how i met your mother

Bad Last Chapters or How Television is the New Terrible Novel

How I Met Your Mother Finale

 Stephanie Feinstein

Note: Serious spoilers for a bunch of shows, notably How I Met Your Mother, Roseanne, The Sopranos, True Detective, and Breaking Bad.

Devoting seven years to something is a serious commitment. To Hollywood, seven years of marriage is the equivalence of 25 years to mere mortals in lesser zip codes. Seven years of a vice may easily be called an addiction; seven years of school sees a full turn of your DNA. Seven years is literally the length of time one needs to become an entirely new person.

Seven years is too long to hold onto the same story, same ending, same turns. Sure, many an MFA could argue to me that grand books arose out of more than seven years of imaginings, rewrites, and edits, but I shall counter argue that those novels surely found new pathways by the end. An author grows and evolves with his or her work, expanding into the sunshine of new thought and wisdom.

I have a dear friend in the heady throes of editing her first novel for publication, and having known her for more than seven years, she has had to rewrite much as her knowledge and self expanded.

Do not dare to tell me that television writers do not suffer so.

How I Met Your Mother ran for nine seasons, I realize, but it was in its second when I began watching and when the show filmed its ending. According to Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com, it was also the ending used in the initial sitcom pitch to CBS. It was always supposed to be Robin.

In Austin Duck’s article concerning the teleology of HIMYM, he asserts that the Robin-not-mother ending completes the circular nature of the show, a common feature of sitcom writing. While I will agree that the show, like many others, is highly dependent on circuitous routes within its plot, as viewer and fan, I disagree with the balance of the ending on several accounts. For a show so devoted to wrapping up loose ends, the final episode created more questions. Examples of the queries I have posed to myself and other fans: Who was 31? Didn’t Ted make Robin get rid of the dogs last time? What killed the mother? How long did that illness last? How often does Aunt Robin come over for dinner? So, is Lily a stay-at-home mom now? Does she still work for the Captain? Does Barney have full custody? Did he marry the mother? But I digress from Robin and Ted.

In “Last Forever: How They Conned Us All,” Sepinwall points out that the relationship of Robin and Ted devolves over the nine-season run, turning toxic and incomplete, thus forcing them together at the end leaves the viewer dissatisfied, as we have been told over and over again all the reasons the relationship will not work. I agree, and I use this as my basis for why endings in television are the new terrible novel.

I love terrible novels. Much like Jonathan May loves to hate-watch television, I truly enjoy hate-reading poorly written or executed stories. That may sound harsh, as I have yet to publish anything, much less anything excellent or terrible. But if I can’t be pretentious on a website, then why the hell do I have a degree in literature?

Bad writing can be bad for many reasons: poor editing, bad grammar, sloppy story lines, lost symbolism… the list is really endless. A terrible novel will need more than just bad writing technicalities… it needs to create holes that it cannot fill, force relationships that do not fit, and waste opportunities for symbolism and allusion. HIMYM suffers from a stubbornness to characterization in forcing its ending. The writers cursed themselves from the beginning by deciding exactly how the story would end. A novelist may not be very successful if they begin an epic novel knowing exactly how the story will end, and refusing to ever back down from the singular scenario. Unless one can throw in some seriously killer Edith Wharton twists (Oh, you want to stay Mattie to stay, Ethan? Oh, really? How badly do you want her to stay…?), the completed work will be stilted and forced. If we consider HIMYM as a novel constructed over seven years, the characters have grown in unexpected ways. Lily’s role of mother not only evolves through action, but through reaction, as she steps away from early childhood education into a role of art curator. On screen, the character evolves even further, as Alyson Hannigan has gone through more than one pregnancy in her real life, even when her character was still childless. The written relationship of Robin and Ted blossomed and died over multiple seasons, with varying stages of “this is the last time; I’m really letting go.” In the final season, final episodes, we as viewers witness Ted giving up the role of finder, of hero, of conquering knight. When faced with a vulnerable, scared bride, he is chivalrous, wise, telling her that she is already with the right man. Smiling, Ted explains that he simply must find the right woman for himself, confirming that it is not Robin. For a sitcom, this moment was bittersweet, tainting the usual “happily ever after” endings of today, but I believe that modern audiences want a storyline that can be real. The idea of Ted abandoning the obsessive thought of Robin is comforting to audiences, assuring us that new chances at happiness are possible when we open ourselves to possibility. Ted’s meeting and short relationship with Tracy was sweet, honest, and felt very real. It was also cut awkwardly short to a “And then she got sick, and that was six years ago that we lost her.” “Dad, you should date Aunt Robin!” (Okay, so that is not how the official dialogue went down, but close enough.)

