The Wonder Years aired on ABC from January 31, 1988 to May 12, 1993 in six seasons. This TV series is set in late 1960s/early 1970s in a non-specific town setting from the point-of-view of the young Kevin Arnold, played by Fred Savage, with his narration acted by Daniel Stern. This groundbreaking drama-comedy series found great success with the “baby boomer” audience and won several awards including multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe, and even a Peabody.
A DVD set of the complete series is set for release October 10 exclusively from StarVista Entertainment/Time Life. The set includes a miniature school locker featuring a replica yearbook with signatures from cast members, behind-the-scenes photos and classic show memorabilia, including Wonder Years magnets. Also included are two notebooks similar to those carried by the two lead characters, each featuring detailed episode information, production photos, all 115 episodes plus more than 15 hours of bonus features on 26 DVDs.
Just as the new DVD set is to be released, stars Danica McKellar, Olivia d’Abo, and Alley Mills shared their thoughts and nostalgic insights at a press conference. They discussed respective roles as Gwendolyn “Winnie” Cooper, Karen Arnold, and Norma Arnold. Here’s what they had to say.
Passage of time has colored your perspective of your personal experience with the show and the impact of the show. How it might have colored that?
Alley Mills: Well, I would say that yes, there’s no question that the time passage from the end of the show until now we’re in a different world to be honest with you than we were 20 years ago and we were in the different world when the show started like exactly what you’re saying, it’s a really good question. I love that question. I personally am very worried about the world. I worry about my grand children. It doesn’t do any good actually worry, but my heart is heavy for what they are facing. I wish I felt like it was a better world in some ways, there’s a lot more information and that’s really great and they’re incredibly smart, my grand children, and that’s great, but when I look at the media, the thing that I missed about the period of time that The Wonder Years was lucky enough to land in was we could actually have a little morality play for half an hour on network television.
They even put it on after the Super Bowl, the pilot, which was incredible for a show that was so out of the box. This was not normal. No one had ever seen the comedy like this before. For Brandon at ABC to put it after the Super Bowl was a very bold move on his part. It made me really happy that Time Life put money behind putting these DVDs out right now because a show like this… I don’t know if a network would pick it up which breaks my heart… like the things that they’ve got not only on network television, but all the cable shows and Showtime and everything. Some of them were smart but boy, are they mostly cynical and not things that I really want my grandchildren to be watching and The Wonder Years was a great thing. It wasn’t sentimental and it wasn’t sappy and it wasn’t stupid. It was smart, but deep. It was funny, but moving.
You learned something from every week about human nature and human life which was really rare. The longer we get away from it like you said, which I think is a fantastic question. For me, the more it packs, it still packs its punch and I just really hope that a whole new generation of kids will be encouraged to watch it with their parents. That’s the other thing.
What on earth can you watch with your parents? My kids always say, “Want to watch this with me grandma,” and look at them like, “No. I can’t,” I want to do things with them. I go to the zoo with them and I’ll read with them. I don’t want to watch TV with them, what they watch. I don’t like it.
It’s so rare to have a show and I don’t know what it would be today. I can’t think of one that you could watch with your parents or your grandparents. That’s the major thing about the time passage and you’re right that even then when we were doing the show, it was probably years before or actually ‘68. Yeah, at 80 almost. It was a 20-year thing back then.
Olivia d’Abo: You know what? I think that Alley answered the question just beautifully and really succinctly. I think there’s this disarming quality that the show has whether you followed it since the very first episode where Winnie’s brother dies and just that pilot episode… I don’t think it could have been conveyed in a more brilliant way, but I think again, the word disarming and nostalgic just comes to mind.
I think even if you’re so young that you don’t quite know what that means. It’s something that you feel. It’s this role of immediate experience that you have when you watch this episode and I was really so profoundly affected recently through watching about 12 of the episodes that started back just to recap before our reunion and I was just amazed at the consistency of all these characters and how they grew and they blossom through each and every year that we covered.
