Magazine and Newspaper Articles about
The Wonder Years
01) 01/31/88 - TV Guide promo for the series premiere
02) 01/30/88 - Wonder Years Looks At '60s Through Eyes of a Pre-Teen
03) 04/24/88 - Wonder Years Captures 1968 in a Child's Eyes - But are the Experiences Universal?
04) 08/14/90 - Wonder Years: An Apple for Teachers; Television: Tonight's Episode is Executive Producer Bob Brush's Way of Thanking Those Who Offered Inspiration and Self-Confidence
05) 09/29/91 - The Aging of Wonder Years
06) 07/29/92 - Show Tries to Recapture Lost Wonder
07) 05/09/93 - Of, by and for the Children; Looking Back as The Wonder Years Comes to an End
08) 05/12/93 - Reeling in the Bittersweet Wonder Years With Rising Costs, Aging Cast, Series Comes to a Close
09) 05/12/93 - Wonder Years finale
10) 05/12/93 - Final Wonder Years
11) 05/15/93 - No Wonder!
WY1) TV Guide Ad
WY2) "Wonder Years Looks At '60s Through Eyes Of A Pre-Teen"
by Kathryn Baker, The Associated Press, January 30, 1988
ABC's new comedy series The Wonder Years is a warm, funny, evocative homage to that hazy, long-lost world that was suburban America in the late 1960s. And ABC (channels 10, 12 and 26) is giving the half-hour premiere a well-deserved boost by scheduling it after Super Bowl XXII on Sunday. It will join the schedule in an as-yet undetermined time period in March.
The Wonder Years is from the husband-and-wife creators and producers of ABC's hit Growing Pains, Neal Marlens, 31, and Carol Black, 30. Both grew up in the suburbs, he in Huntington, N.Y., she in Silver Spring, Md.
"The late '60s in the suburbs for a 12- or 13-year-old kid was just sort of an interesting setting," said Marlens. "You weren't quite old enough to be involved in the counterculture per se, and yet it touched you in certain ways."
"We just feel there's been a lot of attention dedicated to the effect that the '60s had on the generation that was really riding that wave, people in college and in their 20s at that time," said Black. "But...we began to realize what a strange time it was to be a kid."
They also wanted to make a point that there were real people in those, as Pete Seeger sang, "little houses made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same."
"There are worse things in life than being lumped into the category of middle-class suburban, but we figure it's our one small gripe, so why not?" said Marlens.
The main character in The Wonder Years is 12-year-old Kevin Arnold, played by a fine young actor, Fred Savage. Kevin is an all-American kid embarking on the adventure of junior high school in 1968. Much of the story is narrated by grown-up Kevin, lending a sense of reminiscence and reflection.
Kevin has a tormenting older brother, Wayne (Jason Hervey): "Apparently he just deeply regretted the fact that I had been born, and he wanted me to feel the same way"; a sister with a raised consciousness, Karen (Olivia D'abo); a typical mom (Alley Mills), and a taciturn dad (Dan Lauria): "It was like he had this understanding with the family - he worked hard for us, he provided for us and he certainly didn't want to have to talk to us."
The neighborhood includes Kevin's nerdy best friend, Paul (Josh Saviano); a 12-year-old budding beauty, Winnie (Danica McKellar), and her older brother, Brian, who "defined cool." Brian had a 1959 El Camino that was very cool, even though it never actually ran. "Brian got drafted and packed off to Vietnam, but his car stayed there up on blocks. Kind of a reminder of who really ran our street."
In the premiere episode, Kevin goes off nervously to his first day with the big kids. When his brother humiliates him in the cafeteria in front of everybody, Kevin has to defend his shaky image as a cool kid. Cut to principal's office.
His parents come to take him home, but before Kevin can get the licking he's sure he has coming, the family is confronted by tragedy: Brian has been killed in Vietnam.
Kevin goes for a walk: "The days were still long, and back then kids could go for walks at dusk without fear of ending up on milk cartons."
He finds Winnie sitting alone in the coolness of the woods, trying to comprehend war and death. He puts his jacket around her shoulders and they share a kiss.
It was the only kiss, he tells us, that he and Winnie ever had. But he remembers it still, and he's sure she does, too, "whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside every one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there are people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love."
WY3) "Wonder Years Captures 1968 In A Child's Eyes -
But Are The Experiences Universal?"
by Diane Haithman, L.A. Times, April 24, 1988
As defined by the Wonder Bread commercials that aired in the 1960s, the Wonder Years were the crucial growth period between ages 1 and 12 - during which eating plenty of that marshmallowy, eminently squishable white bread in the polka-dot plastic wrapper could "help build strong bodies 12 ways."
Neal Marlens, 31, and Carol Black, 30, remember Wonder Bread well. And in The Wonder Years, their new half-hour comedy on ABC, they re-create the experience of growing up in the 1960s through the eyes of Kevin Arnold, a 12-year-old boy entering junior high school in American suburbia, 1968. The Wonder Years pilot episode first aired Jan. 31 following ABC's Superbowl telecast; the series of six episodes returned March 15, beginning with a repeat of the pilot. Since then, the series has aired on Tuesday nights behind ABC's hit Who's the Boss?, where it has been drawing big ratings.
In the show, the now 31-year-old Kevin Arnold is the off-screen narrator, reminiscing about growing up in a typical suburban household in the days "when a kid could still go for a long walk alone at dusk without ending up on a milk carton."
The young Kevin is portrayed by 11-year-old Fred Savage, whose credits include the feature films The Princess Bride and Vice Versa.
The people in Kevin's little world include his bespectacled best friend Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano); Winnie Cooper, his first love (Danica McKellar); his uncommunicative father Jack (Dan Lauria); his bullying older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey); his older sister Karen (Olivia D'Abo), blossoming into adolescent hippie-hood; and his mother Norma (Alley Mills), stalwartly in control of maintaining status quo and making sure the Jell-O mold sets on time.
Although not the first writers to look back at the turbulent decade of the '60s, Marlens and Black are among the first to view the period from the perspective of those born at the tail end of the baby boom. In 1968, the youngest members of the TV generation were more concerned with the traumas of grade school or junior high than political upheaval or social reform, watching bemusedly while their older brothers and sisters went to Woodstock and got shipped off to Vietnam.
"By the time you were 12, the whole world had changed before you were exactly sure how to think about it," Black said during a recent conversation at the Wonder Years production office here.
Black and Marlens both grew up in East Coast suburbs and met while they were college students. After moving to Los Angeles, the pair, who are now married, pursued separate careers for a time. Although Black worked with Marlens on ABC's comedy "Growing Pains", which Marlens created, and they co-produced the feature film Soul Man, The Wonder Years is the first project they have created together.
They remember their years in suburbia as a jumble of major world events and minor childhood concerns that somehow seemed equally important.
"I was in the kitchen making toast and the toaster caught on fire, and I heard on the radio that Martin Luther King (Jr.) had died," Black reminisced. "I went in to my mom and dad's bedroom and I said, 'Mom, Dad, the toaster caught on fire!' And then once that crisis was over, I said, 'And Martin Luther King was shot.' People getting shot was just something that happened every once in a while."
