25 Surprising Facts About The Wonder Years

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Here are some things you might not have known about the award-winning—and much-beloved—1960s-set coming-of-age tale, which made its debut 30 years ago today.

1. THE BASIC CONCEPT BEGAN AS A FILM SCRIPT.

“We played around with writing a screenplay that used narration as a device,” series co-creator Carol Black told New York magazine in 1989. “We just started to think that there was a lot of potential fun in that ‘cause you can really play with the contrast between the narrator’s point of view and what the characters are doing. And you can go inside their head and expose what they’re really thinking when they’re saying something different … And then we just sort of jumped from there to thinking that effect is accentuated when you have an adult narrator looking back on childhood.” Black created the series with her husband, Neal Marlens; the couple had previously worked on Growing Pains.

2. THE SERIES WAS INSPIRED BY A CHRISTMAS STORY.

From the coming-of-age theme to the use of narration, A Christmas Story inspired the spirit of The Wonder Years. Peter “Ralphie” Billingsley even appeared in the series's final two episodes as one of Kevin’s roommates.

3. ITS LACK OF LAUGH TRACK AND SINGLE CAMERA SETUP WERE REVOLUTIONARY.

The Wonder Years set itself apart from other shows of its time, production-wise, with its single camera setup, use of a narrator, and complete lack of laugh track. “The Wonder Years [showed the television industry] that it’s OK to create a show like that—to take out the laugh track, to try different camera styles—to take a risk,” Josh Saviano, who played Paul Pfeiffer, told Salon in 2013.

4. FRED SAVAGE WAS THE OBVIOUS CHOICE FOR KEVIN.


Getty Images

Casting kids is never an easy task. To help them in finding their lead actor, Marlens and Black interviewed five casting directors for recommendations. All five of them suggested Fred Savage, who at that point was best known for his role in The Princess Bride.

“By the time we actually settled on a casting director, we had already resolved that we should see Fred,” Marlens told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988. “Knowing nothing about him, we arranged to screen some unedited footage of a film he was making at the time, Vice Versa … [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. It’s the same thing we looked for and discovered in Josh Saviano and Danica McKellar.”

5. THE SHOW IS SET IN ANYTOWN, USA.

Though no specific location is ever given for Kevin Arnold’s hometown, that’s not the doing of the series’s creators. Neal Marlens wanted to set The Wonder Years in Huntington, Long Island—his hometown—and additional elements were also pulled from Black’s hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland. But it was at ABC’s insistence that no city or state was ever mentioned. Still, many eagle-eyed watchers have combed through the series for clues—like Jack Arnold’s license plate and Wayne’s driver’s license—that place the show in California, where it was filmed.

6. THE WONDER YEARS PREMIERED AFTER THE SUPER BOWL.

After more than 80 million viewers tuned in to see the Washington Redskins crush the Denver Broncos (final score: 42 to 10) on January 31, 1988, they were treated to the series’s premiere—which Marlens called “a bit of Americana after the quintessential example of Americana.”

7. IT WON ITS FIRST EMMY AFTER JUST SIX EPISODES.

Though it wasn’t an immediate ratings bonanza, The Wonder Years was a critical smash from the get-go. On August 28—with only six episodes screened—Marlens and Black took home the 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.

8. FRED SAVAGE BECAME THE YOUNGEST LEAD ACTOR EMMY NOMINEE.

Fred Savage and Danica McKellar in 'The Wonder Years'
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In 1989, at the age of 13, Savage became the youngest actor to be nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category. He was nominated again in 1990.

9. DANICA MCKELLAR’S TOUGHEST COMPETITION WAS HER SISTER.

When it came down to casting the role of dream girl Winnie Cooper, there were two final contenders: Danica McKellar and her sister, Crystal. “It was practically a tossup,” casting director Mary Buck told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. After choosing Danica for the role, Crystal was hired for the recurring role of Becky Slater, Winnie’s one-time rival for Kevin’s affections.

10. KEVIN AND WINNIE’S FIRST KISS WAS THE REAL THING.

In the series’s premiere episode, Kevin and Winnie share an awkward first kiss, a coming-of-age ritual neither of the young actors had yet to engage in in real life. “The one good thing about getting your first kiss on camera is that you know for sure it’s going to happen,” McKellar said in 2014. For his part, Savage called it terrifying. “We were both really scared and nervous and—and—didn't know what was going to happen or … if we were going to do it right.”

11. A MUTUAL CRUSH WAS INEVITABLE.

Though they swear the relationship eventually morphed into a brother-sister sort of bond, both Savage and McKellar admitted to having mutual crushes in People. “I was in love with her for the same reasons every other boy fell in love with her,” Savage said. “You won't meet a sweeter, nicer girl—and she's gorgeous.”

“In the beginning we had a mutual crush,” added McKellar. “Then things went into the teasing stuff and then into a more comfortable, brother-sister thing.”

12. IT WAS DAN LAURIA’S SUGGESTION THAT JACK BE A VET.

Dan Lauria and Alley Mills in 'The Wonder Years'
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

“I really didn’t contribute that much, but the one thing I did contribute to the character is that when we were shooting the pilot I said to Neal, ‘Look, I’m a vet. I’m a Vietnam veteran and a Marine, and I think if the story is that I’m a vet, that’d fit the character,’” Dan Lauria recalled to Paste. “Before we even finish the pilot, he said, ‘Well, if we go, Dan, we’re going to make you a Korean War vet to fit the frame.’ And so they did, and it paid off. There were a number of episodes where it was mentioned that I was a veteran and when my daughter left for college I gave her my old duffle bag from the service. We always had the Vietnam War in the background on the TV at the dinner table. So there were actual news clips.”

13. SOME OF KEVIN AND WINNIE’S DIALOGUE WAS LIFTED FROM REAL LIFE.

“Kevin and Winnie’s relationship was, in some ways, defined by my friendship with Fred and some of the things that we would say,” McKellar told Collider. “The writers would actually take lines from things that we were saying to each other, off camera, and put it into the script. There was this whole episode dedicated to, ‘Do you like him, or do you like him, like him?’ That was an expression that he and I used when we were talking about some guy that I had a crush on, in real life. And then, it showed up in a script, a few weeks later. There were a lot of blurred lines.”

14. A GROWTH SPURT CAUSED WINNIE AND KEVIN’S BREAKUP.

Kevin and Winnie’s on-again, off-again romance was one of the series’s key storylines. But on at least one occasion—between the show’s third and fourth seasons—the breakup was more of a practical decision when a growth spurt saw McKellar standing much taller than her sub-five-foot onscreen beau. The couple was kept apart just long enough for Savage to catch up to his co-star’s height.

15. JASON HERVEY’S BROTHER WAS THE REAL WAYNE ARNOLD.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

“There were so many things that I borrowed from our real life experiences,” Hervey told Uproxx of his brother, Scott. “I’ll give you an example: Juliette Lewis was my girlfriend on the show at the time, and it was the driver’s license episode. We took Fred—I mean, Kevin—to the mall because my mom made us, and I dropped him off at the absolute, absolute furthest end of the mall parking lot and I said to him, ‘Well, technically, this is the mall.’ And when I picked him up, of course, he was already flirting with this girl, and sure enough Wayne pulls up and I tell him to get in the car, and then every time he went to reach for the door, I kept jerking it forward. And obviously, the first day of 7th grade, my brother did that to me in real life, and just embarrassed the hell out of me.”

16. GROWING UP WAS PART OF THE SHOW’S DEMISE.

The Wonder Years was a show about growing up, which is partially what led to its wrapping production after six seasons. “There has always been a question of just how long the wonder years last,” executive producer Bob Brush told the Los Angeles Times in 1993, following the series’s finale. “As the kids were developing and getting older, there were of course new stories to tell, but the tension and constraints of the deadline of the concept of the wonder years were beginning to press on us … When [Fred Savage] 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.'”

17. THE SERIES ENLISTED THE SOPRANOS CREATOR DAVID CHASE’S HELP.

In an effort to breathe a more mature life into the series, producer Ken Topolsky commissioned Sopranos creator David Chase to write a script. “When it’s a suburban kid who has a pretty good life and he’s complaining about mom not letting him do something, you just want to smack him,” Topolowsky told The Wall Street Journal. “That’s when we felt that Kevin’s wonder years were over.” Though he calls Chase’s script “phenomenal” and “one of the best,” its storyline—which included hard drug use—would have been too big a leap for the family-friendly series.

18. DANIEL STERN WASN’T THE ORIGINAL NARRATOR.

Though Daniel Stern’s voice is the adult Kevin Arnold we all know and love, it was Arye Gross who narrated the original pilot. Eventually, the series premiere was re-recorded with Stern.

19. MARILYN MANSON WAS NOT PAUL PFEIFFER.

It’s one of those Internet rumors that never seems to die. But somehow, somewhere, someone decided that Josh Saviano, the actor who played Kevin’s BFF Paul Pfeiffer, was in fact Marilyn Manson. Which is simply not true. Though that hasn’t stopped the shock rocker from getting in on the fun. “I met [Marilyn Manson] once,” Savage told ABC News. “He came up to me, and he goes, ‘You know, we worked together.’ I was like, ‘I do. I do know that.’”

20. BUT PAUL PFEIFFER REALLY DID BECOME A LAWYER.

In the series finale, Kevin shares that Paul attended Harvard and became a lawyer. Which isn’t too far off base. In reality, Josh Saviano attended Yale and became a lawyer.

21. FANS WERE DISAPPOINTED THAT KEVIN AND WINNIE DIDN’T END UP TOGETHER.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Executive producer Bob Brush knew that fans of the series wouldn’t be happy that it didn’t end with Kevin and Winnie’s happily ever after. “Some viewers will be surprised that nothing works out the way your fondest wish would be,” Brush told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”

22. THE LITTLE BOY’S VOICE IN THE FINALE IS DANIEL STERN’S SON.

As the series concludes, the voice of Kevin’s little boy is heard asking his dad to come outside and play catch. The voice is Stern’s son.

23. THE SERIES GAVE A BOOST TO MANY YOUNG ACTORS’ CAREERS.

Juliette Lewis, Jim Caviezel, Alicia Silverstone, Giovanni Ribisi, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, David Schwimmer, Carla Gugino, and John Corbett (then known as Jack) are just a few of the actors who found some of their earliest roles on The Wonder Years. Even Robin Thicke got in on the action, as a young man doing his teenaged best to pick up a girl.

24. JACK ARNOLD DATED MAGGIE SEAVER.

Before The Wonder Years, Marlens and Black had created Growing Pains. Which is how Dan Lauria heard about the role of Jack Arnold. “I had done a part on Growing Pains, and I was going out with Joanna Kerns [who played mom Maggie Seaver on the show] at the time, so I heard about it through her,” Lauria told Paste. “My agent couldn’t get me in, and Joanna said, ‘Well, why don’t you call Neal? He likes you, you guys got along.’ ‘Cause we both grew up on Long Island, so we would tease each other [about] which school was better at sports. And I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that, it’s so unprofessional,’ and Joanna went in and actually called Neal, and she came out and said, ‘Neal said be there tomorrow at 10 o’clock. He thinks you’re perfect.’”

25. FRED SAVAGE WILL ALWAYS BE KEVIN ARNOLD.

Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, and Josh Saviano in 'The Wonder Years'
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Though he has made the transition from actor to producer and director of shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Party Down, Savage told GQ that “The persona of The Wonder Years is something that's going to be with me forever. And I'm happy for that. It's nothing that I'd ever shy away from, and it makes me feel so good that it's something people still remember and talk about it and think of it so fondly. I think now I've established myself as a director, but starting out, I'd be foolish to think that every opportunity that came after The Wonder Years didn't stem from The Wonder Years. So I owe so much of everything to that show.”

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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