Country of origin United States
Final episode date 12 May 1993
Theme music composer Lennon–McCartney
Original language(s) English
Narrated by Daniel Stern
|Created by Neal MarlensCarol Black|
Starring Fred SavageDan LauriaAlley MillsOlivia d'AboJason HerveyDanica McKellarJosh Saviano
Opening theme "With a Little Help from My Friends" by Joe Cocker
Theme song With a Little Help from My Friends
Cast Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, Josh Saviano, Jason Hervey, Dan Lauria
the wonder years stars reunited
The Wonder Years is an American television comedy-drama created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black. It ran on ABC from 1988 until 1993. The pilot aired on January 31, 1988, following ABC's coverage of Super Bowl XXII.
- the wonder years stars reunited
- Plot synopsis
- Final episode and epilogue
- Opening Sequence
- First version Pilot
- Second version Seasons one through five
- Third version Season six
- Home video releases
- DVD music replacements
The show achieved a spot in the Nielsen Top 30 for four of its six seasons. TV Guide named the show one of the 20 best of the 1980s. After only six episodes aired, The Wonder Years won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1988. In addition, at age 13, Fred Savage became the youngest actor ever nominated as Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series. The show was also awarded a Peabody Award in 1989, for "pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling." In total, the series won 22 awards and was nominated for 54 more. In 1997, "My Father's Office" was ranked #29 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time, and in the 2009 revised list the pilot episode was ranked #43. In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked The Wonder Years #63 on its list of 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 2017, James Charisma of Paste ranked the show's opening sequence #14 on a list of The 75 Best TV Title Sequences of All Time.
The series was conceived by writers Neal Marlens and Carol Black. They set out to create a family show that would appeal to the baby-boomer generation by setting the series in the late '60s, a time of radical change in America's history. They also wanted the series to tie this setting in to the life of a normal boy growing up during the period. After writing the script for the pilot episode, Marlens and Black began shopping the series to television networks. None of them were interested, except for ABC, with whom Marlens and Black reached an agreement.
Marlens had originally wanted the setting to be his native Huntington, Long Island, where he grew up. Elements were also taken from Black's childhood from the White Oak section of Silver Spring, Maryland. ABC, however, insisted that the location remain nonspecific (the colloquial "Anytown, USA"). However, in Season 3, Episode 3 (Wayne on Wheels), his motor vehicle registration and licensing letter was address to a 90230 zip code, Culver City, California. As the series was filmed in suburban Los Angeles, the setting bore a strong resemblance to the San Fernando Valley.
When they started writing the series, Marlens and Black took a script for a future film that they had been toying with, which featured an off-screen narrator. Black explained, "We liked the concept that you could play with what people think and what they're saying, or how they would like to see themselves as opposed to how the audience is seeing them." They based the show, in part, on their own childhood growing up in the suburbs. Black recalled that "we naturally [took] elements of our experience and [threw] them into the pot. The basic setup, the neighborhood, the era - that's the time and place where we grew up."
The search for the main lead of the show did not take long. Marlens and Black went to five casting directors and interviewed them for recommendations. All five of them recommended Fred Savage, who at the time was famous for his roles as the grandson in The Princess Bride and as Charlie/Marshall in Vice Versa. Marlens and Black, having never heard of Savage, decided to see the rough cut of Vice Versa. Said Marlens, "[We saw] a marvelous actor with a natural quality - which essentially means he has no quality at all except being a kid. It sounds funny, but it's a rare thing to find in a child actor." Marlens and Black took this approach when casting the other kids for the show, looking for natural ability rather than professionalism. According to Marlens, they saw 300 to 400 kids before narrowing it down to 70, "My wife and I made the final choices...each of whom had to be approved by the network." For the choice of Savage's character's main love interest, the choice came down to actress Danica McKellar and her sister, Crystal McKellar. With just days to go before shooting, the producers eventually selected Danica to play Winnie Cooper. However, Mary Buck, the head of casting, noted that, "it was practically a tossup." Crystal McKellar was liked so much by the producers that they eventually created the character of Becky Slater so that they could have her on the show. Danica later reflected on the experience, "I auditioned, like everyone else. They had read lots of girls but hadn't found their 'Winnie' yet, and I was thrilled to be chosen."