So, the ending of How I Met Your Mother was stilted, forced, and a terrible novel of television. Great until the last chapter, which weirdly dragged, with a cop-out of an ending.

But I’m not done there. How I Met Your Mother is not alone in its novel terribleness. Other terrible novels of television include Roseanne and the “it’s all a damn dream” ending, The Sopranos meets Tristram Shandy‘s inked out page of an ending, and The Wire.

Shut up, all of you. I loved The Wire, and I will argue all damn day that it is far more Shakespearean than Breaking Bad could ever hope to be. Tragic McNulty, the Benvolio-esque Bunk, the shut-the-hell-up-this-is-new-literature showdown between Omar and Brother Mouzone (Michael K. Williams and Michael Potts, respectively)… I love that shit. But the final act of that beautiful play fell flat for me, and left a depressingly Irish-whiskey flavored tang in my throat.

And Breaking Bad! I watched the full run up to the final season in a single summer, with the final season happening in real time. And, I found it less than lackluster. Perhaps it was weak characters, perhaps it was a whole handful of misogynistic men and weak women. But most of all, I really despised the ending. Our final scene of Walter, stripped of his glory as he stumbles among his scientific vats, now worth nothing, tapping the dial fronts of the equipment. Then he falls, a blood stain left across the shiny aluminum surface. Blood loss? Chemical Poisoning? The cancer finally doing him in? We have no idea. (Note: There are not words to express how much I wanted a massive meth explosion in those final moments. I am from the South, and everyone knows moonshine stills and meth labs eventually explode). But instead, we get the soft wailing of an inept police department, with Walter already too far gone to atone for his sins. And what the hell with Jesse just driving into the sunset, just in time to star in Need For Speed? Terrible. The novel equivalent of “To Be Continued” with absolutely no plans for a sequel. Do I have greater hopes for Better Call Saul? Not really. Will I watch it? Of course… that’s irrelevant.

Now, my next television novel that has failed me is really less novel and more first short story in a series. Why are anthologies the new rage? Are we bored with following evolving characters over a span of years, aging and acquiring wisdom with them? Are actors just not willing to commit the time and energy into evolving these characters? I don’t know, but, oh, how I wish I did.

True Detective season one filled a void in my cultural soul that I did not realize was empty. Well, the first seven-and-a-half episodes (There are only eight total.). Being a Southern lady, I devoured the swampy nature, the Louisiana drawls and old-French tones. In college, I randomly attended a lecture series about rural Louisiana Mardi Gras and Easter traditions, strange rituals with masks and pagan origins. I went to find new inspiration for poetry, but the images of those presentations have stuck with me for years. True Detective‘s use of the arcanely ritualistic culture of the backwoods bayou delighted me, and I waited for deep significance of these images to emerge within the show.

Michael Hughes published a great article on io9.com shortly after the first few episodes aired, illuminating a new set of allusions form the writers. In “The One Literary Reference You Must Know to Appreciate True Detective, Hughes cites Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow, a selection of short stories published in the late Victorian era, as being quoted by central characters within the episodes, if not contributing to the larger story. I quickly acquired the text from Gutenberg Press and I devoured the stories, exclaiming every few pages as a new revelation or theory was uncovered to me. (Mask of deception! Women in stone! Repairer of reputations!) I watched the rest of the season waiting for Carcosa to come to light, a Yellow King to be crowned, the wave of insanity to mask us all in truth.