Added Marlens: "I was 8 years old when John Kennedy got shot. That sort of sets the tone, when you're 8 years old and the president gets shot. At that point, what else could have been surprising? That notion of instant crisis was something that became everyday."
Marlens noted that not only have recent TV shows and movies concentrated more on older baby boomers in their late 30s and early 40s - include on that list ABC's Thirtysomething and the feature film Big Chill - but they also have focused on the current disillusionment of that group, rather than looking back at its past. Even though some in the TV industry have jokingly called The Wonder Years "twelvesomething" or "The Little Chill," Marlens said the show views the world with 12-year-old wonder rather than the disillusionment of radicals who have reluctantly entered the Establishment.
"We saw that a lot of the shows that seemed to be made by yuppies, baby boomers, people in their mid-30s to mid-40s, seemed to be so directly and literally about contemporary life," Marlens said. "I think there's some value in that, but it's also real dangerous. It's like looking in a mirror, which is not necessarily the best way to get a perspective on yourself.
The Wonder Years does borrow one element from The Big Chill: the use of plenty of pop music of the era as a backdrop for the story. The producers said, however, that they do not plan to limit the selections to the classic pop hits that still turn up on the radio, but want to revive some of the unmemorable tunes and bubble-gum music popular with the teeny-boppers of the era.
"In some ways, that music brings back the period even more, because you really haven't heard those songs in 20 years," Black said.
But Marlens and Black both add that they want The Wonder Years to address the universal experiences of childhood, rather than be a statement about an era. "When the show becomes more about a period than about people growing up, then there's a problem with the way we're writing the show," Marlens said.
Through The Wonder Years, Marlens and Black also hope once and for all to debunk the notion that everyone who grows up in the middle-class American suburbs, as they did, somehow ends up as pasteurized, processed and homogenized as a block of Velveeta cheese.
"It is, in a sense, an apology for being suburban and middle-class," Marlens said.
Black added that the problems of the people in The Wonder Years are no less compelling because of the suburban setting.
"We just basically like doing small stories about ordinary people," she said.
Marlens acknowledged wryly that middle-class suburban Americans are not "a particularly victimized group," but added that they still have a valuable statement to make about the universality of human nature through the gentle humor of The Wonder Years.
"We both went to small Eastern colleges, with a significant number of students from urban private schools," Marlens said. "They had a sort of attitude of superiority, that anything that happened in the suburban middle-class culture was significantly less important than anything that happened in the urban culture.
"At a certain point, you begin to question whether that is inherently the case. If middle-class suburban life is essentially dulling and uninvolving, then we're all in a lot of trouble, because a vast proportion of Americans come from that background."
WY4) "Wonder Years: An Apple For Teachers;
Television: Tonight's Episode Is Executive Producer Bob Brush's Way Of Thanking Those
Who Offered Inspiration And Self-Confidence"
by Steve Weinstein, L.A. Times, August 14, 1990
In 10th grade, Bob Brush was blessed with one of those rare teachers who left an indelible imprint on his life by encouraging him to write and to trust that if he wrote from his heart about emotions and experiences he cared about deeply, other people would care about them too.
That memory helped provide the impetus for an episode of The Wonder Years that Brush wrote. "I wanted to write an elegy to all those teachers who made an impact on us," he said.
The episode, which repeats at 8:30 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, was his way of saying "thank you," Brush said, explaining that by the time most people begin to appreciate these instructors' inspiration and consider acknowledging them, the teachers have retired or died and can't be reached.
The episode was singled out this month for Emmy Award nominations for Brush's screenplay, Michael Dinner's directing and Dennis Vejar's editing. Fred Savage, who portrays Kevin Arnold, was also nominated as best actor in a comedy series, and the show itself, which this fall will move to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, was nominated as best comedy series for the third consecutive year. Brush is the executive producer.
In tonight's show - the final installment in a trilogy last season involving Kevin and his math teacher, Mr. Collins (Steve Gilborne), - Kevin decides to embark on an intense two weeks of after-school tutorials with Mr. Collins in preparation for a midterm exam. Just before the big day, after several wonderful sessions of progress and rapport, Mr. Collins inexplicably breaks his appointment, suggesting only that Kevin, a solid-C student, continue his studies on his own.
Angry and disillusioned, Kevin intentionally fails the exam, answering math questions with such snide comments as "Who cares?" and "Factor This!" After a long weekend of regret, Kevin returns to school to apologize, only to learn that Mr. Collins has died of a heart attack - but not without leaving one more lesson for Kevin to learn.
"On the show we often present teachers as just fractured images of human beings, because that's all the students ever see," said Brush. "Teachers are kept at a distance. They get nicknames and reputations and that's the only view most students have of them. They can't see through to the human qualities, and that's why we generally have just one or two teachers who stand out, who got beyond those barriers and touched us in a way that was more human, that helped us learn in a way that was more than just by rote." One of the keys to the Collins-Kevin relationship and to the best teacher-student relationships in general, as Brush sees them, is revealed when Kevin, dismayed that his teacher would abandon him in the middle of his quest for a better grade, lashes out: "I thought you were my friend." About to climb into his car, Collins straightens up and proudly utters, "Not your friend - your teacher."
"I think that distinction is true of truly good teachers," Brush said. "Mr. Collins constantly rebuffed Kevin's attempt to create a friendship because he sees it as Kevin's way of avoiding what he has to do. A child can get love from his parents and he can get friendship from his friends, and Collins is proud to say that 'I'm not someone who tucks you in at night. I love you on a different order. I will give you knowledge. I will give you strength.' I feel that way about the teachers I remember. They are usually the ones who were not trying to work out their own problems on their students."
Many of the teachers portrayed on The Wonder Years, however, are anything but wonderful.
There's Mr. Cantwell, played by Ben Stein, the monotoned science geek, who knows his lesson plans and slide projector backwards and forwards and wouldn't detour from his age-old monologue if a bomb exploded in the middle of his classroom.
There's Coach Cutlip, played by Robert Picardo, the militaristic buffoon of a gym teacher, who is out to win the hearts, minds and bodies of his gangly and uncoordinated boys.
And there was, for one episode, an overeager chorus teacher named Miss Haycock (Andrea Walters), who, buoyed by the enthusiasm and hubris of youth, believed she could mold a bunch of pubescent-voiced boys into a real choir. Based upon his own experience in eighth-grade glee club, Brush had the boys sing "Stout-hearted Man" at a public recital and fail miserably - so miserably, in fact, that this hapless young woman, who had been focused on her own dreams of becoming a great teacher and not on who the boys actually were, disappeared in a fit of embarrassment.
"I hope that what comes from the show is a real loving respect for teachers, but also a healthy knowledge that the majority of the teachers we had were either imminently forgettable or incompetent, and the most we did was suffer through them," Brush said.
This season, there will be a new member of The Wonder Years faculty - "a troglodytic shop teacher," as Brush describes him. "If you remember back to ninth-grade wood shop, it was like living in a forest and many of the shop teachers were like some kind of forest creature."