At the end of the first season, Marlens and Black departed from the show. Although they never gave a reason for their sudden departure, it may have been due to Black's pregnancy. She hinted at it in an interview in April 1988, saying "We have secret plans to leave Los Angeles before our kids reach the age of cognizance." One challenge for the cast and crew was filming around a child actor, meaning that the show had to obey child labor laws. Savage at the time explained, "You have to get at least three hours of school in every day. So whenever I'm on a break, I go to school. It's really intense because I have to get a lot done in short periods. And it's hard because if they need you back on the set, they pull you away every twenty minutes. If you're writing an essay and suddenly get inspired, you've got to stop and go back to work."
As the show was in the process of wrapping its sixth and final season, a costume designer on the show named Monique Long filed a sexual harassment charge against stars Fred Savage and Jason Hervey. The suit brought a lot of unwanted publicity to the show. In the end, the case was settled out of court, with Savage stating that he was "completely exonerated," adding that it was a "terrible experience."
The Wonder Years wrapped its sixth and final season in May 1993. Its cancellation was partially blamed on conflict between producers and executives at ABC. As Kevin matured, the producers wanted the storylines to mature as well. However, the executives at ABC felt uncomfortable with more explicit content given the time slot, saying, "We felt it was inappropriate to present Kevin's awakening because of the setting in the 1960s, the gentle tone of the series and, most importantly, the 8 p.m. time period." Bob Brush noted that, "When Kevin became 16 and 17, there were really things he needed to get to that we couldn't do at 8 p.m., especially with the kind of venerable cachet that the show had obtained with its audience. We would get notes from the network saying, "You could do this on any show besides The Wonder Years." Other reasons for the show's cancellation were escalating costs and declining ratings. The cast's salary increases, coupled with location shooting (which was due to the producers wanting to reflect Kevin obtaining his driver's license), led to Brush claiming that they were spending $1.2 million an episode. The final episode aired on May 12, 1993. Bob Brush noted that the finale was not what he would have wanted it to be, but because the cast and crew were unsure at the time of filming if the sixth season was going to be the last, he was forced to have the ending be open-ended, until the recording of Daniel Stern's narration. Fans were somewhat disappointed with the ending, in particular the revelation that Kevin and Winnie don't end up as a couple. Brush acknowledged this disappointment, saying, "Some viewers [were] surprised that nothing works out the way your fondest wish would be," and explained, "The message I wanted in there is that that's part of the beauty of life. It's fine to say, 'I'd like everything to be just the way it was when I was 15 and I was happy,' but it seemed more nurturing to me to say that we leave these things behind and we go on to forge new lives for ourselves."
The series depicts the social and family life of a boy in a typical American suburban middle-class family from 1968 to 1973, covering the ages of 12 through 17. Each year in the series takes place exactly 20 years before airing (1988 to 1993).
The show's plot centers on Kevin Arnold, son of Jack and Norma Arnold. Kevin's father holds a management job at NORCOM, a defense contractor, while his mother is a housewife. Kevin also has an older brother, Wayne, and an older sister, Karen. Two of Kevin's friends and neighbors are prominently featured throughout the series: his best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, and his crush-turned-girlfriend Gwendolyn "Winnie" Cooper. Storylines are told through Kevin's reflections as an adult in his mid-30s, voiced by narrator Daniel Stern.
In the pilot episode, Winnie's older brother Brian, whom Kevin admires, is killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. Kevin meets Winnie in a nearby wooded area called Harpers Woods. This unsaid relationship between Winnie and Kevin remains dormant for a long while, with Winnie starting to date a popular 8th grader named Kirk McCray, and Kevin briefly going steady with Becky Slater. After Kevin breaks up with Becky due to his feelings for Winnie, Becky becomes a recurring nuisance for Kevin. Winnie eventually dumps Kirk as well, and Kevin and Winnie share a second kiss at the start of the 1969 summer vacation. Around St. Valentine's Day 1970, Winnie temporarily dates Paul, who has broken up with his girlfriend Carla. Winnie and Kevin start dating each other soon after.
Just before the summer break, Winnie and her family move to a house four miles away. Although Winnie attends a new school, Lincoln Junior High, she and Kevin decide to remain together and maintain a successful long distance relationship. A beautiful new student named Madeline Adams joins Kevin's school and quickly catches Kevin's eye, but it is Winnie who breaks up with Kevin after meeting Roger, a jock at her new school. Neither relationship lasts long, but Winnie and Kevin don't reunite until she is injured in a car crash. After graduating from junior high, Kevin and Winnie both go to McKinley High and Paul attends a prep school. Paul would later transfer to McKinley High and join Kevin and Winnie.
