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Neil Patrick Harris talks with MSN TV about Muppets, 'HIMYM' and magic

By MSN TV Jan 23, 2013 12:22PM

Neil's Puppet Dreams/Neil Patrick Harris

By Kent Laird

Lead Editor, MSN TV & Movies

Undoubtedly one of the busiest people working in Hollywood, Neil Patrick Harris -- star of "How I Met Your Mother" on CBS, host of multiple award shows, promoter and enthusiast of magic, and father to two -- recently launched the last episode in his online series, "Neil's Puppet Dreams," on the Nerdist Channel. The final episode heads to the east where his latest dream drops him into the middle of a romance in the heart of Bollywood.  MSN TV caught up with the busy actor to talk about the series and also captured some thoughts on the latest season of "HIMYM" as well as some other ongoing projects.


MSN TV: It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I don't know how you get all this stuff done.

Neil Patrick Harris: I don't either, to be honest, but somehow we keep spitting this stuff out.

Bing: More on Neil Patrick Harris | More on 'Neil's Puppet Dreams'

 

So how do you find the time for all of it? These episodes of "Neil's Puppet Dreams" are really well done, and you obviously have other things going on.


The nice thing about web content is that you don't have proper deadlines. So, we have been tossing this idea for "Neil's Puppet Dreams" around for months and months, and we filmed them in the fall. So, we’ve just been releasing them every Tuesday the past few weeks. We filmed all seven episodes in two and a half days.


It was kind of nice to do it all in one confined shot. I found it all very experimental in the best old-school, Henson [Production] way. Because we had free rein to come up with our own creative content, we were just very interested in trying different ways of working with puppets. From green screens, one whole episode was shot without editing, one was on location, one was filmed like a documentary and one was a music video. We were just seeing how it all worked. It was all round one for hopefully a bigger picture.


The episodes are really funny.


Thanks. Have you seen the Bollywood episode yet?


Yes, I just got it. It’s really funny. The end, when you come out of the dream, David's reaction to your comment is priceless.


[Laughing] Yeah, we spent the most time on that one. That’s our "pièce de résistance."


Was it hard to get the choreography right for the Bollywood style dancing?


Well, Spencer Liff choreographed it, and he was just nominated for an Emmy for “So You Think You Can Dance,” and he is an unbelievable talent and a friend as well. Sending him an email asking him if he would like to choreograph a Bollywood number where I’m in love with a puppet cow, I was cringing at his response. But he said, “Yes absolutely, this is fantastic!” So yeah, he had to spend some time with me learning. The dancers behind me are much better than I am.


I don’t know. You pulled it off pretty well.


Ah, thanks, thanks. Good editing will do that.

How was the whole series conceived?

Well, Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Channel was launching, and we are creative friends, always supporting each other. He asked if I would consider having my own show on the Nerdist Channel, and his pitch to me was what if you joined forces with Brian Henson and the Jim Henson puppets. That is the ultimate carrot to dangle for me because I am the ultimate die-hard Henson puppet fan, both of Brian and his father before him.


So I said yes, almost immediately and then needed to figure out what it all meant. There are no rules yet in this world. Because if we were doing this for a cable network or one of the big four networks, there would be a lot more management by other people defining the content or how long they could be or what the budget was. We just sort of went into a big meeting and said, “What would be funny? What would be good? And what is actually filmable?” Lots of ideas came out, and we went back and forth. Finally, Janet Varney, who is one of the executive producers on it, said during brainstorming, “What about if it was dreams. Different kind of dreams.” That would kind of root it in some sort of structure, give it some sense, but super freedom.

Once we hit on dreams, we felt it was fantastic because not only can you have every episode be radically different, as dreams are, but you can also be lo-fi with it all, because in the dream, if you try to get Katy Perry and she’s not able to do it, you can just use your next door neighbor and call her Katy Perry. [Laughing] “Why do you look like my next door neighbor, Katy Perry?” It freed us up a lot.


We started researching dream archetypes and came up with 40 typical ones. Fear of falling, fear of teeth falling out ...


Forgot to go to class right before you’re set to graduate …


Exactly! Being in a place you aren’t familiar with and can’t get out of. And then we started narrowing those down into what we could film in two and a half days. And even then, everyone was freaked out. The poor crew and director of photography when we were trying to describe the Bollywood episode with green screens and multi-levels and dancers and puppet dancers and branding and spinning and weddings. And he was like, “You want to do this in one afternoon?” And were like, “Totally!”


