12 Fun Facts About 'The Wonder Years'

This week 'The Wonder Years' (finally) gets released on DVD. Let's celebrate with these fun facts about how this beloved show came to be!
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Paulette Cohn
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This week 'The Wonder Years' (finally) gets released on DVD. Let's celebrate with these fun facts about how this beloved show came to be!

With this week's release of The Wonder Years for the very first time on DVD, fans of the seminal '60s-set series will finally have a chance to revisit all the nostalgic moments captured onscreen by series creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black. Who doesn't remember that sweet first kiss between Kevin (Fred Savage) and Winnie (Danica McKellar)? The sibling rivalry between Kevin and Wayne (Jason Hervey)? Oh the pangs of tween to teen angst!

The Wonder Years Photo

Jason Hervey, Dan Lauria, Olivia d'Abo, Alley Mills, and Fred Savage. (Photo: Time Life)

So what was the hold up? Why did it take 25 years to bring The Wonder Years to DVD? It was the high-cost of obtaining the music rights, without which the Emmy-winning series wouldn't be, well, The Wonder Years. To keep the series true to its original airing, Time Life executives spent more than a million dollars obtaining the music rights. Most important was the theme song — the Joe Cocker version of With a Little Help from My Friends. Without it, there would not have been a DVD release. In addition, they managed to clear 96 percent of the original music, including When a Man Loves a Woman, which played during Kevin and Winnie's first kiss.

Here are 12 fun facts that you might not have known about The Wonder Years, which ran on ABC from 1988-1993.

1. Fred Savage Aced His Audition for Kevin Arnold

Marlens and Black had auditioned a lot of kids, but five casting directors insisted they had to see this kid named Fred Savage. At the time, Savage was living in Chicago and had just finished work on the movie Vice Versa. He got a letter from the creators that he still has to this day. And while he liked the pilot after he read it, he says it was his parents who thought it was really special and, who recognized that if he landed the role, they would have to relocate to Los Angeles. Which they did.

2. Danica McKellar Auditioned Against Her Sister Crystal to Play Winnie Cooper

The producers saw hundreds of girls for the role of Winnie Cooper, and it was down to Danica and her sister Crystal on the Friday before the pilot began shooting. Danica says that she landed the role for two reasons: 1) She was older and there was a kiss involved, so the producers felt more comfortable with her in the role; and 2) her hair was brown, while her sister was blonde, and the producers liked the match of her hair color with Savage. When the role, which was originally a guest-star part in the pilot, became a series regular, her mother was hesitant to let her continue.

The Wonder Years Photo

(Photo: Time Life)

"My mom wanted us to stay kids so [we weren't allowed to audition for] pilots or feature films," she says. "Acting was just a hobby."

3. And Speaking of Hair…

Alley Mills, who played mom Norma, had her hair dyed three times to get just the right shade of blonde. She recalls, 'They took such care of every single thing that we wore on those first episodes."

Also, Olivia D'Abo, who played older sister Karen, had short hair in real-life, so she had extensions put in to look like a flower child.

4. The Wonder Years was a constructed show.

What does that mean? Because so many of the cast were minors, who had restricted work hours and had to complete three hours of school per day, many scenes in the show were "assembled" in post production. Alley jokes that any scene where she was in the kitchen and the kids were at the table, she was actually acting with a piece of tape with a smiley face, or with a hanging tennis ball.

But Savage and McKellar also had instances where they worked alone. In fact, despite the fact that for emotional scenes, the producers tried to have the actors together, McKellar reveals that when Winnie and Kevin said "I Love You" for the first time, each was alone.

5. Why It Won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy With Only Six Episodes

The first season of The Wonder Years was only six episodes. ABC wanted 13, but Marlens and Black knew they couldn't deliver that many, especially since they were busy fighting to film the half-hour comedy with a single camera and adding voice-over narration, which was almost unheard of at the time. But those unique qualities paid off.

6. Kevin and Winnie's First Kiss was Savage and McKellar's First Kiss, Too.

Savage was just 11 and McKellar 12 when they shot the pilot, which required them to kiss. McKellar recalls, "I will never forget what it felt like to be there in that moment, the anticipation."

The cast today. (Photo: Time Life)

The cast today. (Photo: Time Life)

7. Savage and McKellar Wound Up Feeling Like Brother and Sister

"In the early days, we had a real-life crush on each other," McKellar says. "But then it turned to a brother-sister relationship.

8. The Arnolds Home Was a House in Burbank

Marlens originally wanted to set The Wonder Years in Long Island, which is where he grew up, but the network wanted to keep it more generic. So the name of the city is never mentioned. But the house that was used for the series was located on a small street in Burbank, Calif., and the interior was replicated on a soundstage.

"The street looked new because a disease had killed all the trees and they had to be replanted, so it looked like a new neighborhood," Marlens says of why they selected that particular house.

9. Great Guest Stars

Juliette Lewis, Jim Caviezel, Alicia Silverstone, Giovanni Ribisi, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, David Schwimmer, Carla Gugino, Robin Thicke, Breckin Meyer, Soleil Moon Frye, and John Corbett were all guest stars.

"The Wonder Years didn't make these careers," Savage says. "The show was able to identify the best actors in L.A. and put them on the show."

10. Food on the Set

The dinner scenes always included comfort food from the '60s, such as Swedish meatballs, pork chops, Swiss steak, and mashed potatoes, which Mills declares, "the worst food." But Savage has a totally different take on it.

"We loved it," he says, meaning him and Hervey. "I understood that it was gross and you weren't supposed to eat it, but I loved it. Set food to this day has a real allure."

11. Crystal McKellar Eventually Got a Role

Even though the producers hired Danica for the role of Winnie, they never forgot Crystal's audition. They later hired her to play Becky Slater, who Kevin dated to make Winnie jealous. When Becky discovers that Kevin still has feelings for Winnie, she turns on Kevin. Crystal says, "I absolutely loved the part. This is a little girl who stands up for herself and doesn't let herself get pushed around."

12. Real-Life Friendships Were Formed

Yes, several members of the cast are still friends to this day. But more surprising, so are the real-life moms, who were on set all the time as guardians for their kids. Even today, Joanne Savage, Mahalia McKellar, Marsha Hervey and Jane Saviano still get together. "The moms get together more than the kids do. They really hit it off," Savage says.