The final episode of True Detective season one was thrilling but flat. A “to be continued” vibe was given, but next season has already been announced to have a new cast, location, and story line. We will no longer be traipsing the back bayous in search of pederasts and twig sculptures. I will not be able to find out: How those scars happened? Who else was involved? How did the old black maid know about Carcosa? Why the spiral? Why did Hart’s daughters have a sexual violence storyline but not? Why did the killer have a British accent for only, like, ¼ of his scenes? Why was his dad tied up? I may never know.

I hope we will never reach a point as society where television sitcoms and dramas replace great literature. In fact, I think the two can greatly benefit from one another. What if we, as intelligent minds of the internet, band together to rewrite television history? FAN FICTION. Granted, fan fiction has been around as long as fans have found disappointment with story lines. But I am calling for a new age of fan-fueled fiction, where the endings are reinvented to be stronger, more beautiful.

You see, my aforementioned novelist friend had a terrible quandary after the How I Met Your Mother finale aired. Her sister, a devoted fan, had missed the initial airing, but my novelist friend was fretting over hoer own disappointment. “I want her to see it, but not the last five minutes,” she lamented. “I want her to turn off the television with five minutes remaining, and then read a chapter I’ve written instead.”

She ultimately did not, letting the writers of the show have their ending.

BUT WHAT IF…

…fan fiction reached a new level. What if those of us with the degrees, sources, and talent band together to override what society has deemed as “appropriate endings?” Because I am dissatisfied with television, even when it leads me on for so very long.

When True Detective fell short of my literary expectations, I sought out fans. Now, I don’t know if I am just unable to locate the hidden fan fiction files of the internet, or if there just isn’t anything out there, but the results were very limited. Yet, the theories presented through the five stories I found were intriguing, provocative, and creative. Still not what I wanted as the ending, but it gave me something.

So, a call to all those who fan fictionalize their television serials, write me new endings! Breaking Bad, The Wire, Roseanne, True Detective, How I Met Your Mother… send it all to me! I will read each personally, and with any luck, the best to my mind will be presented on this site.

You can reach Stephanie Feinstein at stephanie.feinstein@gmail.com.

Image: New York Times

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“Archer Vice” Season Review and How We React to Disappointment

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Alex Russell

Some weeks ago, I called myself an idiot for missing the point about Archer. I talked about how showrunner Adam Reed succeeded in keeping Archer fresh by making the show about the characters and the stakes rather than the setting. I suggested that those truths made the show’s shift to Archer “Vice” — this season’s change in setting from a spy agency to a series of international cocaine deals — a change that didn’t matter. It wouldn’t mean a thing, I said.

Archer “Vice” (henceforth just Archer) turned out to be 13 weird episodes that showcased just how far a show can fall. Archer is a great show that found some purchase with viewers after establishing itself. All it apparently took was this season’s reboot to destroy that following: Archer‘s ratings dropped by nearly half from last season.

The change of setting truly doesn’t matter. Archer is a show a show about spies as much as Parks and Recreation is a show about local government. The spy stuff was there just as framework for jokes. The real problem wasn’t a location switch. The real problem was that they just don’t care anymore.

In the 12th episode characters question out loud why they are making certain decisions. When a character unlocks a jail cell the prisoner asks her where she got the key. She says she has no idea and the situation is dropped. Another character — one of the relatively important “bad guys” in the season — is killed (by a tiger, for just about no reason) because the show runs out of stuff for him to do. There’s no explanation given for some of the stupid decisions, and most of the best parts of Archer have revolved around people finding reasons for seemingly senseless acts.

An important point here: No one on Archer is ever “random.” They make mistakes because they’re stupid, or selfish, or shortsighted. They succeed because they make the right decision for the wrong reason. These things don’t just happen, because that wouldn’t be funny or interesting. The good part of Archer has always been the why, and this season was far less interested with why.

As for the finale itself, I won’t give away the ending because it’s still worth your time. It’s good at what Archer is good at: depth, character development, and a hard reset. Without giving it away, I can still mention that the jokes are terribleArcher has always been about mixing “high” and “low” at the same time. People set up more complex situational jokes with slap contests and puns. A lot of this season has been lazier one-off stuff, and that is never more obvious than a half-hearted sex joke in the finale that you can even hear Pam’s voice actress not care about as she delivers it. The “stupid jokes” don’t feel like they’re done on purpose anymore. What’s worse, and I would have said this was impossible, is that this season of Archer just wasn’t very damn funny.