And in three minutes!


Yeah, exactly! The Bollywood style frees us up a little because, again, my favorite thing about those Bollywood music videos is their use of heart, wipes and old-school technology to create their effects. That’s good for us budget-wise. And also production wise.


Were you ever surprised with what you could get away with the puppets? I couldn’t believe that some of the dialogue was coming from Henson puppets.


I can’t speak for Brian [Henson], but I know that Henson having a lot of their classic Muppets owned by other companies are looking to their next chapter. One piece of that is the Henson alternative puppets, which we used, they are the Miskreant puppets. They have been used for a couple years in a show called, “Puppet Up” and in New York it was called, “Stuffed and Unstrung.” They were intentionally adult in content, probably to steer away from the thought that puppets equal kid’s educations shows.


So that was fortuitous. They weren’t incredibly nervous about swear words or adult content.


It’s great how in different episodes you alluded to other elements of the history of the Muppets. Like the reference to "Fraggle Rock."


[Laughing] We had to change some of those. We had a lot of conversations about some of those. We had to change “Fraggle Rock” to Frugal Rock. Well, we didn’t have to, but we opted to. We didn’t want to actively cause controversy by doing these. That’s not our style.


We are all unbearably respectful of puppeteers and puppets and the process that goes into all of it.


Do you have a favorite episode?


Bollywood is easily my favorite. I think the song is very catchy. I think the execution of it, filming it, lip synching. Brian Henson played the cow puppet, himself, so getting to actually do these physical feats on four-foot risers with Brian hunched over on a little trolley train doing circles and having to do these shots with him and be as efficient as possible. That was a very exciting afternoon for me.


I love “Dream Bump.” I think it’s really funny. The musical ones seem to go really well. I think as a piece of comedy, the Doctor’s Office really fits into what we wanted “Puppet Dreams” to be. We have Nathan Fillion as a hilarious guest star, but also, it seems like it’s much dirtier than it actually is. That was one with seven puppeteers beneath me on the floor, and I was up on a set that was built on the second floor. That was really fun to do.

They are all really cool.


I had to freeze-frame the credits.


That was my idea. They weren’t going to have credits at all because you don’t usually have them on the Internet, but there were so many people involved, I felt like we should have credits. But once you start seeing credits on YouTube, you click on something else. So, I thought just a flash of credits would make people go back and freeze them and actually read them. And then within them, I wanted to put some funny credits in them. In every one, we put in "Frank Drumond – Leslie Nielsen," because the “Naked Gun” was really the first movie to do funny credits. So we wanted to give a shout-out.


Now that the last episode is being released, what do you hope is next for the series?


I don’t really know. It’s a unique series in that we, I, had no master plan. It was entirely experimental. I am indifferent about how many people see them and yet I hope everyone watches them. If there’s a Season 2, that’s great, if it turns into its own thing, that’s great. I kind of just wanted to see what Neil plus puppets would equal. For other things for like a Season 2 or a kids show or a variety show. I’m just a big fan of the puppets. I always fantasize what it must have been like for those guest stars on the original Muppet Show back in the day.


It was such a great shows. People I show them to are like, “Who is Dom DeLuise?” “What is a Madeline Kahn? What does that mean?” I cry a little on the inside.

I am old school. I watched “Fraggle Rock” religiously. HBO was just starting and it was on all the time. I’m anxious for my kids to get a bit older so they can watch that. Doozers rule.


“The Dark Crystal.”


“The Dark Crystal!” They need to make a sequel to that. The Darker Crystal.


I’m a big “How I Met Your Mother" fan. Are you happy with how things are progressing? This season has been a little odd.


I am. I’m very stoked that everyone agreed to a Season 9. We have been waiting, literally months and months and months to find out whether the whole thing was going to end this season or one more. It isn’t, thankfully, not going to go 10, 11 or 12 seasons because no one wants that, but with a Season 9, they have a really great idea for the entire season that is appropriate for waiting so long for answers. And conversely I’m happy we didn’t have to spend eight seasons dancing around a question and then have to answer it in three episodes.


So, yes, Season 8 has been odd because they did this long get of Barney doing this long play to propose to Robin which required several episodes of very non-Barney like behavior from my character which was difficult to play. They kept telling me to trust them, that it would be a bigger play and I’m glad it worked so well. I think the episode, called “The Robin” was a classic episode and it’s good to be Barney again. And I get to make out with Cobie Smulders every day.


