Can you imagine How I Met Your Mother without the blue French horn? The yellow umbrella? The pineapple? The Playbook? The show wove its iconic props through its nine seasons quite unlike any other show on television, even inspiring fans to create merchandise — both official and bootleg — ranging from greeting cards to sodas to novelty silk pajamas.
For those fans hoping to touch a piece of that history, the DVD release of HIMYM Season 9 will be accompanied by the launch of the Prop-erty Vault website, where the show will be giving away actual props from every season. Every Monday at 8 p.m. ET (the show's old airtime), new winners will be drawn. In the first round (Seasons 1 and 2), fans can win the Great Lakes plates hand painted by Marshall’s mom and the Robin Sparkles pink boom box, complete with certificates of authenticity. Future weeks will include Robin's Vancouver jersey, Ted's hot dog costume, The Goliath National Bank hard hat, Marshall and Lily's sex tape, and a few other surprises, including the actual bar from MacLaren's.
Yahoo TV spoke with co-creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays about the importance of physical objects in their writing, how big the show is in Germany, and why the walls of Thomas's apartment look so familiar.
"When the end was still a ways off," said Thomas, recalling how the cast and crew decided to claim mementos from the show, "we were all like, 'Whatever I get, I get, it's no big deal — memories are all I need.' Then when the end got closer, people were suddenly like, 'Mine!'" In the end, though, "most of the cast took something character-appropriate." Neil Patrick Harris got the Playbook; Cobie Smulders took her Robin Sparkles denim jacket.
"Alyson and Carter both wanted the little, red British phone booth," said Thomas, surprised that such a subtle set piece would be so in demand. "They went back and forth on it, but in the end, when Alyson Hannigan gives you the puppy dog eyes, you give her the little, red British phone booth."
The creators both figured they'd end up with the blue French horn. "We worked out a custody system where he gets weekends," revealed Bays. "But," said Thomas, "at the very end Josh Radnor came up to us, very humbly and sweetly, and said, 'Can I have the blue French horn? It's the one thing I really want.' And folks, when Ted Mosby comes and asks you for the blue French horn, ya give him the blue French horn. It felt right."
Thomas and Bays didn't make life easy on their prop, wardrobe, and scenic crews thanks to their "insanely callback-happy" ways, according to Thomas. All sorts of things had to be stored in case they came back up, possibly years later. "The props department had their own way of storing things, so we never knew," said Bays.
In the final weeks after the show wrapped, though, an entire writer's office got filled with props as the staff gathered items for the sweepstakes. Bays recalls it "was like the end of Citizen Kane. Looking at all these props and going, 'Oh, yeah, Season 3! Oh, yeah, Season 5!" Some had been gone for so long, "I actually couldn't remember why this was funny, but I remember, 'Oh, this was the punchline to something.'"
Thomas said they did help with one item: "For the entire run of HIMYM, Carter and I had the blue French horn hanging in our office. Whenever we wrote it into a script, the props department came up and grabbed it. It was such a symbol of the show for us, of the show's soul, so it felt empowering to have it up where we could see it, reminding us in stuck moments of what we were writing about."
That wasn't the only prop that stayed around the office. Stephen Lloyd, who wrote "Zoo or False," took the Empire State Building replica from that episode. "That lived in his office for the entire run of the show," said Bays. It was so tall "we had to remove a panel from the ceiling to make room for it."
"Part of our writing process was generating interesting physical objects that the characters would interact with," said Bays. But they were, in turn, inspired by the people they worked with. "We learned early on what a master of his craft [prop master] Dave Baker is — and [assistant prop master] Chris Kurumada. You could write anything into a script and they would make it appear. So we would get more and more elaborate as the series would go on." And in nine seasons, they never thought of anything the department couldn't create. "If you say, 'I want a stuffed turtle giraffe,' they'll give you six stuffed turtle giraffes. We were very blessed."
While the yellow umbrella was clearly an instance in which "we called our shot," according to Bays — meaning they knew from the beginning how important the item would be — sometimes they stumbled into things. He said the blue French horn was just a funny moment in the pilot that took on a life of its own. And the swords (which Bays took home with him): "When we were first decorating the apartment, I think we put the swords up on the wall just because we thought it'd be cool to have the swords up on the wall. We didn't know that we'd get an episode about it and that it would become this symbol for Ted and Marshall's friendship as the two musketeers."
Small moments on the show had a habit of blowing up. "Some company in Australia decided to start making 'suitjamas,'" marveled Thomas, about Barney's suit and tie (well, "sleeping cravat") nightwear. "'Suitjamas' was just one little joke in one little episode, but suddenly someone halfway around the world is devoting huge time and effort to really manufacturing them!"
There's also a real-life Tantrum — the soda that caused test mice to explode — made by a company in Germany. And the tribute to end all tributes: In Berlin is a replica MacLaren's Pub that Thomas visited with his family this summer. "The two owners are — and this is real — an architect and a lawyer. They're basically German Ted and Marshall. They watched the episode where the guys drunkenly say, 'We should buy a bar,' and then they actually did it!"
Thomas, in fact, has a sizable chunk of MacLaren's now in his home. The two large murals from the back and side walls cover the walls of his New York apartment. "Most people who see them think they're pieces of art we bought," he said. "But then when I explain they're from HIMYM, they take a second look and go, 'Ohhhh, yeah...'"
Thomas also took one of the two red booths the gang sat on, which "sits underneath the larger mural — my mini, east coast MacLaren's!" The tabletop, however — into which numerous cast and crew members and guest stars carved their names — went to Harris. "It feels right for one of the actors to get the tabletop, since they spent more hours looking at it than anyone else," said Thomas. At first it was shipped to Thomas by accident, "so for a moment after the series wrapped, I had the booth and table in my living room, which was almost kind of haunting. It was too much!"
Of course, they saved the bar itself — complete with bar stools — for the grand prize of the sweepstakes. Would you expect anything less legen — (wait for it) — dary?
The Season 9 and Seasons 1-9 DVD box sets will be available Sept. 23.