As for other changes to come this season, as Kevin and his friends turn 14 and enter the ninth grade, Brush simply says that the show will mature as his actors mature. Savage, Josh Saviano (who plays best friend Paul) and Danica McKellar (who plays best girl Winnie) are all "a year taller and more emotionally capable," and so, Brush said, the problems and relationships they encounter will become more complex. Paul, the proverbial nerd, will even make some strides at outgrowing his nerdiness.
While Brush acknowledges that the adolescent problems of 1970 suburbia seem far tamer than the adolescent crises that prevail in most U.S. cities today, he insists that the stories and emotions explored in The Wonder Years are relevant nonetheless.
"The things that are important are still the things of the human heart; they are not time-related and they are probably everlasting," Brush said. "Even though times have changed, 14-year-olds haven't changed. Even if they are involved with drugs or having sex by that age today, they are still 14. They still fall in love and have problems with friends and they still do stupid things."
WY5) "The Aging Of Wonder Years"
by Lauren Lipton, L.A. Times, September 29, 1991
Wonder Years executive producer Bob Brush, on the high school set with Fred Savage, said Savage's character Kevin will develop at a pace expected of 10th-graders. "He'll meet a lot of new people this year; he'll be starting a brand new school and attempting to play some sports. He's going to fall in love a couple of times.
The Wonder Years is about to grow up. ABC's Emmy-winning comedy, which explores coming of age in the '60s and '70s, is popular for its nostalgic view of childhood. But when the series begins its fourth season Wednesday, viewers will notice a move away from its trademark naive sweetness toward a world of adult situations and feelings.
The reason is simple. Kevin Arnold, the show's pivotal character (played by Fred Savage), has metamorphosed from a cherubic 11-year-old to a bona fide teen-ager, driving permit and all. As Kevin enters high school, he's crossing a threshold - and the show is too, said Ted Harbert, the ABC executive vice president who oversees returning series. "When child stars come back after summer hiatus having grown three inches, you have to deal with that."
Savage, at 15, may not quite be a full-fledged adult, but his character is heading in that direction.
"Kevin is opening new doors," Savage said, via his mother's car phone on his way to the set. "I think he isn't going to be as cute anymore."
What? Not as cute? Certainly, Kevin/Fred's adorability helped keep The Wonder Years fairly high in the ratings for its entire young life (last year it finished 28th out of 141 shows). Viewers loved to watch the puppy dog-eyed kid emote through tragedy (a teacher's death), turmoil (an abusive big brother) and joy (first love with the girl down the street).
Is Kevin going to turn into Bart Simpson? Or James Dean?
"He's not going to be such a sweet little guy anymore," Savage hinted. "But I won't say rebellious."
Wonder Years executive producer Bob Brush will say rebellious. In trying to learn about himself, Kevin will definitely test his parents' patience. "He'll be attempting to find out 'who I am and who am I going to be,' " Brush said. "He'll meet a lot of new people this year; he'll be starting a brand new school and attempting to play some sports. He's going to fall in love a couple of times - the giddy-headed romance of the seventh grade is turning into pure lust."
The big question, of course, is whether Kevin experiments with sex (as Doogie Howser did in that show's season opener last week). "Right now, there are no plans for him to lose his virginity," Brush said. "But we'll see, who knows, anything can happen at that age."
Kevin's impending adulthood comes at a critical juncture for the show. Some viewers (including Times Television Critic Howard Rosenberg) have charged that it has become too predictable - an opinion Brush recognizes though doesn't necessarily agree with.
"I think by the end of ninth grade last year, there was a sense that we were all waiting to move on, as Kevin was, " Brush said. "If Kevin's world seemed to be closing in on him, that was because we had spent three years with him. When you live with a character for that many seasons, you begin to know him pretty well."
But those feeling too cozy saw Kevin's world shaken up by the end of last season. His sister Karen (Olivia d'Abo) moved in with her boyfriend, while Kevin's on-again, off-again romance with Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) seemed more off-again. His best friend Paul (Josh Saviano) planned to attend private school. All of which, said Brush, will test Kevin's character this season. "The private school decision is based on trying to explore the trials between friends. We felt that it would add a little spin to their relationship."
Brush said the show's writers have no grand plan and don't plot out events down the road beyond setting up certain situations to see how they will develop.
"I don't think there's ever a sense of 'what do we do next year,'" he said. "We do put together a story arc for the season, but so much of doing any show is operating on instinct. The problem with this show is that we have no idea from month to month who the kids are going to be or what they're going to look like."
ABC's Harbert said he views The Wonder Years as the most rewarding kind of show a network can do. Despite the uncertainty inherent in gearing a series around a constantly changing young star, he said, "it's the greatest thing in the world when you can get a child America wants to grow up with."
Savage, who just began his sophomore year at a private school in Los Angeles, is looking forward to exploring Kevin's new maturity. "It's good to get to another dimension," he said. "It's good to get a little change in the character."
But Brush emphasizes that The Wonder Years will still be The Wonder Years. "The sweetness is giving way to a harder edge. I think the show will be funnier but still as moving," he said.
"But I want to stress that it's not going to be a different show. The show is doing what boys and girls do at that age. It's developing." The Wonder Years airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
WY6) "Show Tries To Recapture Lost Wonder"
by Hal Boedeker, The Miami Herald, July 29, 1992
The future doesn't exactly look wonderful for The Wonder Years. ABC has picked up just 13 episodes of the Emmy-winning comedy for the coming season. Audience interest has waned as the show has aged, ABC Entertainment President Robert Iger said during the TV critics' summer tour. But he didn't rule out additional episodes, or even renewal, if the series rebounds.
Tonight, viewers get two reminders of The Wonder Years' undeniable charm and what the medium will lose when the series does end. The network will repeat the pilot, which presents main character Kevin Arnold as a 12-year-old and which originally aired March 15, 1988. One of the finest episodes, a 1990 show about Kevin learning to respect his math teacher, airs afterward.
The Wonder Years has been remarkable. It soared past mere nostalgia with its clear-eyed look at coming of age in the '60s and '70s. It was one "dramedy" - the once-ballyhooed mixture of drama and comedy - that clicked.
As played by Fred Savage, Kevin has been more real and likable than TV's brood of precocious kiddies. (Savage will introduce the pilot tonight.)
In the crucial upcoming 13 episodes, viewers will see a more rebellious Kevin who frequently breaks with his parents. Establishing Kevin as a young adult is the main goal this season, said executive producer Bob Brush.
"The show was originally intended to talk to adults looking back at their childhood," Brush said. But the series also picked up a huge audience of teenagers, and he believes The Wonder Years lost its appeal among older teens in recent years.
"I'm hoping this year the themes will be a little harder, and Kevin Arnold is going to be a little more of a person who seems interesting to today's kids," Brush said.
As a 16-year-old junior in 1972, Kevin will be together with Winnie (Danica McKellar) at the beginning of the year. He'll become more politically aware, thanks to the Nixon-McGovern presidential race. He will visit the Point, where teens go to make out.
