The idea of a web series featuring Neil Patrick Harris and puppets seems like such an obvious thing the world needs, it’s a little shocking no one’s come up with it until now. Produced with the Jim Henson Company’s “Henson Alternative” division, Neil’s Puppet Dreams premieres today on the Nerdist’s YouTube channel. While upcoming episodes promise drag queens, puppet sex, and a surprising amount of nudity — this ain’t a family webseries — the first episode features a simple fear of falling and a vividly illustrative song penned by co-creator and producer Janet Varney. You can watch the first episode below, and then check out my interview with Harris about how this all came about, the powerful pull puppets have on his life, and, yes, whether How I Met Your Mother is returning for a ninth season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKY: So my first question is very basic. Do you actually dream in puppet?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Um. Ish? Is that an answer?
That’s an answer!
I’m infatuated with puppets. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to produce content involving puppets, and I’m thrilled at the end result.
How did this happen? Did you come to Nerdist with the idea?
Chris [Hardwick at Nerdist] came to me. He was looking for content for his [YouTube] channel and he sent me an email asking if I’d be interested in doing a show that was involving a collaboration with the Jim Henson puppets. And that’s kind of all you need to say to me.
He knew the password.
I’m a wild fan of Brian [Henson]. Jim Henson was the only piece of fan mail I ever wrote when I was a little kid. I’m a nerdy, geeky fan of Labyrinth and Dark Crystal. I collect puppet stuff. I have a puppet workshop in my garage. I was looking for any opportunity to be able to get very creatively involved in that world.
This being on the Internet actually worked out perfectly, because he gave us this kind of free reign to come up with anything we wanted. We met all together in a conference room at the Henson Studios and batted around ideas and came up with this concept of dreams, which allowed for A) kind of anywhere you wanted to go, and B) it could be as highbrow or lowbrow or high-tech or low-tech as it needed to be because it was a dream. So it forgave a lot. We can just say in a dream that this cardboard box is a spaceship. Thankfully, our production values are higher than that. We filmed them all in two and a half days.
You may be the first person I’ve encountered who has a puppet workshop in his garage.
Not a euphemism, by the way.
So did you sort of work at all on designing any of the puppets or putting them together?
No, we were given access to the Jim Henson Alternative Miscreant Puppets which were the same, I think, 40 or 50 puppets that they used for Puppet Up and Stuffed & Unstrung, their sort of improv, darker world. As we created characters, we’d look at images of what was available to us, and sort of figure out what was the most appropriate one.
Since it involves puppets, some people may think this is overtly family friendly, but I gather the Henson Alternative puppets is more of a PG-13 experience.
Yeah, I would say PG-13, that’s a good call. I’ve always treated puppets with as much respect as possible. I’ve never thought of them as just for children’s parties, which I guess is the same way I feel about magic. A lot of people think magic is just for little kids at birthday parties, but I think that the puppeteers and the creators deserve more credit than that. So we’re not trying to be intentionally blue, but I just think the Internet audience that we’re hoping responds to something like this in that same, you know, Dr. Horrible world.
Did you always plan to have your partner David Burtka be part of the project?
Yeah, when Chris pitched it to me, he thought that Janet Varney and David Burtka should both be producers in it, because we all have a similar love for this stuff. So David has been actively involved both onscreen, but mostly off screen. He did a lot of the executive producing end of things – scheduling and script writing and organizing everything.
That ends up being the biggest job of all. Everyone is doing this for almost no money because they love it. But that also means that they have other things in their lives that they have to do as well. So the two and a half days of shooting doesn’t mean that it took us a week to make all of these. It took a lot longer in the front end, and a lot of credit goes to David and to Janet for that.
Before we wrap up, I’ve got to ask the inevitable question about whether this is the final season of How I Met Your Mother or not.
I’m dying to know that answer myself. I personally am very hopeful that we get to do another season. Everyone, creatively, feels like a season 9 would be appropriate as the sort of farewell season. I know that [showrunners] Carter [Bays] and Craig [Thomas] have a plan of attack. No one wants it to go to 10, 11, 12 seasons and just outstay our welcome, but I know that their season 9 plan is strong. So it’s really in the financiers hands, to see if they can make it work for everybody. Because our contract ended at [season] 8. We’ll see. I’m hopeful. It’s a great gig, I’d love to keep doing it.
BONUS VIDEO: Watch a preview of the full season of Neil’s Puppet Dreams below:
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