Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: There would be no Lily Aldrin on “How I Met Your Mother” had Alyson Hannigan not played her.
As I wrote in a TV Legends Revealed a while back, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, the creators of “How I Met Your Mother,” were so unsure about whether they would get picked up for a full first season that they wrote in a “backup” mother in case the show was canceled early. However, the character of Lily Aldrin might not have even made it that far, according to a legend involving Rebecca Alson-Milkman, the wife of show co-creator Craig Thomas.
Bays, Thomas and Alson-Milkman all attended Wesleyan University together in the late 1990s. The main characters in “How I Met Your Mother” of Ted Mosby (the sitcom was about him telling his kids the story of his life leading up to the time he met their mother) and his best friends Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin, were based on the perpetually single Bays (Bays got married in 2011, during the show’s seventh season) and Thomas and Alson-Milkman, who have been a couple since college. As the story goes, Alson-Milkman did not like the idea of having a character based on her and would only agree to it if Alyson Hannigan played her character. Luckily, Hannigan was looking for a comedy after “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” went off the air, so she was, indeed, cast as Lily and the rest is sitcom history.
Or is it? Let’s find out!
The origin of the story is pretty straightforward, as Thomas has flat out said it on a number of occasions, most famously at the Museum of Television and Radio’s William S. Paley Television Festival in 2006, towards the end of the first season of the show. Thomas related the following story:
We are enormous Buffy dorks thanks to my wife Rebecca. Ted’s based on Carter, Marshal’s based on me, Lily’s based on Rebecca. And I said, ‘We’re writing a pilot and we’re going to make a character based on you.’ And she basically said, ‘That kind of freaks me out. I’ll let you do it if you can get Alyson Hannigan to play me. If you can get Willow!’ And somehow it happened!
Now, first off, that pretty much just sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? Over the years, it has been repeated enough times that it has lost its original humor, but I think it is pretty clear that Thomas was joking at the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that his wife got both he and Bays hooked on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (he has said that in a few different interviews).
I also believe that his wife did want to be played by Alyson Hannigan. I just don’t believe that that was actually going to be a roadblock in the development of the character. I find it far too difficult to believe that she would seriously torpedo her husband’s TV series (the first TV show he ever created) over something like that. I think it is pretty clearly just a joke that has been repeated so many times over time that it has now become a “fact.”
In a Rick Porter Zap2it article before the show debuted, the more likely scenario was discussed:
Hannigan says she didn’t meet Rebecca until after she started work on “How I Met Your Mother’s” pilot, “so I didn’t steal too much from her. But I will.”
Rebecca is also an “enormous ‘Buffy’ fan,” says Carter Bays, who created “How I Met …” with Thomas and on whom Radnor’s character is based. “And she got both of us into it, and …”
“Yeah, arguably that’s why we cast Alyson,” Thomas adds. “None of us knew about ‘Buffy,’ and my wife said, ‘Watch “Buffy.”‘ And we became almost embarrassingly huge ‘Buffy’ dorks to the point where I think Alyson is uncomfortable around us sometimes.”
“Extremely,” Hannigan deadpans.
In an article for the Wesleyan alumni magazine, Bays discussed the casting for the show:
It casted itself beautifully. For the character of Marshall, we knew who we wanted Jason Segel right from the beginning and we got him. As for Lily, Alyson Hannigan was our dream version for the part, but we didn’t think we could afford her. Luckily, she liked the script enough, and the studio gave us a little extra money to make that happen.
“We didn’t think we could afford her” sure sounds like they were planning on moving forward with Lily, Hannigan or no Hannigan, right?
So I am sticking with this being a case of a joke being taken seriously and then being repeated over a long period of time and therefore, the legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.