Kevin and best friend Paul (Josh Saviano) will look at the world differently. "Kevin wants to get out there and take risks," Brush said. "Paul has a sense of the big picture and responsibility. He has all those values that Kevin is trying to run away from."
The series has no plans for Kevin to lose his virginity, as Paul did last season, Brush said.
Kevin's brother, Wayne (Jason Hervey), will live in the basement and go to work with their father, Jack (Dan Lauria), at Norcom Enterprises.
In the most welcome change, the series will cut back on narration by Daniel Stern, who speaks the role of Kevin as an adult. "My feeling is maybe we have been listening to the narrator a little too much over the past year and a half, and maybe It's time to let the kid speak for himself," Brush said.
"What the show started out with was a very cute little muffin with great big eyes looking out at the world, and not having any way to understand it," he said. "I think the wonder always, at that point, came from the outside. And now it's a lot about wondering about what's inside."
Savage calls Kevin "the universal teenager." Adults constantly tell him that they lived the storylines, too. "I can relate to everything he's gone through, from his first kiss to getting his driver's license," Savage said.
Savage, who recently turned 16, drove on the show before receiving his license. A permit required that a licensed driver be in the car during the shooting.
"When I was driving the car with Paul or the buddies, what you didn't see was a Teamster crouched underneath the backseat," he said.
Brush joked: "He was lying down, saying, 'Oh, my God.'"
On Sept. 21, Turner Program Services begins syndicating Wonder Years reruns to 135 stations. During Ted Turner's portion of the critics' tour, he called the series "a sweet little show."
ABC has assured Brush that when The Wonder Years ends, it will receive a proper send-off. "I don't think that anybody believed when this show started that it would ever go this long," Brush said. "I suppose the outside limit on this would probably be when Kevin graduates from senior high school, which would be two years from now."
Neal Marlens and Carol Black, who created the show and are working on the new Laurie Hill sitcom for ABC, had their own suggestion. "They could all get dressed up, go out to disco and the film should just run out," Black said.
WY7) "Of, By And For The Children; Looking Back As The Wonder Years Comes To An End"
by N.F. Mendoza, L.A. Times, May 9, 1993
Junior high is the proverbial awkward time. Looks are suddenly all-important, as bodies are changing and the importance of social status increases. No show on television has captured that time with such poignancy and humor as The Wonder Years, which will have its series finale Wednesday.
When the series began, it was set in the historically significant year of 1968. Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), his best friend Paul (Josh Saviano) and his sweetheart, Winnie (Danica McKellar), were entering the seventh grade, and the United States was in the midst of the Vietnam War. The show depicted both young Kevin's naive view of life and a more reflective view in his melancholic reminiscences (courtesy of voice-over by Daniel Stern).
The hour-long, bittersweet final episode brings the "Wonder" teens to the summer of 1973, where a rebellious Kevin bails out on his job at his father's factory to visit Winnie, who is working at a resort. Neither is prepared for what befalls them.
The Wonder Years has been significant because it works on several different levels, appealing to both kids and their parents, in the view of Dr. Corrine Rupert, a consultant for ABC children's programming.
Especially notable, she says, is the relationship between Kevin and his father Jack (Dan Lauria).
When the show began, "his father insisted on being in charge," Rupert says. "Fathers have the sense of looking like a jerk if you're not kind of showing (your kids) your knowledge. Eventually, the show depicted to dads that you can admit mistakes and pass the baton to your kids and help them be masterful. That's a very important message, rather than one that you always have to be in control."
The more high-profile relationship was the winsome and engaging one between Kevin and Winnie, which kept viewers wondering if they were going to end up together.
Although it didn't come as a complete surprise to McKellar, 18, that the show would be ending, she says, "I felt sad to hear it anyway. I've been on the show since I was 12, so I've really had my own 'Wonder Years' on the show. I feel fortunate to have been a part of such a good show."
While there has been some recent controversy surrounding the show - a former makeup artist has accused Savage and TV brother Jason Hervey of sexual harassment - the program is still heralded among those who monitor and critique television.
Expressing her disappointment at the show's cancellation, Action for Children Television president Peggy Charren says, "The problem is not to keep Wonder Years on forever, because chances are in syndication, it will, but it's important for writers to keep writing shows like it. There are so few series that care about the human condition as the essence of the story line, as Wonder Years did, so when one disappears it feels like a death in the family."
"Summer/Independence Day," the Wonder Years series finale, airs Wednesday from 8-9 p.m. on ABC. For ages 8 and up.
WY8) "Reeling In The Bittersweet Wonder Years With Rising Costs, Aging Cast, Series Comes To A Close"
by Steve Weinstein, L.A. Times, May 12, 1993
The Wonder Years ends as Kevin Arnold loses his virginity. At least, that's the way the producers wrote it. ABC executives didn't like that scenario, however. So the climactic scene of tonight's finale was shot in a way that leaves what happened to the viewer's imagination.
And therein lies the reason that Bob Brush, the show's adoptive father and executive producer, believes this is the right time to bring the Emmy Award-winning series about adolescence to a close.
"There has always been a question," he said, "of just how long The Wonder Years last. 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."
As Kevin (Fred Savage) has grown from the doe-eyed, impish 12-year-old he was when The Wonder Years began in 1988, the battle with ABC's standards department has gotten worse, Brush said.
"When he 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," he said. "We would get notes from the network saying, 'You could do this on any show besides The Wonder Years.'"
Last season, for example, Brush said he ran into a "buzz saw" with the network because Kevin put his hand on a girl's breast, even though it was shot and handled in "a mature and subtle way."
"They said, 'No one in the history of television at 8 p.m. has ever touched a breast,'" recalled Michael Dinner, executive producer and director of many episodes, who had to cut 1-1/2 seconds of offending footage to mollify the network.
An ABC spokeswoman explained that the broadcast standards department "felt it was inappropriate to present Kevin's sexual awakening because of the setting in the 1960s, the gentle tone of the series and, most importantly, the 8 p.m. time period" - when many young children were watching.
"The show was largely viewed by young audiences who watch with their parents," she added. "And we had to be considerate of the viewer expectation that they could watch together and feel comfortable doing so."
The real killer of the series, however, was economics, not prudishness. As Kevin aged, especially after he got his driver's license, the producers felt compelled to shoot more scenes on location, away from the Arnold home. Coupled with escalating cast salaries, the budget soared to a whopping $1.2 million per half-hour episode, Brush said. Many hourlong dramas are shot for less.
The ending aside, tonight's hourlong conclusion is not the episode that Brush would have wanted to write as the series' finale, had he been given the opportunity. That would have dealt with how the winding down of the Vietnam War mirrored the winding down of the years of wonder. But since he did not know for sure if the series would be canceled until after the episode was shot, he had to settle for a finale that suggests Kevin's breaking with the people from his childhood and looking ahead to his adult future.
"It's a show about suburban images - sort of a salute to them," said Dinner, who directed the finale. "It's the last Fourth of July he ever spent in that town. It's also about standing up to his father and then reconciling with him. It's one last recollection of his icons of childhood."