I didn’t watch How I Met Your Mother, but it provided an interesting commentary on television and disappointment this year. People waited and waited to see how the story would wrap up, and they seem to have been, for the most part, disappointed. People often couched their anger with the ending in a kind of “I deserved better” sentiment. The argument seemed to be that they felt “owed” a better ending for the time they invested. We feel like television is part of our life experience now. We meet people and we get to know them. Even on a joke machine like Archer, we meet people and we want to be interested in their lives.

Adam Reed doesn’t owe me better episodes of Archer, but he might want to consider making some next season anyway. I rather like this show, and another season like Archer “Vice” will probably be the end of the series.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Image:  GQ

The Last Five Minutes of How I Met Your Mother, False Symmetry, and the Teleology of Popular Fiction

himym

Austin Duck

Whether or not you watched the end of How I Met Your Mother, chances are, at this point, you know how it ended. You know that, after nine seasons of Ted’s search for the woman of his dreams, they’re together for less than an entire episode, that the writers decided it best to kill her off and to position Ted and Robin together as a kind of OTP (one-true-pairing for those who aren’t fan-fiction aficionados) fated across dozens of years to end up together. Predictably, the Internet has had two reactions: those who have shipped (another ff term for you all) Ted and Robin all along are delighted, surprised maybe, but ultimately very pleased by the seeming symmetry of HIMYM (with Ted and Robin coming together in the first episode and then, against all odds, again at the last).

And then, there are the others, the ones who are outraged by the narrative violations that have occurred to bring Ted and Robin together, and the major characters who, developed over nine years, are reduced and cut out, subordinated to one-bit characters with forced “revelations.”  These fine folks have taken to the Internet, decrying WORST EPISODE EVER and HOW COULD THEY DO THAT TO BARNEY and HOW ARE TED’S KIDS OVER THE DEATH OF THEIR MOTHER IN SIX YEARS, OKAY ENOUGH TO SAY ‘GO AHEAD DAD, FUCK AUNT ROBIN, WE DON’T CARE’ and, while I don’t normally feel one way or another about tv shows (I mean, I watch them obsessively, but I tend not to care enough to take to the keyboard), I want to weigh in here, not so much about my feelings but about the structural incongruities that seem to have everyone convinced that this finale didn’t quite do what it needed to.

Before getting to the meat of the problem—the problem of teleology—I want to consider the bizarre symmetry attempted in the final episode, in the few remaining minutes after 25 years have been traversed in a few telling vignettes. The last scene, Ted standing outside Robin’s apartment, blue-French-horn-in-hand, while she perches on her window ledge, surrounded by dogs, is taken shot-for-shot (and, for the most part, line by line) from the first episode during Ted’s first “Big Robin Gesture.” (BRG) Between this and the fact that, season after season, the show is actually populated by a series of BRG’s—stealing the horn, inviting Robin to his wedding with Stella despite her wishes, refusing to marry Victoria at the expense of his friendship with Robin, the locket, etc.—one could almost make the argument for coherence, for a consistent, over-arching theme that, while obscured by the minutiae of week-to-week, season-to-season, was always there, hiding in plain sight, brought forward by the symmetrical ending as the point of the show, the issue at hand, the inevitable, meaningful, always already there. Almost.

Unfortunately, this narrative violates the promise that initiates the very reason for the show, the story to the kids… the explanation of how Ted meets the mother of his children. While I understand that, narratively, things happen, characters change, have more chemistry than the writers expected, etc. (I’ll address this in a minute), the show’s framework—the search for Ted’s baby-mama (as the show would have it)—puts pressure on narrative, directs and controls it, in the same way that a sentence front-loaded with subordinate clauses, continuously delaying its main point will create, nay demand, a kind of resolution. Let me demonstrate:

Despite Ted’s feelings for Robin always coming back, and despite the fact that Ted and Robin seemed both to fundamentally want the same things, and that Barney and Robin, as cute as they were, didn’t seem, exactly, to mesh (likely because of the way Barney was rendered as pathological, sick by the end), and even with Marshall and Lilly’s blessing and the support of Ted’s children, the apparatus of the show, promising a resolution of “How I Met Your Mother,” was subordinated, cast aside as not-that-important compared to something that, by all accounts, didn’t really need to happen.