I also heard Barney may have discovered yet another Robin Sparkles video?


Robin Sparkles may reappear, indeed. And Canadian jokes abound.

 

Bing: More on 'How I Met Your Mother'


What else are you working on?


I directed this show at the Geffen, two close-up magicians called “Nothing to Hide” and it was only supposed to be a four to five week run, but they just announced another three week extension so it’s going to go through mid-February at the Geffen Playhouse in L.A. It is, dare I say, the best night of close-up magic you will ever see. It blows my mind who has gone to see it. I was there a few weeks ago and Barbra Streisand and James Brolin were there. JJ Abrams came, Teller from Penn & Teller has seen it three times and claims it’s one of the best magic shows he’s ever seen. So, I’m thrilled for them. It’s really a fun evening.


Last question: Have you ever run into anyone who has an actual NPH brand tattoo?


[Laughing] No, but I have seen, online, two people who have a Barney Stinson adjusting-his-tie pose tattooed on their arms and shoulders. Crazy. What happens when I get a nose job?

 

Are Sarah and Hank getting back together?

By MSN TV Partner Apr 11, 2014 10:51AM
In this sneak peek of the "Parenthood" season finale, Hank (Ray Romano) impresses Amber (Mae Whitman) and Sarah (Lauren Graham) with his Hank-like concern as they deal with Ryan's hospitalization.

Watch it first on MSN TV:

This clip, along with the promo clip NBC showed for next week's episode, hints at a reunion for Sarah and Hank. Are you rooting for the couple? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.

The season finale of "Parenthood" airs Thursday April 17 at 10PM ET/PT on NBC.
 

Get a glimpse of Marsden’s character in the animated show starring Jack McBrayer

By MSN TV Partner Mar 25, 2014 10:04AM

In a new episode premiering March 31, James Marsden will guest start on Disney XD’s “Wander Over Yonder”.


Marsden reunites with "30 Rock" co-star Jack McBrayer in this episode where the hero Sir Brad Starlight (Marsden) enlists Wander (McBrayer) as his goofy sidekick and Sylvia as his noble steed on his quest to save Princess Demurra from the evil Dragon King, King Draykor.


See this pic first on MSN TV: Wander is ecstatic to fulfill his fairytale dream of rescuing a princess, but Sir Brad Starlight is not interested in sharing the spotlight and reminds Wander at every turn that there's only room for one hero.


“Wander Over Yonder” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD

 

Kim Kardashian, Wendy Williams hear what regular folk really think about them

By MSN TV Partner Mar 18, 2014 9:18AM
In the the new series from Oxygen, "Celebrities Undercover" will feature two celebrities concealing their true identity with the use of prosthetic make-up to find out what unsuspecting fans and friends really think of them without the distraction of their famous personas.

The season premiere will feature Kim Kardashian, and executive producer Wendy Williams will get a taste of her own medicine as well. In this clip watch Kim K. undergo an impressive make-up overhaul in prep for undercover work: going to a group job interview as a Kardashian fan hoping to become her own new assistant. 

Watch the video:

Other stars features this season include T-Pain, Fantasia, Joey Fatone, Lil’ Kim, Chili, Anthony Anderson, Jaleel White, Adrienne Bailon, Ice-T and Coco.

"Celebrities Undercover" premieres March 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.

 

Host Justin Willman and Disney stars dish on the new show and offer up advice

By MSN TV Partner Mar 14, 2014 11:15AM

(Disney's Win, Lose or Draw /Adam Taylor, Disney Channel)By Minh Nguyen


It didn’t take long for memories of the original “Win, Lose or Draw” game show to come flooding back as soon as we stepped foot on the set of Disney’s resurrected show of the same name.  Gone was the ‘80s living room set, replaced with bright vibrant colors, fun props and technology everywhere. Host Justin Willman (“Cupcake Wars”) commanded the stage as Disney stars Dove Cameron and Joey Bragg from “Liv and Maddie” battled it out against each other with their teammates.


The premise is pretty simple: two teams of three players (with the Disney stars on each side) compete in drawing contests to win prizes. Thrown into the mix are special challenges (like Shake, Rattle and Draw; Sit and Spin; The Wand) that take advantage of oversized props and fun gadgets. This season will also feature stars from Disney shows "Kickin' It," "Lab Rats," "I Didn't Do It,"  "Austin & Ally," "Jessie," "Dog With a Blog" and "Mighty Med" as well as stars from "Teen Beach Movie."