"Some viewers will be surprised that nothing works out the way your fondest wish would be," Brush said. "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 mail is coming in now and everyone wants a real traditional kind of sitcom end, which is everyone hugs and everything is OK between Kevin and Winnie (Danica McKellar) - and there is some of that. It's not a bitter ending at all. But I never looked at us as being in the business of providing America with a happy half-hour."
Created by Carol Black and Neal Marlens, who handed the show over to Brush after the first six episodes, The Wonder Years won the Emmy for best comedy its first year and captured several others for writing and directing in subsequent seasons. When it aired ahead of Roseanne on Tuesdays, its ratings were blockbuster.
But with the move to 8 p.m. Wednesdays two seasons ago, both the ratings and the accolades seemed to fade.
Though Brush - who formerly wrote and produced The 'Slap' Maxwell Story and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd - has doubts about finding another show as creatively satisfying, bidding farewell to Kevin Arnold is not cause for grief.
"It's funny. You work on the last episode, and I'm looking up that street that I saw Kevin walk down and ride his bike down and drive his car down, and I'm OK with it. I feel like, yeah, it's time to go. And in terms of what TV is aspiring to, which is not much, I'm not sure there is another Wonder Years waiting in the wings. But I feel like a body of work has been completed. I have some regrets that a lot of episodes were not a lot better. But I feel like the narrator: that this halftime of sitting around telling childhood stories is over and it's time to go play with my own kids."
Articles referring to
The Wonder Years
15) 08/08/90 - ABC's Golden Boys; Executive Vice Presidents Ted Harbert and Stu Bloomberg Are Key to the Network's Assault On Television's No. 1 Position
16) 04/24/93 - Networks Fan Sweeps With Exits, Events; Television: 'Cheers' and a Slew of Venerable Series Depart Next Month Amid a Barrage of Dramas Based on Recent Tragedies
17) 12/01/96 - Can Sitcom Make It With Long Island Setting? "Raymond" Tests the Waters of Middle America
18) 05/29/98 - 'Lucy' and Other TV Classics Join Families
WY15) "ABC'S Golden Boys; Executive Vice Presidents Ted Harbert And Stu Bloomberg Are Key
To The Network's Assault On Television's No. 1 Position"
by John Lippman, L.A. Times, August 5, 1990
A black-and-white photograph of Fred Savage and Danica McKellar, the teen-age stars of The Wonder Years, hangs on a wall behind Ted Harbert's circular desk. Harbert, the fast-talking, 35-year-old executive vice president of ABC Entertainment, explains why Savage and McKellar deserve space alongside pictures of his wife and 1-year-old daughter, Emily.
He turns to Savage's Boy Scout visage. "I was 13 years old in 1968, the same age Kevin Arnold is supposed to be, and I kind of identify with that character."
Harbert, along with Stu Bloomberg, who also holds the title of executive vice president, and their boss, ABC Entertainment President Bob Iger, are three-fifths of the team that has led ABC's turnaround of the prime-time schedule over the last three years. The other two-fifths, former ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard and his ex-aide Chad Hoffman, have moved on to other jobs.
Called Teddy by his friends and co-workers, Harbert talks with the velocity of a machine gun emptying a magazine clip. "That show reminds me what it was like to grow up in the 1960s." So Kevin Arnold is really Ted Harbert? "Yeah, that's me."
Harbert's identification with the fictional Kevin Arnold is an apt metaphor for the improving fortunes of ABC's prime-time schedule, which last year accounted for half of the network's $2.4 billion in revenues. The erstwhile Kevin always seems to act more adult than his parents, who often appear overwhelmed with the rapidly changing mores of the Middle America world around them.
Such is the case at ABC these days, which if not yet the overall ratings leader, is in many ways acting wiser than the competition on the prime-time programming front. Last season ABC's prime-time ratings were flat compared to the previous season (CBS' and NBC's were down), but that is actually considered progress in today's overheated race among the three networks, Fox, dozens of cable channels and home video for the viewer's attention.
ABC now gets much of the critical praise once reserved solely for NBC. The network has begun again to gush profits after several years of losses and barely breaking even. While top-ranked NBC is seen by many to have strayed from the creative lead it held during most of the 1980s, and CBS looks to find its way out of a bottomless ratings hole, ABC is attracting top producers and writers who only a few years ago wouldn't go near the place.
This is, after all, the network of Twin Peaks, thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, China Beach, Equal Justice, all high-brow shows - by commercial standards anyway, which are the only meaningful standards in Hollywood. It is also the network of Who's the Boss?, Full House, Perfect Strangers and America's Funniest Home Videos, money-making shows that pay the bills for the critically acclaimed dramas.
And next season it will be the network of Cop Rock, arguably one of the riskiest shows ever tried in network prime-time: a police drama where the characters break into rap songs or love ballads in the middle of a scene.
In contrast to the programming departments at CBS and NBC, which have tended to be run from the top down by two very confident and autocratic executives like Jeff Sagansky and Brandon Tartikoff, ABC has relied heavily on the input from the "two No. 2's" - Harbert and Bloomberg. That is because Iger, named 16 months ago to succeed Stoddard, had limited experience in the entertainment side of the network.
Harbert and Bloomberg do not get as much attention as their boss but are the lifeline to the program producers that was needed when Iger, an outsider, was named president of ABC Entertainment in March, 1989. Within weeks after his appointment, he elevated them to their present jobs.
Whenever a new network programming chief or film studio head is appointed in Hollywood, there is usually a rolling of heads and deep-sixing of projects from the previous administration - a repudiation of the immediate past in the way that Soviet premiers would remove the political icons of the previous regime.
There has been remarkably little turnover under Iger, however, in part because he recognized that, coming from New York where he had spent most of his career in sports and network financial jobs, he lacked a keen sense of the inside workings of the Hollywood production community. "He didn't come in and say, 'I know everything and am better than you.' He got to know everybody and is a quick study," Bloomberg relates.
Says Chad Hoffman, the former head of drama development at ABC who is now an independent producer: "Bob has two very experienced executives in Stu and Ted. He is the first guy to admit he doesn't know something." "I have final call on scheduling issues," Iger says. "I manage this place day-to-day so they can step back and concentrate on the creative process."
In the obsessive credit-giving and credit-taking mentality of Hollywood, Iger's conscious decision to take a back seat to Bloomberg and Harbert is rare. Iger's name frequently crops up as someone who could eventually move into the chief operating officer's slot at Capital Cities/ABC Inc. once chief executive Dan Burke decides to fill that post.
"If I came out of this job with no credit but a bunch of successful shows, that would be fine. Taking credit doesn't drive me," says Iger. It is hard to picture a more dissimilar pair than the two executive vice presidents of prime time at ABC Entertainment.
"Teddy is very outgoing and gregarious," says International Creative Management executive vice president Alan Berger, "while Stu is highly focused on who he wants to be in business with and how to go about getting them."
Bloomberg, 40, who is in charge of developing new programs, is painfully shy, soft-spoken, wears wire-rim glasses and dresses in the West Hollywood fashion of expensive designer clothes. He likes to play charades and square dance. He sits crossed-legged on an office couch like a svelte Buddha and, in his spare time, knits. Several years ago he had one bicep branded with a tattoo, which he refuses to describe, saying simply, "I wanted to do something once that was against my external appearance."
"Stu is not the kind of person to attend black-tie dinners," explains Tom Werner, co-executive producer of Roseanne and The Cosby Show and, like his partner Marcy Carsey, a former programming executive at ABC. "He's really driven by the idea of a program and is not political or enthused by the trappings of the business."
Bloomberg acknowledges that he "doesn't have a lot of (meetings over) breakfasts and dinners." That leads some people in the industry to conclude, he says, that "I don't like them professionally, which is not true. I just like spending that time with my family. I like walking my daughter to school in the morning." A committed family man, he chose to live in the unfashionable Mt. Washington area because "I didn't want to raise my kids someplace where there is a BMW or Mercedes in every driveway."
Unlike many Hollywood hotshots, Bloomberg never saw himself becoming a television honcho. "I went to boarding school and had a huge lapse of not watching television," he relates. "After Dobie Gillis and Combat, I lost contact. I came out here to go to film school. I thought I wanted to write."
He tried, and managed to get work writing sketches for a producer of anniversary and roast-type shows, which were a programming fad in the mid-to-late 1970s. Alan Thicke, who was brought on to produce Cos, a Sunday night variety show on ABC aimed at kids, fired the aspiring sketch writer after three weeks. "I wasn't that good," explains Bloomberg, with a tone of lingering resignation in his voice.
But through contacts he made working on "clip shows," Bloomberg got hired by Marcy Carsey, who was then a senior programming executive at ABC. He started in the late-night and specials department before switching to comedy in 1982.
Now charged with prime-time development, Bloomberg takes pitches from producers in his office, wading knee-deep into character analysis and spinning out story ideas. Harbert supervises the series already on the schedule, a less glamorous job than conjuring up new programs, but still important since for every year a show's life can be extended, that's one less time period for which money is wasted developing replacements. He is also the scheduling strategist who can recite the credits of a long-forgotten failed pilot or remember which network won a specific time period from a season five years ago.
The son of a successful Madison Avenue advertising executive and home video producer, Harbert grew up in the affluent and leafy suburbs of Stamford, Conn. His chief interest in life has been television. "Obsessed is a better word for it," he suggests.
He agrees, in fact, that his world could be viewed as a bit one-dimensional. "There are certainly people in this town better read than I am," he says without any trace of embarrassment. One producer who has worked with Harbert for a long time half-jokingly describes him as a "diligent hustler...he reads every script - which a lot of executives don't."
The youthful Harbert even looks like Wonder Years actor Fred Savage might when he grows up. With a Kennedyesque handsomeness, he sports the Polo shirt and open-collar casualness favored by many programming executives. Harbert knew he "wanted to be a network executive since I first knew what one was at 11 years old," and boasts that he read Nielsen ratings books brought home by his advertising executive father and memorized program listings in TV Guide.
ABC programming executives weren't always viewed as such nice people, or even terribly bright. In the two years leading up to Capital Cities Communications' purchase of the network in 1985, ABC had been on a long bender, a kind of programming version of a lost weekend.
"ABC went through a period when the executives running the place were not creative people," says Bob Boyett, who along with partner Tom Miller produces such ABC hits as Full House and Perfect Strangers.
During the mid-to-late 1970s, ABC soared into first place as a result of combining two programming formulas: simplistic, kid-oriented comedies such as Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and so-called "jiggle shows," such as Three's Company and Charlie's Angels, which featured big-bosomed women and slightly risque dialogue. The strategy was to target teen-agers and kids early in the evening in the hopes that they would also pull in their parents.
It was also the era of Aaron Spelling, who produced Dynasty, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, three of the network's biggest hits. At one point in the early 1980s, Spelling's shows accounted for 42% of ABC's prime-time schedule.
With that come-from-behind success - ABC was not even considered a network by CBS and NBC in the early 1960s - was bred an intense arrogance. The sense that the network had to control every part of the show-making process reached its zenith when senior executives had to sign off on press releases to make sure the writing conformed to the house style.
Harbert remembers coming in early to rewrite the announcer's voice-over copy that was read as the credits rolled at the close of each episode. "That was in the day when every episode had to be 'wacky' and the announcer had to say, 'Hi-jinks abound when Joannie and Chacci go downtown...,'" recalls Harbert. "Everything we put out about the shows had to be exactly what we wanted it to say.
"Since we were told to be so involved, I used to read every draft of every script that used to come in here. We would spend countless hours deciding what our notes (to the producers) would be and then giving these very complex and complete set of notes on every episode. That was great for me to learn, but it was a lousy way to do television.
"We overstepped our bounds, but our intention was good."
Intentionally or not, the result was damaging. Jim Brooks and Danny Arnold, two of the most highly regarded television producers in Hollywood - Brooks was one of the executive producers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Arnold was executive producer of Barney Miller - were among the talents who would not go to work for ABC.
When Brandon Stoddard finally accepted the invitation to run ABC Entertainment in 1986, the first order of business was to send the word out to the creative community that the network would no longer shoot from the hip in its dealings with producers.
"We established a different direction that was needed in order to attract creative people who were not there at the time. We had to build a network that put on programs that had respect for the audience," says Stoddard, now heading the network's in-house production unit.
One of the results, according to Bloomberg, was that ABC had to launch a "grassroots campaign" and identify young, talented writers, because many of the big names, still smarting from what they viewed as the overly intrusive style of the programming staff, would not work with the network.
"A number of these producers left for other networks as we slid closer to third place," says Bloomberg. "So our development (during) the first five or six years was really grassroots development, working with people who had not really created on their own."
Among the writer-producers the network recruited were Neal Marlens, who created "Growing Pains" and "The Wonder Years"; Blake Hunter and Martin Cohan, who wrote the pilots of "Who's the Boss?" and "Full House"; Richard Eustice and Michael Ellis, the executive producers of "Head of the Class"; and John Sacret Young and William Broyles Jr., the creators of "China Beach" (Broyles had been editor of Newsweek magazine).
"Things began to turn in the mid-1980s, when we started telling the producers: 'It's your idea, that's what we've hired you for, so go do it,' " says Bloomberg.
Bloomberg's role in ABC's turnaround was crucial, since the golden rule in television states that the network with the greatest number of high-rated comedies on its schedule is also likely to be the top-ranked network altogether. All of the 12 comedies currently on the ABC schedule were developed under him.
Although in the television ziggurat of Hollywood, network executives rank several steps below the "creative talent" they hire, producers say that what separates Bloomberg from the herd is his good instinct for character, story and conflict.
Boyett credits Bloomberg with shaping the character of Balki Bartokomous on "Perfect Strangers." When the idea for the series was pitched during the summer of the 1984 Olympics, he recalls, "Stu said, 'For this series to work, you've got to keep the alien very pure and naive. If he starts to adapt too quickly to the American way, then you're going to lose a lot of the conflict that makes this series work.'"