Imagine someone telling you a story for nine years, only to reveal in the last few seconds that it wasn’t important, that there was another story that should have been told, that the hook you’ve been on (and on and on and on) has been sleight of hand.

It could happen, I guess, it could work (God knows Anne Carson could make it work), but what starts as a narrative gag had better lead to something larger, more satisfying, more inevitable. And does this? Do the symmetry and the BRGs create an inevitability large enough to make the audience forget they’ve had a big one pulled over on them, that all the wishing for Ted’s happiness, the giddiness at each glimpse of the yellow umbrella, every vision of a lady playing a bass guitar, has existed exclusively so that the writers can give you something you already had and that, ultimately, you were already okay with losing?

Because that’s, really, the problem with the “inevitability” ending: We were all okay with Ted and Robin going their separate ways. We’d been promised someone even better than Robin, and, in a show that crosses nine years in real-time (and 25 years total), we been promised change, growth, that Ted at 27 (the one who fell for Robin) didn’t know what he wanted, that the course of their friendship and their mutual considerations for one another altered them, that they were able to be happy for each other, to consider one another, without being together. We were promised (episode to episode) that Ted and Robin’s friendship would become adult, that Ted would realize his wants couldn’t change hers, the she didn’t want what he was selling, and, until the last five minutes of the finale, that’s what we got. We saw nine years of growth, promise, real tenderness, thrown away—Barney and Robin, so suited for each other in their ways, are torn apart because Robin won’t stop traveling for work (though she was willing to give up her work for a relationship with Don), Barney, the complicated, deeply sick, good-natured friend and lover, reduced to horn-dog caricature so the audience can stomach the split with Robin, the woman of Ted’s dreams, the woman we’ve all searched for for nine years, killed within 30 minutes.

And, as if anticipating our resistance, we, the audience, are characterized as two kids who’ve been listening to this story for years’ we’re denied the ability to grieve or refuse Ted’s moving forward, are told (through our own voices) that mom’s been dead for six years, and Aunt Robin’s great, that the ending, the fulfillment of change, is this that we recognize as a regression, a circle. Sure, if we had six years to “know the mother”—in any capacity other than flash-forward montages—, had known Ted’s grief at her passing, known Ted and Robin’s interactions as an adult, perhaps this could have worked. But as it stands, it just doesn’t.

Instead, the final minutes become just another iteration of popular fiction’s tendency toward teleology, toward forcing an ending because “the writer wants it” rather than “because the narrative demands it.” To cite the most popular instance of teleological fiction, just think about Twilight: It’s clear, even to those only have a passing familiarity with the books, that Bella, the protagonist, has much more chemistry with Jacob (the werewolf) than she does with Edward (the glitter-vamp). The text, and the characters within it, were asserting their own relationships, their own order (as, really, the fundamentals of writing are learning how to listen as a text, a series of character, write themselves), and the author, Stephanie Meyer, ignored it. She wanted an ending that the text didn’t want, and she got it, awkwardness and all. The same thing has happening in HIMYM.

I can’t speak to the writers’ values, why they wanted what they did, or why they’ve made the choices they have. However, for whatever reason, they’ve written (produced, and aired) something not nearly so conscious of the narrative itself as of the hopes and dreams of whoever was writing it which, realistically, no one cares about.

Austin Duck lives and blogs in DC. He can be reached at jaustinduck@gmail.com.

Image source: Today

Tough Questions: What Do You Hate That Everyone Loves?

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Every Monday we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week?

What Do You Hate That Everyone You Know Loves?

Rules are simple: what’s that one thing that you just can’t sign off on? What is the thing that you just cannot wrap your mind around? What does every damn person love that you just can’t even find it in your dark heart to like?

Austin Duck

Aside from people, there’s really not a whole lot that I hate. But, being a big metropolitan area, one thing everyone seems to love is fancy cocktails in fancy cocktail bars and it drives me up the fucking wall. Why would I pay, like, $8 extra for fancy bitters or elder flower liqueur when I can go to the shitty bar that I go to and get whiskeys for $3.50. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Food, I get. Drugs, ditto. But it’s not like the booze is any better when it’s mixed by mixologists; it’s exactly the same. I want something that I can drink a lot of on a meager salary. 

Mike Hannemann

This goes back and forth for me, but it all boils down to sports. Personally, I blame being the only member of a (somewhat) big family that wasn’t physically capable of any of this. To get more specific: basketball. I could probably name less than 10 players currently in the NBA, including general descriptions like “that one guy with weird hair who’s an asshole.” I know I’m wrong in not caring, but I just can’t access it. I went to a Chicago Bulls game a few years back and the only details I remember are that it was Benny the Bull’s birthday and the Bulls scored over 100 points (but I only remember this because it meant I got a free Big Mac if I brought the ticker to a McDonald’s).  I never even redeemed my Big Mac.

Alex Marino

I fucking hate Twitter. I also don’t like Facebook a whole lot but I hate Twitter more because it could be this awesome community and instead is a giant pile of word throw up. The wild popularity has forced it to become a place where people have to rush to make the first shitty joke about whatever show is on TV so they can get the most retweets. Last week was a bunch of dumb fucking Justin Bieber jokes and tonight it’s a bunch of garbage about the Grammys (which are also garbage). And then tomorrow there’s going to be a bunch of miserable Buzzfeed articles about “ZOMG 13 Awesomesauce Tweets About the Grammys.” There’s another polar vortex coming through this week. Are you as excited as I am to see Twitpics of everyone’s weather apps?! Twitter is a place that breeds lazy journalism where you can see entire news articles written about two tweets from someone famous. In politics it’s just another medium where the competition is to see which side is louder rather than right. Twitter was awesome when its users were authentic and engaging rather than brand-focused and politically correct. And there still are a lot of those users out there. There’s just way more shit you have to wade through to get to it.

Alex Russell

This has to be How I Met Your Mother. There is a commercial for this show where a character says “It’s going to be LEGEND. DAIRY.” with a deliberate pause between the two words. It may sound petty to be caught up in one silly commercial, but this is what I hear when I’m falling asleep. I think of how thousands and thousands of people don’t watch Parks and Recreation but do watch this show and I wake up. This is why I haven’t slept in five years. LEGEND. DAIRY. I’d pay ten American dollars for this show to never run again. It’s not the worst show on TV by a long shot, but it’s the worst one that smart people like.

Andrew Findlay

The Game of Thrones TV Show

This is not so much a matter of hatred – I just won’t watch the show. I watched the first episode and thought “this is boring, I know everything that happens already from the books.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not neglecting to watch it because of some “the book is just better” snob factor. It’s just that I read the first four in a single month, and then when I got to the end, there were no more, and it was painful. Then there was one more, I read it, and then there were no more, and it was painful. I fully support GRRM doing whatever he wants to with his time. Understandably, he got pissed off once when fans complained about his liking football and him spending precious writing time watching sports instead of finishing the books they loved, but for some reason I sort of irrationally see the show as a direct competitor to book completion. In addition, I’ve built up this world in my own mind, and don’t want all the actors’ stupid faces messing up how I see people. I’ll circle back and marathon it once the books are done or after enough people yell at me for this stupid decision.

Brent Hopkins

This is actually a really simple answer for me. I absolutely hate peanut butter and I have had to deal with that shame my entire life. Most people instantly ask “Are you allergic to nuts?” which is a valid question. When they find out that isn’t the case and that I just don’t like peanut butter it turns into an interrogation. “Do you like other nuts?” “Do you like peanuts?” “How about peanut butter cookies?” I actually like all nuts including peanuts but the smell and flavor of peanut butter has been off-putting to me since I was around five years old. I think I got it from my dad because he hates the flavor just as much as I do. Living in Korea has been interesting because they don’t really eat it here either but when talking about Western food it always comes up and they always assume I like it and act just as surprised when I explain how much I hate it.