Notably, there was very little that was left out. I think that we got all the great aspects, the positive and the negative aspects that happened during the duration of that time from the 60s into the 70s and what transpired with the country. It’s a history lesson to me as an actress, I can sit there and put the show on and teach my 18-year old, “Look, this is the way America used to be and this is something to be very, very proud of. Just look at this world with electricity and what was going on politically and what was going on socially and how the genesis of so many things that were born out of that time. I think they were documented brilliantly on the show.”
It’s almost like the way Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a history lesson for young kids. I feel comparatively for television, The Wonder Years is a history lesson for young people in television. I am very, very proud of that and as an actor, I feel just incredibly honored to have been part of that because it’s a huge contribution.
Alley Mills: Here, I just want to add one thing …Olivia has just mentioned StarVista. I just wanted to say one thing because…the reason that we couldn’t have DVDs until now, the reason has been this 20-year of passage just because the music in the show is so important and in that role and phenomenal.
Star Vista was the only company that came up with doing these DVDs with that music in it which we are so incredibly indebted to them for it was very expensive. We did not secure the rest of the music, I don’t know why ABC didn’t do that but they didn’t. That’s why we haven’t had DVDs and why this generation wasn’t able to access them. I just wanted to say that and thanks to them because of them, we are able to have this roll out and somebody was asking a question of what would we get in the set and everything.
That’s the major reason that it’s been so incredibly expensive to do the DVDs and the cast and everybody is just so incredibly grateful that they’re doing this. I just wanted to add that at the end.
The show has been several years at the top of the list of the shows that people want to see on DVD. To what do you attribute the ongoing popularity of the show? Have you watched it over the years? If so, how does it hold up for each of you as a television show?
Danica McKellar: I haven’t watched it in a while to be honest. I haven’t watched the full episode although I did watch the first kiss recently because we had the outtakes for the first kiss from the pilot and Fred and I had to give commentary on it…Why did the show make such a splash? Why did it resonate so much in people? Why does it still matter? I think it’s because this was, from my perspective, the first show that really honored the strength and the emotions that kids have at such a young age where most TV shows up until that point were all about parents and the kids were there too.
This is the first show that had the narration. You’ve got inside the mind and a heart of the small child and I don’t think that it had been done yet and we all when we’re little have huge emotions and the world doesn’t really honor them in the same way that they honor adult’s feelings because – they’re just kids.
You’re not in control of your own lives yet. You can’t make your own decisions and, “Oh, it’s puppy love. Oh, it’s this. Oh, it’s that. Come on, buck up or whatever.” Well, we all have memories of those painful early years and elation of those early years, the huge feeling, the Christmas morning is never the same from adults as it is to a child. The huge strong emotions and the show honored them and made them say, “Yes, this is valid; this is real; this happened.”
So we all get to go back and say, “Oh, yes. I am validated.” As a child, I had these strong feelings and now I see that it mattered. I don’t think any other show had done that before and we got to be a part of something that was ground breaking and gave just a new perspective for people on their own childhood.
I think that’s why, for kids watching it, it mattered. For adults watching it, it mattered because we’ve all been…
Olivia d’Abo: We’re all there.
Alley Mills: I have one other answer, I totally agree with Danica about that and I think the fact that the format was in one half hour. A story was told that would make you laugh and at the end,…I have watched it with my grandchildren recently,…make you cry, is another phenomenon that I think is why the show was so successful like a little more morality tale almost…every single week that again, transcended to break barriers somehow that could affect everybody as Danica just said young and old, but also all walks of life were moved by this.
People that didn’t even speak English watched it in different language. I think that’s another reason that it does hold up. My grand children of course like things that change every 15 seconds, “Boom, boom, boom, boom,” on their little iPads and stuff, but they love the show. That moved me.
Olivia d’Abo: I think that’s also a really interesting point, Alley in terms of you see that your grand kids they like stuff that changes every… however quickly because their generation is so used to that and I think that the positive thing about that generation now watching this show is that we can start to… knowing that they would love the show as everybody else does; it can kind of rewire their mind a little bit to have the kind of concentration to actually get through an actual scene and be moved by it, which is very rare.
I think in the modern day world, that’s the thing that I think is really exciting and poignant and positive about it being released to this new generation of kids.
Alley Mills: It’s almost like… I have taken the kids to the theater and they’re trapped. They sit there like, “Huh.” They didn’t know that they could concentrate…but I think that it might have that effect on this new generation to just experience the tranquility of an actual human story, which is getting lost.
