to Tracy and "start talking."

"See kids, easy," he says, after describing his long, arduous journey and showing the meet-cute with the mother. The alternate ending finishes off with, "And that kids, is how I met your mother" before cutting to black. Although it doesn't include any new footage, only alternate narration, at least 20,000 people would have been much happier if the alternate ending had been for real.