No Train Wreck Here, Just a Million More Viewers

What Everyone Is Talking About

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Britney Spears, raked over the coals by fans and the press alike for a terrible performance in September at the MTV Video Music Awards, no doubt disappointed some who tuned in for her appearance last week on CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." Because she wasn't ... terrible. In the almost three minutes worth of screen time she was given, she delivered her lines competently, if not a bit woodenly, and managed to score a laugh or two.
Abby normal? Britney Spears proved to be ratings gold for CBS
Abby normal? Britney Spears proved to be ratings gold for CBS Credit: Monty Brinton

The character, Abby, appeared to be written as a naïve young woman new to New York City. Working as a receptionist, she develops a crush on Ted when he pays some attention to her. She reacts to him with what we imagine was supposed to be endearing nervousness. Anyone looking for signs of Ms. Spears mental-health difficulties coming through in her character could be tempted to point to her choosing to portray Abby as a sweet-tempered stalker in training; her line readings had an intensity that we're not sure were intended by the writers. Not that they're complaining. The producers no doubt hoped Ms. Spears would draw attention to their show, rumored to be on the bubble. And the stunt casting seemed to have worked. "How I Met Your Mother" earned a season-high rating, with 10 million viewers tuning in to see how she did. That beat the 7.1 million who tuned in to watch her at the MTV VMAs, a performance summed up by conventional wisdom as a "train wreck."

Still, the episode seemed to be missing the show's usual easy flow, as scenes with Ms. Spears and guest star Sarah Chalke (as Abby's boss and Ted's dermatologist) commanded most of the action. The rest of the cast was mainly confined to their usual bar booth, and had nothing else to do but comment on Ted's antics to woo the dermatologist into a date.

But "How I Met Your Mother" was doing pretty all right even before the stunt. The week before, it scored its second highest rating of 9.7 million viewers. Maybe that means CBS will opt to keep Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily and Barney around for another season -- even without the attraction of a pop singer who managed to stay on track.
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