Similarly, Tom Werner says it was Bloomberg who insisted that the daughters on "Roseanne" not be obnoxiously well-behaved in the manner of many sitcom siblings. "Stu felt very strongly that the kids on 'Roseanne' should have a difficult relationship with their mother," he says. "That idea is very much reflected in the way the kids were depicted. There's a lot of rich mother-daughter conflict that Stu urged us to do."
Harbert started at ABC in July, 1977, almost directly out of college. Although getting a network TV job at such a relatively tender age was unheard of in those days, he clinched an interview with help from Stamford neighbor Ed Vane, a top ABC programmer. Harbert's workaholic habits paid off: He rose from feature film coordinator to a vice president of program planning in seven years.
"If there weren't episodes for series, Ted would make them all up," says Stoddard. "He has TV sets every 14 inches in his house. He's a fan."
Harbert and Bloomberg have been working at ABC for nearly identical lengths of time - Bloomberg joined six months later. Working so closely together and in parallel career tracks would normally lead to confrontation and bashing of egos. But "there's almost no competition between these guys. They talk on the phone every evening and on the weekends," says Stoddard.
How come neither was picked for the top spot when Stoddard decided to step down? "I think you can speculate they weren't ready. In both cases they'll prosper from this experience," Iger says. "And, quite frankly, I don't know if they wanted it."
Perhaps not unexpectedly, Bloomberg and Harbert maintain that they were not miffed when Iger got the job. "I don't think I'm as ambitious as other folks," offers Bloomberg. "I knew all along it was going to be Bob," counters Harbert, who denies rumors that there was tension between him and Iger in the first months. "We get along well."
ABC's strategy now is to pursue a "balanced" and "diverse" prime-time schedule, code words for putting on two types of programs: those that are critically hailed and offbeat, and those that are blatantly commercial and low-brow. "It's the same as at NBC when they had 'The A-Team' and 'Highway to Heaven,' which enabled them to have 'St. Elsewhere,'" explains Bloomberg.
Says Harbert: "'Who's the Boss?' and 'Full House' are equally critical to this place being successful." With these types of shows, ABC again is aiming at the teen-age and children's audience that helped propel it into first place in the 1970s.
The difficulty at ABC these days is to maintain and, if possible, improve the momentum it has gained the last three years. So far, for example, ABC has failed, despite a spectacular lead-in from "America's Funniest Home Videos," to capitalize upon that success in the 8:30-9 p.m. Sunday time period.
While handicappers are not so brazen as to claim that ABC will overtake NBC next season, the network has made considerable gains in attracting the 18- to 49-year-old audience that advertisers covet. And ABC executives remember that before NBC won the prime-time ratings race for the first time in 1984-85, it was preceded by an improvement in demographics.
So far, ABC's progress has been limited to treading water while the other two networks struggle to stop their declining ratings. Harbert says the tougher test will be if ABC can improve its performance in the face of shrinking audiences for network television. "We've got to do better than a 12.9 rating (in the season ratings averages). Then I'll say we've done something."
WY16) "Networks Fan Sweeps With Exits, Events;
Television: 'Cheers' And A Slew Of Venerable Series Depart Next Month
Amid A Barrage Of Dramas Based On Recent Tragedies"
by Rick Du Brow, L.A. Times, April 24, 1993
The May ratings sweeps that begin next week seem like an omen of TV's future - with some of prime time's best-crafted shows bidding farewell while ripped-from-the-headlines dramas get extraordinary treatment.
Viewers will get a picture of the changing, and not too promising, scene during the Nielsen sweeps, which begin Thursday and end May 26. And no night will signify the loss of grand entertainment more than May 20, when "Cheers," one of the most beloved series in television history, bows out on NBC.
Network series come and go, but the trend toward cheaper reality shows and the unending chain of fact-based films speak to the new network priorities. You may or may not be a fan of serials, but "Knots Landing," which departs from CBS May 13, was perhaps the best-written of the nighttime soapers, once helping dominate TV with "Dallas," "Falcon Crest" and "Dynasty."
Yet another winner, the wise, witty and poignant ABC comedy "The Wonder Years," ends its run May 12. It is no surprise that ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert says it was "a signature show" for the network. And this week, the list of network departures lengthened with the announced May farewells of CBS' "Designing Women" and NBC's "Quantum Leap."
Consider, on the other hand, NBC's massive effort to call attention to itself with its unprecedented reality package that might be called Four Days in May. During those four days, from May 23-26, NBC will end the sweeps with three TV movies dramatizing startling recent tragedies - the Waco cult showdown, Hurricane Andrew and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The quality of the individual shows remains to be seen, but the hurry-up effort to sell them as an entertainment package - exploiting tragedy for ratings - is so transparent, particularly in light of the horrible end in Waco just days ago, that many viewers are bound to be repelled by the marketing concept.
NBC, of course, is counting on the fascination of other viewers about the tragedies and the hope that the network can fool skeptics by delivering acceptable two-hour dramas.
But the underlying message is seemingly that third- place NBC, desperately trying to reverse a ratings plunge, has opted to go heavy on event-style programming - and is also trying to score points with its member stations, whose prices for commercials depend partly on the outcome of sweeps months.
Thus, on May 23, NBC will present "In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco," ending not with the recent, final carnage but with the killing of four federal law enforcement agents two months ago. On May 24 comes "Hurricane Andrew." And on May 26, the final night of the sweeps, the network will offer "Terror in the Towers," about the World Trade Center bombing that took place only last February.
Just emerging from its recent "Dateline NBC" scandal, in which the show rigged the crash of a General Motors truck, NBC is putting itself on the line again with its dramatized package of recent tragedies.
The ratings may well be there, and perhaps there will be some creative surprises. But serious mis-steps - added to the criticism already leveled - could bring the network the kind of negative image that followed its broadcast of Geraldo Rivera's 1988 satanism special.
NBC's "Cheers" send-off, meanwhile, seems smartly planned. There'll be a buildup to the finale over several episodes. On May 6, for instance, the series has an expanded, one-hour episode. On May 13, Sam (Ted Danson) "seeks professional help for his addiction to sex."
As for farewell night, May 20, it's shaping up as a 3-hour blast. It starts at 9 p.m. with a half-hour retrospective and backstage look at the series, "Last Call: A 'Cheers' Celebration." Then comes the 90-minute final episode, with former star Shelley Long returning. And after the local news, Jay Leno and "The Tonight Show" will originate from the Bull & Finch Pub in Boston that inspired the "Cheers" setting, with most of the cast on hand.
The "Knots Landing" May 13 finale may not have the same sense of magic because the show's popularity has slipped. But CBS is giving it a three-hour send-off nonetheless. It starts at 8 p.m. with an hour retrospective, "Knots Landing Block Party," which is immediately followed by the two-hour finale.
As for "The Wonder Years," it, too, will expand - from 30 minutes to an hour - for its May 12 windup. The show, which stars Fred Savage, has focused on a boy growing up from 1968-73 in a typical suburban home. And while everyone knows that "Cheers" has cleaned up Emmy Awards left and right, some viewers may have forgotten that "The Wonder Years" was named the best comedy series in 1988.
