It’s been a busy sixth season of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother: A race around New York, the Captain, new Robin Sparkles, the sudden death of Marshall’s dad, and the revelation that Barney Stinson may actually have a heart after all. Ratings for the show have also been up: Its average audience of 10.2 million viewers this season is up 4 percent from last year, and HIMYM outdraws such established hits as The Office, Family Guy, and 30 Rock.
And yet, with the HIMYM season finale set to tape in less than a month — and Charlie Sheen’s antics threatening the future of fellow Monday hit Two and a Half Men — CBS and producer 20th Century Fox TV still haven’t announced any plans to bring the gang from MacLaren’s Bar back next fall. The good news: That could soon change. Vulture has learned that CBS and the studio are nearing agreement on a deal that would guarantee not one, but two more seasons of HIMYM adventures. Though you’d think a pickup for one of CBS’s key comedies would be a simple process, it turns out that negotiations between 20th and the Eye have actually been going on for months. What’s been holding things up? Well, kids, it’s kind of a funny story …
Industry insiders tell us CBS and 20th have been haggling over just how much coin the network should shell out for each episode of HIMYM. Up until this year, money hasn’t really been a factor with the series. When HIMYM was green-lit back in 2005, the Eye and 20th agreed to a pretty standard six-season deal that gave the network just about full control over the show’s fate. It could be canceled at any time, while the amount the network paid only increased by a relatively modest amount each year. The upside for 20th: It knew that if HIMYM made it through six seasons and was still a hit — a long shot in a medium where most series are axed after less than a year — then CBS would have to hammer out a new deal with the studio, or risk the prospect of 20th moving the series to another network. Studios have used this threat before: Back in 1998, NBC was forced to shell out $13 million per episode to keep Warner Bros. TV from pulling the plug on ER (back then, license-fee deals often expired after just four and a half seasons). And in 2001, 20th actually called the bluff of the WB network, moving Buffy the Vampire Slayer to UPN when the Frog refused to meet the studio’s monetary demands.
But, wait, you might be thinking: HIMYM is great and all, but it’s surely nowhere close to where ER was at its apex in terms of Nielsen firepower. Plus, isn’t CBS in a much stronger overall position than NBC was back in 1998, when losing ER might have completely demolished the must-see momentum that had turned the Peacock into a primetime powerhouse? Well, yes and yes — and so what? The fact remains that HIMYM is the No. 13 show in all of TV with viewers under 50 and one of two anchors holding up the Eye’s Monday night comedy block, not to mention the youngest-skewing show on the network’s entire schedule (HIMYM’s average viewer is 44; the median age of a typical CBS viewer is 55).
All of this explains why CBS started talking to 20th about HIMYM months ago, and why 20th has not been shy about asking for a significant bump in the license fee it gets for the show. While there was already plenty of incentive for the Eye to step up, it seems safe to assume that the Sheen situation has only given CBS yet one more reason to want to work out a deal. Just how much more money 20th will end up making is unclear. CBS is currently believed to be paying the full production cost for HIMYM, or around $2 million per half-hour. A 50 percent bump, to the $3 million per episode range, would be well within reason for a show of its value. Vulture’s spies expect a deal to get done, perhaps as soon as today or early next week. And in the unlikely event talks head south? Although 20th hasn’t made any overtures to other networks, industry insiders say either Fox or NBC would almost certainly jump at the chance to steal away a top fifteen comedy.