Setting the Tone for Sticking the Landing: CBS’s Approach to How I Met Your Mother

Mike Hannemann

CBS is probably the smartest network on television. Let me immediately clarify that sentence. Their programming isn’t the smartest – not by a long shot. It’s the reigning network king for primetime dramas and comedies, having dethroned NBC years ago. Personally, I devote an hour of my life every week to CBS, two sitcoms are all that interest me. And that’s even on the heavy end of the 25-35 demographic. There are no Facebook updates on Hawaii Five-0 or Sherlock. I don’t go to work and hear people talking about Survivor anymore. In five years? Well, who knows. My peer group may be super into CSI: Dubuque.

I can’t, however, insult the intelligence the network heads have for their scheduling. It’s solid and air-tight. Their dramas compete with the right dramas to win and they smartly place their comedies on nights where other networks won’t be able to compete in the big leagues. As much as I love Parks and Recreation, it’s always going to lose to Two and a Half Men. With no real education in this, I can’t really say that I draw these claims from technical knowledge… just a deep-rooted obsession with TV for the past 20 years of my life. Which is why finding out CBS’ approach to ending their second-highest-rated sitcom was so fascinating.

First, a quick recap: How I Met Your Mother is currently in a ninth and final season. It started as a low-rated test to see if TV audiences would take to a show with a mildly distinct and unique narrative structure – yet also one that could easily be drawn out for, well, nine seasons. It landed and turned into the network’s biggest sitcom after The Big Bang Theory (a quick check of the numbers also puts Two and a Half Men in that category). Like all popular shows, the network wanted to hold onto it as long as possible. But since creative minds finally have at least some say in when and how a show would end, a deal was struck to conclude in 2014. (Sidebar: Can you imagine what that would have been like 10 years ago? When, if even for a moment, network execs would stop and listen to the writers that enough is enough?)

The interesting part is how they’re going to do it.

HIMYM is going to end on March 31st, burning off its final two episodes. One of the highest-rated shows is going out in March, not May. Not with a big finale to compete with the other networks ending their seasons. Instead, on a date that is one of the slowest times of the year for television (the top three of course being November sweeps, February sweeps, and May). The crazier part is that this is in the midst of one of the biggest sporting events of the year: the NCAA tournament. A tournament that CBS airs. It makes no sense, on paper. But when you elaborate on it, it’s genius.

Not that the show needs the advertising, but being able to promote the finale during the tournament is huge. It was already going to be talked-about but now CBS is creating an island in the middle of the TV landscape for this to be the ONLY event. How many times do you think people are going to hear “How I Met Your Mother series finale event” during the course of March Madness? If it’s anything less than 12 per game, I’d be honestly shocked.

Let’s go back to the island metaphor. CBS is creating something unique for the show to land on. This is the only thing happening at the end of March. There’s nothing for anyone else to talk about… so why not talk about this? Viewers who didn’t care much for the show will at least have nothing else distracting them. It won’t be a big week because a list of shows are ending for the season – it’s a big week because one show, THIS show, is ending. And since it all ties back into advertising, CBS looks to increase that revenue as well because of it.

Finally, this basically leaves a spot on the bench to fill at the perfect time. CBS is known for having many comedy pilots that go to series and are canceled because… well, they’re awful (stay in your room, Rob!). But there are always shows with potential for greatness that never get the chance to get there. Creating a seat in the middle of CBS’s comedy lineup after coming off the wave of a series finale and into a wave of rising expectations for everything else ending for the season is the perfect spot to put something new in. Something (hopefully, a little experimental like HIMYM was) that deserves that little bit of an extra chance.

Network TV shows end in a lot of different ways. Some are critically acclaimed but end quietly, like 30 Rock did last year. Some shows are burned off during the summer with networks airing episodes just because they have nothing else to put on. And most end in May, competing with each other for every precious (if arguably obsolete thanks to streaming) ratings tick. CBS has shown intelligence in its programming tactics, and their willingness to take a chance to create a new standard on how you can use a show’s ending to help both creative and corporate parties is nothing short of brilliant.

But then I read about their potential spinoff How I Met Your Father that’s in pilot mode right now and I’m tempted to take everything I just said back.

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