Over lunch, we were able to speak to Willman, Cameron and Bragg.


For people that aren’t familiar with the original game, how are you describing this to them?

Willman: The simple idea is just that it’s drawing Charades. You get your teammates to guess what you’re drawing. We have a team of writers who write these clues, and the words that they have to draw are so clever.


It's super high-tech, so the old original version was more markers on pads of paper, which was great at the time but here they have these massive touch screens and tons of software they designed just for the games that’s completely interactive.


Contestants have to do a bunch of crazy challenges in round two. Like drawing with a helmet on, where they can’t see anything or drawing with a unicorn stylus and that makes it way tougher but also much more entertaining to watch.


How are you enjoying being a part of the show?

Willman: As a live performer, I’m used to having that instant gratification of a live audience and this feels a lot like that. We’ve got 150 screaming kids, who are having the time of their lives just being there. It’s great because the jokes get instant payback. The excitement, I feed off of it. Even if it’s first thing in the morning, I don’t even need to have my coffee. As soon as that crowd starts to roar, I’m ready to go. It’s a blast.


Bragg: I like the rapid round. I can’t remember what it’s called. Where there’s one person drawing, and two people guessing, then we just switch.


Cameron:  I think the best part for me has actually been, (I know this sounds like such a canned answer), but has been getting to meet these kids. There was this great moment where, it was at the end of the first round when they all kind of flooded in and they hugged us. And some of them were crying, and I wanted to cry. We didn’t realize the gravity of how huge this really is, and “Win, Lose, or Draw” has been great that way. We’ve gotten to interact with a lot of kids.


Justin, what’s the best advice you ever received?

Willman: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”


Dove and Joey, you guys seem really polished. What kind of advice do you have for kids that get stage fright?

Bragg: Well, I was doing stand-up comedy, and I don’t mean to be that guy, but it’s one of the hardest things to go up there and say stuff that you’ve written. You don’t have music backing you. I wanted to do something that I’m going to remember. And I think a lot of that is “I’m going to embarrass myself,” but you’re never going to see those people that are watching you ever again. Just do it!


Cameron: I always had a fear of cameras because I grew up on stage. Most things in life are one of those things where once you try it, you realize how OK it is. I just don’t take life too seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyways. So, yeah. Just have fun. Do what you please.


“Disney’s Win, Lose or Draw” airs Mondays through Thursdays at 5 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel.

 

She still lives with her parents!

By MSN TV Partner Mar 13, 2014 10:55AM
Later this month, "Extra" host Maria Menounos will premiere her new reality show. "Chasing Maria Menounos" will give fans a peek into her life, including living with her longtime boyfriend and her immigrant parents.

In this interview with Oxygen's On-Air Personality Susie Castillo, Menounos reveals more about her upbringing and what to expect on her new series. Watch this first on MSN TV:


"Chasing Maria Menounos" premieres March 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.
 

Princess Aslaug brings surprise and intrigue to this scripted drama

By MSN TV Partner Mar 13, 2014 10:17AM
Season 2 of History's "Vikings" is underway. Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) revealed she was carrying Ragnar's (Travis Fimmel) child, sending rippling effects into his kingdom. In this video extra, Sutherland talks more about her character and how filming went the second time around.


"Vikings" airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.
 

"It's not a good day, Mad Max"

By MSN TV Partner Mar 12, 2014 9:56AM

In this "Parenthood" clip, Max (Max Burkholder) wrecks havoc for Sarah (Lauren Graham) and Hank (Ray Romano) when he barges into the studio, interrupting their workflow.


Watch this clip, first on MSN TV:


Parenthood airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
 

The classic game show has been upgraded with newer technology

By MSN TV Partner Mar 3, 2014 11:36AM

Who remembers the celebrity game show, "Win, Lose or Draw"? Disney Channel has recreated a kids version of it, premiering Monday, March 3. (The show will air Mondays through Thursdays).

 

On "Disney's Win, Lose or Draw" Disney Channel and Disney XD stars team up with kid contestants to compete and win prizes in a battle of drawing skills, creativity and wits. Justin Willman hosts the contemporary version of the popular game show, which also features new technology such as motion-control illustration, interactive multi-touch screen displays and other fun challenges.

 

Watch a clip:


 "Disney’' Win, Lose or Draw" premieres Monday, March 3, at 5 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel.