The brightly colored chairs are scattered around the audience of “The How I Met Your Mother.” Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel and Sarah Chalke are sitting in the center of the stage, working on their banter as a live band makes percussive music in the background.
It’s a pretty good gig.
The show has been going strong since it premiered in 2004. And the audience has been getting bigger. The regular viewership has grown to 13 million people per episode, more than double the average audience of the first season. Not bad for a show that doesn’t begin till 10:30 p.m. on most Monday nights.
But who would’ve thought that an unusual, offbeat comedy could make a big splash in a small, quaint beach town in New Jersey?
“HIMYM” isn’t just a jewel to Long Branch — it’s a pride.
Long Branch, a town that is on the edge of the boardwalk at the south end of the Jersey Shore, knows that it is a town with a unique style. No wonder, then, that in August 2007, Mike Pavone, an Emmy award-winning soap opera producer from Vancouver, opened Long Branch’s first complete-service, full-service restaurant, the Bungalow Cafe. Pavone was eager to have a home base for his larger-than-life television shows, “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.”
Pavone, who did not let news of the studio closing get to him, opened the Bungalow Cafe while the actors were still at work on the sets of the two cancelled soap operas. The first production was filmed in July 2007, and the following October, the cast came to Long Branch.
Since that time, Long Branch has continued to expand. As more people were attracted to the friendly people and distinctive atmosphere, the presence of the co-starring actors began to creep in.
On the first anniversary of the debut of “HIMYM,” Ludlow Bradley and Bruce Misuas, who brought their New York movie production company, KLN Productions, to Long Branch to direct episodes of “All My Children,” had to turn away the production staff. Misuas added that it turned out that most of the cast from the soap operas was looking for a place to party on a regular basis.
“We had permission from one of the actors to have a party in the bungalow,” said Misuas.
In addition to the Bungalow Cafe, Ludlow Bradley and Bruce Misuas have opened their Cylon Reef Restaurant in the Verona section of Long Branch. In addition to breakfast, lunch and a burger bar, the restaurant has two bars and two dance floors with live music.
“I went to a wedding here a couple of years ago,” Bradley said. “I met the couple at their wedding reception and they told me that they ate in our restaurant every day at lunch.
“You don’t have to be famous to come to Long Branch,” Bradley added. “We don’t want our restaurants to be known only for an actor coming to work. We want them to be known for their quality and character.
“We want to make Long Branch as famous as Martha Stewart or Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine. That’s where you want to be, or at least near the stars.”
And while Long Branch is mostly known as a place where luminaries come to unwind, it is attracting a new generation of natives with ideas about how to make a name for themselves.
During the peak of the cast party last August, the area was at its busiest, with Long Branch coming out in force to support its neighboring television stars.
“We were overwhelmed with people in Long Branch,” Misuas said. “It was the largest single event we’ve ever hosted. We expected it to be at least half the size of the entire first season. We actually turned away as many people as we welcomed, because it was too much for the people that we had. People just walked in for the festivities. It was unbelievable. At midnight, we had to turn everyone away.”
Perhaps TV is the way to make a name for yourself in Long Branch. But if you’re not a star, you might still try to have a good time.
“We are a second home to some of the most interesting people in the business,” said the actress Heather Tom, who plays Robin Scorpio. “But in Long Branch we are a town where people like to go out. We have no shortage of people who come and sit down and hang out