Earlier seasons of the show tended to focus on plots involving events within the Arnold household and Kevin's academic struggles, whereas later seasons focused much more on plots involving dating and Kevin's friends.
Kevin has several brief flings during the summer of 1971 and the 1971-1972 academic year. After Kevin's grandfather gets his driver's license revoked, he sells his car to Kevin for a dollar. Paul transfers to McKinley High after his first semester at prep school when his father runs into financial troubles. Wayne decides to join the army as a result of his inability to do well in school. This gets turned around when Wayne isn't able to get his physical. Winnie and Kevin are reunited when they go on a double date to a school dance and find themselves more attracted to each other than their respective partners. In late 1972, Kevin's older brother Wayne starts working at NORCOM, and dates his co-worker Bonnie, a divorcée with a son, but the relationship does not last. Kevin's father quits NORCOM, and buys a furniture manufacturing business.
Final episode and epilogue
In the series finale double episode, Winnie decides to take a job for the summer of 1973 as a lifeguard at a resort. Kevin, meanwhile, is at his job at his father's furniture factory and calls Winnie, who by all accounts is distant and seems to be enjoying her time away from Kevin. Eventually, Kevin and his father fight and Kevin announces that he is leaving, reasoning that he needs to "find himself." Kevin hops in his car and heads to the resort where Winnie is working, hopeful that she can secure him a job and they can spend the rest of the summer together.
Kevin eventually secures a job at the resort, and plays a round of poker with the in-house band. He wins big, and goes out to search for Winnie to tell her of his good fortune. To his surprise, he sees Winnie engaged in a passionate kiss with another lifeguard.
The next day, Kevin confronts her actions, and they fight. Kevin then plays another round of poker, losing his car in a bet in the process. Desperate, Kevin confronts Winnie and her new beau at the restaurant and ends up punching him in the face. Kevin then leaves the resort on foot.
On a desolate stretch of highway, Kevin decides to begin hitchhiking. He finally gets picked up by an elderly couple and much to his surprise he finds Winnie in the backseat. Winnie was fired over the fight Kevin instigated at the resort. Kevin and Winnie begin to argue and the elderly couple gets fed up and kicks them out of the car. A flash rain storm begins and Kevin and Winnie search for shelter. They find a barn and discuss how much things are changing and the prospects for the future. They make up and kiss passionately. (It is loosely implied that the two lose their virginity with each other.)
The narrator's monologue states
Once upon a time, there was a girl I knew who lived across the street, brown hair, brown eyes. When she smiled, I smiled, when she cried, I cried. Every single thing that ever happened to me that mattered, in some way, had to do with her. That day, Winnie and I promised each other that no matter what, that we will always be together. It was a promise full of passion, truth and wisdom. It was the kind of promise that can only come from the hearts of the very young.
They soon find their way back to their home town and arrive hand-in-hand to a Fourth of July parade. During this parade, the adult Kevin (Daniel Stern) describes the fate of the show's main characters: Kevin makes up with his father, graduates from high school in 1974, and leaves for college, later becoming a writer. Paul studies law at Harvard. Karen, Kevin's sister, gives birth to a son in September 1973. Kevin's mother becomes a businesswoman and corporate board chairwoman. Kevin's father dies in 1975, and Wayne takes over his father's furniture business. Winnie studies art history in Paris while Kevin stays in the United States. Winnie and Kevin end up writing to each other once a week for the next eight years. When Winnie returns to the United States in 1982, Kevin meets her at the airport with his wife and eight-month-old son.
The final sounds, voice-over narration, and dialogue of the episode and series is that of Kevin (voice of Daniel Stern), with children heard in the background:
Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back... with wonder.
A little boy (Stern's real life son) can be heard asking his dad to come out and play catch during a break in the final narration. Kevin's narrative responds, "I'll be right there" as the episode—and series—closes.
In 2011, the finale was ranked #11 on the TV Guide Network special, TV's Most Unforgettable Finales.
Reruns of the show aired in syndication between September 1992 and September 1997. Nick at Nite then reran the show from October 13, 1997 to February 3, 2001. It also reran on The New TNN (January 22, 2001 to September 28, 2001), ABC Family (November 12, 2001 to October 2, 2004), Ion Television (April 2, 2007 to October 4, 2007), and The Hub (October 11, 2010 to August 31, 2012).
In Canada, the show aired on CTS Ontario from September 2010 until September 2, 2011.
In Australia, the show aired on Network Ten between 1989 and 1995, then from March 31, 2012 on ABC1.
In Spain the series initially aired Mondays 9:30pm on TVE2 (now La2) as part of the Monday night Comedy block which also featured Murphy Brown. The series was later promoted to main channel TVE1 where it aired Fridays 9pm. Years later, in the late 90s, commercial station Antena 3TV recovered the series and aired it first in its 2pm comedy hour, later relocating it to a 530pm slot as part of the youth macro-show La Merienda.
Three different versions of the opening were made, each set to the Joe Cocker rendition of With a Little Help from My Friends.
First version (Pilot)
This first version of the opening was very basic: Nothing but a black screen was shown, after the title logo, with each cast member's name appearing in the center one by one. Much like the Arye Gross narration, this version of the opening was only used once when the pilot first aired after Super Bowl XXII.
Second version (Seasons one through five)
This opening now consisted of home movie footage from the pilot, after the title logo was shown, ending with the "Created by" credit. In season five, more footage was added to show how much the cast had aged.
Third version (Season six)
The opening was overhauled completely in this version. Now, it consisted of stock footage and images of various moments throughout 60's and early 70s culture (i.e. John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-in, The Kent State Shootings, The Moon Landing, an anti-war protest.), and was set to a new edit of Cocker's rendition of the song. The final image in this version is of Kevin, Paul, Winnie, and presumably some of their classmates in a group photograph edited to look like it belonged in the time period.
Home video releases
Initially, the first four episodes were released on 2 VHS Tapes by Anchor Bay in 1997, with most of the music intact (a select few songs, however, were re-recordings). In the coming years, fees for licensing music prevented further episodes from being released at that point on VHS. The two volumes that were released on VHS were later released on DVD in 2000. Four episodes of the series were also included in two official "best-of" DVD sets (The Best of The Wonder Years and The Christmas Wonder Years), without much of the original music.
For many years, The Wonder Years remained unreleased on DVD as official season box sets, due to music licensing issues. Because of this issue, The Wonder Years routinely appeared high on the list of TV shows in-demand for a DVD release.
In a blog update on the Netflix website on March 30, 2011, and a press release issued the next day, Netflix stated that they would be adding The Wonder Years to their instant streaming service. The other three 20th Century Fox series noted as part of the deal were added to the Watch Instantly service by April 2, while The Wonder Years remained unavailable. On October 1, 2011, 114 full-length episodes of the series were added to Netflix streaming. The clip show from the end of Season 4, which was released on DVD, has not been included.
On September 26, 2011, it was announced that Amazon Prime's streaming video service would be adding The Wonder Years, describing the series as "available on digital video for the first time", although Netflix added the series ahead of Amazon's release. All 115 episodes (including the clip show) became available to Prime members starting October 6, 2011.
On both digital streaming services, portions of the soundtrack have been replaced. The show's opening theme, Joe Cocker's rendition of The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," has been replaced on Netflix and Amazon with the version of the song that played in the UK and other overseas airings. The majority of the show's soundtrack remains unchanged. Songs such as "Light My Fire" by The Doors and "Foxy Lady" by Jimi Hendrix have been replaced by generic sound-alikes with different lyrics.
On February 11, 2014, StarVista/Time Life announced the upcoming DVD release of the complete series in the second half of the year, noting that they were "painstakingly securing the rights for virtually every song." On June 11, packaging details for complete set were revealed. The packaging consists of a miniature school locker featuring a replica yearbook with signatures from cast members, behind-the-scenes photos and classic show memorabilia. 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 over 15 hours of bonus features on 26 DVDs. Customized Wonder Years magnets are also included. On September 30, 2014, the complete series was released to those that pre-ordered the set through mail order from Time Life/Star Vista. Also a box set for the first four seasons was released as well. October 10, 2014, though was considered the official release date.
On October 7, 2014, Star Vista released Season One on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. Season Two was released on February 3, 2015. Season Three was released on May 26, 2015. Season Four was released on January 12, 2016. Season Five was released on May 24, 2016. Season Six was released on September 27, 2016.