This question is for Danica. This is weird. I’d read that you and your sister were both auditioning for the role Winnie Cooper. Is that true? If so, what was that like?
Danica McKellar: Yeah. Actually, in fact, we didn’t just both audition for the character of Winnie Cooper. It came down to the two of us and I still remember we kept going on and there were fewer and fewer girls in the room and then we’d go back in again and there were three of us, and then, there was just the two of us.
They told my mom, “Look, we’re going to cast Danica because she’s a little older and there’s a kiss in it.” I don’t know, but we love Crystal so much we want to write a part for her if this goes to series. The other thing is that Winnie Cooper was not supposed to be a series regular. We didn’t know that we are competing for a life changing role. It was just a guest spot on the pilot.
That was helpful because then, it wasn’t such a big deal. It was just a one-time guest role. As it turned out, mid-way through shooting the pilot, they asked if I would sign the series contract, which is really exciting. By then, Crystal knew that they were going to be writing a part for her and they did. She ended up doing nine episodes. She played Becky Slater and it all worked out. She’s a lawyer now, no longer acting, and I am so it all worked out. She’s making all the money.
Danica, you mentioned a lot of the universal themes and Kevin and Winnie taught so many of us about love, what have you learned from their relationship that helped you in your own relationships and how would you describe those relationship?
Danica McKellar: What did I learned about love from Kevin? Well, I remember thinking that when I had my first kiss … Yes. I learned how to kiss. I learned that things aren’t straight forward. Things aren’t black and white. I am remembering in the second episode called “Swingers” and Kevin and Winnie go back to the same place where they had their first kiss but they don’t kiss, they set down and swing and they act like little kids again and he said that maybe. I remember just thinking about progress not being straight lined and sometimes, it’s … I don’t remember the quote. We can probably look at it, but it’s a great quote.
To be honest, I haven’t even seen this episode for probably 25 years but I still remember this moment of progress doesn’t always move forward sometimes we have to swing back and forth a little bit. That’s a beautiful and important message that relationships are not straight forward. They’re not black and white and that sometimes things don’t always going in a straight line. And that’s okay.
Love can be very confusing. The show was told from the point of view of Kevin though. So I also learned that women are fickle and not to be understood, which I thought was a little strange since to me, we make perfect sense…
Kevin and Winnie’s relationship was in some ways defined by my friendship with Fred and some of the things that we would say. The writers would actually take lines from things that we were saying to each other off camera and put into the script. There’s this whole episode dedicated to, “Do you like him?” or “Do you like him like him?”
That was the expression that he and I used when we’re talking about some guy that I had a crush on in real life and then, it showed up on the script a few weeks later. There was a lot of blurred lines and… oh, the other interesting thing is I broke up with my first boyfriend in real life about a week before we shot the episode where I have to break up with Kevin on the show. It was fascinating how many parallels there were and real life informing TV, TV informing real life.
I am very, very excited to finally get to see this out in DVD, but my question is the price for the DVD is like $250, I believe which could potentially put it on the higher end of someone’s scale of being able to afford it. If you just wanted the TV episodes, I know they stream on Netflix. Can you talk a little bit about what we get in this DVD experience? There’s going to be great behind the scenes and maybe some footage of interviews. Can you talk a little bit about the whole package?
Olivia d’Abo: 23 hours of bonus features on 26 of the DVDs.
Alley Mills: Honestly, speaking from my point of view, other than the things that you get, we’re now sitting here right now signing the yearbooks which are filled with all kinds of memorabilia and stuff. These interviews I think are going to be, for fans of the show, really a trip. It was so great to see everybody again.
I haven’t seen some of the cast members for I think 16 years. Since then we’ve seen each other once, but what’s happened to their lives and their experiences of the show behind the scenes? They’ve interviewed our writers, our producers, Skip Cook who was everybody’s favorite person on the crew. There’s just, I think that of all the things is going to be the richest thing for people to see because it’s been amazing for me to see what I’ve been able to see so far.
The Wonder Years complete series DVD set comes out October 10, 2014.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00L9OPFTC,6305053987]