TV Legends Revealed: What's the Secret Origin of Lily From 'How I Met Your Mother'?

TV URBAN LEGEND: There wouldn’t have been a Lily Aldrin on "How I Met Your Mother" had Alyson Hannigan not played her.

As I wrote in a while back in TV Legends Revealed, “How I Met Your Mother” creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were so unsure whether the show would get picked up for a full first season that they wrote in a "backup" mother in case of early cancellation. However, the character of Lily Aldrin might not have even made it that far, according to a legend involving Thomas’ wife Rebecca Alson-Milkman.

“How I Met Your Mother” characters Ted Mosby and his best friends Marshall Eriksen and Lily Aldrin are based on the long-single Bays (he got married in 2011), and Thomas and Alson-Milkman, who have been a couple since the three of them attended Wesleyan University in the late 1990s. As the story goes, Alson-Milkman didn’t like the idea of having a character based on her, and would only agree to it if Alyson Hannigan were cast in the role. Luckily, Hannigan was looking for a comedy after "Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” so she was, indeed, cast as Lily. The rest is sitcom history.

Or is it? Let's find out!

The origin of the story is pretty straightforward, as Thomas has told it on a number of occasions, most famously in 2006 at the Museum of Television and Radio's William S. Paley Television Festival, toward the end of the show’s first season:

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!

That pretty much sounds like a joke, doesn't it? Over the years, it has been repeated enough times that it lost its original humor, but I think it is pretty clear that Thomas was joking.

Don't get me wrong, I believe Alson-Milkman got both Thomas and Bays hooked on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (he has said that in a few different interviews). I also believe she did want to be played by Hannigan. I just don't believe that was actually going to be a roadblock in the development of the character. I find it far too difficult to believe Alson-Milkman would torpedo her husband's TV series (the first TV show he ever created) over something like that. It’s pretty clearly just a joke that has been repeated so many times 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 bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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