It’s a Wonderful Life..?

by Susie Hodgson

It’s hard to believe, but the classic TV show The Wonder Years has been off the air for more than 25 years. Millions of people watched little Kevin Arnold grow up before their eyes from 1988 to 1993, but the interesting part is that the TV show was set in the tumultuous 1960s. If Kevin Arnold were a real person, he’d be 63 today -- and he’d probably live in Burbank! After all, the house he grew up in was right here.

The house exteriors were filmed at two different houses located in the 500 block of Burbank’s own University Avenue. House interiors were filmed at a home on Tufts, and starring as Kevin’s school was really Burbank landmark Burroughs High School.

The Wonder Years was conceived by married writers Carol Black and Neal Marlens, who had previously worked on Growing Pains. The very first Wonder Years was shown immediately after the 1988 Superbowl and people loved it. After only six episodes, it was already nominated for Emmys. In all, the show would go on to win 22 awards and be nominated for another 54 more.

Clearly part of the show’s success was its star, Fred Savage. He was a talented young actor who was too cute for words. He had been in the classic film The Princess Bride and when show originators Black and Marlens saw him, they knew he was Kevin Arnold. Marlens later said, “It was a no-brainer.”

Surprisingly, Black and Marlens left the show after only 18 episodes, seemingly abruptly and cloaked in secrecy. To this day, the couple will not say why except that it was for “personal reasons” (can you say non-disclosure agreement?! Just a guess.) Cast and crew were shocked and frightened, not knowing if the show could make it without them. Of course it did – brilliantly.

The Wonder Years was a huge success. You may not be able to see it today, but back when it premiered, it was a new, exciting experience. The show featured a smart, warm narrator, voiced by comedic actor Daniel Stern as a grown-up Kevin looking back. They played real rock ‘n roll songs of the era – the actual songs, not lousy copies. The show was targeted to the huge baby boomer population who were about the same age as Kevin Arnold in 1968. And the Arnold family looked and acted like a lot of baby boomers’ own families – the good and the bad. This was no saccharine sweet Leave It to Beaver.

Some say that The Wonder Years ended too quickly. The cast was never told when they filmed the finale and the narrator’s part, where he wraps up the whole show giving away what ever happened to people, was written (for the first time ever) way after filming. (Sorry but no, Kevin never marries Winnie.) Did you see that last episode? Many feel it was exceptionally poignant. Narrator Daniel Stern still tears up thinking about it. At the very end, you can hear grown-up Kevin’s own son in the background saying, “Hey Dad, come outside and play ball with me!” For the voice of the son, the show used Stern’s own son, Henry.

One last thing: You can say The Wonder Years was ahead of its time. In the final season, the show fired its costume designer, who later filed a lawsuit accusing Fred Savage (Kevin) and Jason Hervey (Wayne) of sexual harassment. Although ABC and the actors vehemently denied the charges, the network settled the suit. Actress Alley Mills (Mom) still blames that lawsuit for the sudden ending of the show.

It’s a wonderful life indeed!

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