On October 6, 2015, Star Vista released The Wonder Years- The Complete Series: Collectors Box set and The Wonder Years- The Complete Series DVD collections in a wide general retail release.
On May 9, 2016, Fabulous Films released The Wonder Years - The Deluxe Edition on 26 DVDs in the UK. It is the first release to contain every episode in its original transmission presentation. The set includes over 23 hours of bonus material and includes every song performed by the original artist.
DVD music replacements
The Time Life DVD releases include approximately 96% of the original music soundtrack (including the opening theme song, "With a Little Help From My Friends", as originally sung by Joe Cocker). However, there were 15 exceptions, in most instances featuring generic studio replacement music in place of the original song, while on a couple of occasions the original soundtrack song was replaced with another version of the same tune. None of the necessary music replacements resulted in footage from the episodes being removed.
In the episode "The Phone Call", the "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" was replaced with a song called "Star Crossed Lovers", which has been used in many other TV shows and movies, including The Brady Bunch. In "Dance With Me", Joe Cocker's cover of "The Letter" was replaced with the original version by The Box Tops, while the Herman's Hermits version of "There's a Kind of Hush" was replaced with a rerecording by the Craggy Blue Project. The episode "Heart of Darkness" had two replacements: "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors was replaced with "Children of the Night", while Richie Havens' cover of The Beatles' song "Here Comes the Sun" was replaced by "Train to Nowhere". In the episode "Whose Woods Are These?", the Blood, Sweat & Tears recording entitled "Variations on a Theme By Erik Satie (1st and 2nd Movements)" (adapted from Satie's "Third Gymnopédies") was replaced with "Le Suenne Fite".
The episode "How I Am Spending My Summer Vacation" replaced the Doors' "Light My Fire" with "Love's on Fire", while the episode "Summer Song" replaced Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel" with a rerecording by former BS&T frontman David Clayton Thomas. In "Family Car", Neil Young's "Long May You Run" was replaced with "Keep Your Motor Running". In "Wayne on Wheels", "Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" was again replaced by "Star Crossed Lovers". In the episode "The Treehouse", Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" was replaced with "Call the Whole Thing Off". In the episode "Little Debbie", "Tammy" by Liberace was replaced with a song called "Sammy". "Clip Show" contains the scene from "Heart of Darkness" in which "Here Comes the Sun" is replaced with "Train to Nowhere". The episode "Kevin Delivers" dropped Blood, Sweat & Tears' "You've Made Me So Very Happy" with a rerecording by David Clayton Thomas. In the episode "Alice in Autoland", Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" was replaced with a rerecording by him. In the final episode "Independence Day", the Ennio Morricone song "Brothers" from the 1986 motion picture The Mission, which was played over the pivotal barn scene featuring Kevin and Winnie's last kiss, was replaced with the generic tune "Pastorale" (for this instance alone, the same replacement was used in the 1998 The Best of The Wonder Years DVD release).
Also, not a music change per se, but the Daniel Stern redub of the pilot is used, with the standard opening sequence.
Other than the above music changes, all other music is intact and over 100 episodes are completely unaffected.
The UK DVD release from Fabulous Films has no replaced music and is presented in its complete original format. This is the first release ever to do so.
The official soundtrack was released in 1988 by Atlantic/WEA and contains a total of 13 tracks, featuring Joe Cocker's cover of The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends", which is the show's theme song.
After the series' original run was over, Laserlight Digital released a 5-disc compilation box set under the title Music from 'The Wonder Years in 1994. This is the same company that later released the only two DVDs for the series, The Best of The Wonder Years and The Christmas Wonder Years. The disc included 40 oldies favorites and 5 original songs (each is repeated twice in the set) written exclusively for the series by W. G. Snuffy Walden.
In 2014, Time Life released a new soundtrack for the show which accompanies deluxe versions of their complete series DVD set. The CD is not available for purchase separately from the DVD box set, however.
In 1990 the book The Wonder Years - Growing up in the Sixties by Edward Gross was published by Pioneer Books (ISBN 1-55698-258-5). It contains information about the creation and production of the show, interviews with cast and crew, and an extensive episode guide (up to the middle of the 4th season when the book was published). While long out of print and hard to find, the author gave permission to a fan website to publish the book online for free in its entirety.