"Designing Women," which departs in a one-hour episode May 24, has been a remarkable survivor on a network that often didn't seem to appreciate its wide appeal and once even tried to cancel it, which brought howls from viewers. The series, which debuted in 1986, has been moved around eight or nine times. And yet it was only after it was paired with "Murphy Brown" that CBS finally found a combination that led to the building of its power base on Monday nights.
Yet again, however, "Designing Women" was shifted this season - to Fridays - and, predictably, slipped.
NBC's "Quantum Leap," which delivered social messages as its hero (Scott Bakula) traveled through time and assumed other people's identities, simply ran out of steam in the ratings, ranking 82nd out of 113 series this season after a lively four-year run that ends May 5.
Aside from the farewells and torrent of fact-based movies, other specials will surface in May. Oliver Stone has an ABC miniseries, "Wild Palms," which arrives May 16 and stars James Belushi as a TV executive in the year 2007 who is "seduced by the awesome possibilities of a stunning new technology"; the network is promoting the show as a "mind-bending" experience of "horrifying drama, deadpan realism and hallucinatory soap opera."
ABC has the new American Television Awards on May 24 and the Daytime Emmy Awards - in prime time again - on May 26. Elizabeth Taylor is saluted by the American Film Institute on ABC May 6, and Bob Hope gets a three-hour 90th birthday salute on NBC May 14. (Actually, his birthday isn't until May 29.) On the other end of the age spectrum, those hard-body specimens on Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210" prepare to graduate from high school in a two-hour season finale May 19.
For couch potatoes, a couple of popular old TV series are remembered in "The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies" on CBS May 24 and "The Return of Ironside" on NBC May 4.
Old TV series never die; they just say goodby and pop up again.
WY17) "Can Sitcom Make It With Long Island Setting?
Raymond Tests The Waters Of Middle America"
by Carol Strickland, The New York Times, December 1, 1996
Except for the notorious Amy Fisher trilogy a few years back, Long Island has not figured importantly as a location for prime-time television shows. There was "The Pruitts of Southampton" (an ABC sitcom also known as "The Phyllis Diller Show"), which was cancelled after one season in 1966-67. Then there was a prime-time ABC soap called "The Hamptons" that was barely a blip on the screen, lasting a scant two months in 1983. These short-lived series hardly compare to perennial hits set in other New York suburbs, like Westchester County ("The Dick Van Dyck Show" and "Maude") or Connecticut ("I Love Lucy" and "The Goldbergs"). Since no show has succeeded with a Long Island location, one wonders if a series set in the heart of the suburbs - where crabgrass is the most rampant threat - can survive. A new sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond" airing on CBS Friday nights at 8:30, is trying to prove it can and, in the process, put The Island on the prime-time map.
For "Everybody Loves Raymond," the route to Hollywood Hills began in Forest Hills, where the standup comedian Ray Romano, the star of the show, grew up. Yet in translating his act - which draws heavily on his life in Queens - to TV, the network pushed the comic over the Nassau County line. Other shows, like the No.1 comedy, "Seinfeld," are set in Manhattan and have been successful with a wide audience. Yet the creators of "Raymond" nixed the city as a location.
"This is not just a Seinfeld with kids," according to Chris Albrecht, president of HBO Original Programming and HBO Independent Productions, which developed the show in partnership with Worldwide Pants, Inc. Officials at CBS felt the Nassau County location was one that "a broad section of the audience would feel comfortable with," Mr. Albrecht said. "It has all the trappings of an urban area, but suburbia appeals to a broader audience."
According to Rob Burnett, executive producer of "The Late Show with David Letterman" and C.E.O. of Worldwide Pants, Mr. Letterman's production company, "We all decided the show would be more relatable if it took place in the suburbs."
Why, then, not Connecticut or New Jersey? "Because everybody loves Long Island," Mr. Burnett said heartily, adding - with a soupçon of public relations fervor - "Does that play for you?"
"Everybody wouldn't love Raymond if it weren't set on Long Island," said Robert Thompson, associate professor of television and film at the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. Despite niche channels that appeal to small markets, he continued, "A network would like to be a mainstream department store instead of a boutique."
He added, "They move any project toward the center. Since Raymond started in the city, the move made it less ethnic."
Actually, the fact that a sitcom is set on Long Island at all represents a departure from the networks' usual play-it-bland strategy. The Emmy-award-winning show "The Wonder Years," which ran on ABC from 1988-93, was created by a Huntington native, Neal Marlens, in conjunction with his wife, Carol Black, of the Black/Marlens Company. Mr. Marlens wished to set the series, based on his childhood in the suburbs, on Long Island. At the time, the network insisted it take place in Anywhere, U.S.A. (The only tip-off as to location were the numbers on the Arnolds' house - 516, a sly reference to Long Island's area code.)
Jokingly called "Twelve-Something" or "The Little Chill" for its treatment of adolescent angst, "The Wonder Years" was a response to urbanites' superior attitude, according to its creators. Its first episode ended with a voice-over that expressed the gist of 1960s experience from Merrick to Montauk: "Whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the television generation...we know that inside everyone of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there are...families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love."
The fact that "The Wonder Years" lacked a specific location was important to its artistic success, according to Mr. Thompson, but he added, "The impression conveyed was of Long Island. Something about that postwar, newly created universe just reeked of Levittown, but to have it suspended in geography was a good aesthetic decision. It created a universal representation of any suburb without all the baggage of a particular place."
"The subject was being kids," said Bob Brush, executive producer of "Wonder Years" from 1989-93 and now executive producer of the Saturday night drama "Early Edition." He added, "Everybody felt 'Wonder Years' was set in their home street."
(The balance of the article was entirely details about "Everybody Loves Raymond")
WY18) "'Lucy' and Other TV Classics Join Families"
by Gloria Goodale, The Christian Science Monitor, May 29, 1998
When Friday night arrives, my seven-year-old son and his 11-year-old sister, both passionate fans of fast-paced, vividly colored computer games and TV shows, rush to the set for their precious weekend TV time.
They find the remote and speed through the channels with a squeal - their show is about to start. The first time this happened, I watched in expectation of the latest, coolest show starring young, hip (or animated) stars. But to my astonishment, the show that consistently settles them in front of the set is none other than "I Love Lucy," in all its black, gray, and white glory. They have since added "Happy Days," "Bewitched," and "I Dream of Jeannie" to their list of must-see TV, all shows that are included in what is no longer called rerun syndication, but "classic TV."
DEJA VU: 'I Love Lucy' is just one of many old favorites that are reappearing on cable channels such as Nickelodeon, allowing for a sharing of culture among generations.
The rising popularity of these decades-old shows is manifested in the expanding outlets for the classic material. Now there are entire cable channels devoted to ensuring that future generations don't miss out on poodle skirts, Eddie Haskell, and Mr. Grant. There's Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite and TV Land, not to mention the Game Show network, which is devoted to preserving "The Newlywed Game," "The Dating Game," and enough golden game shows to fill a 24-hour schedule.
All this post-prime-time afterlife is creating an intergenerational bonding around TV for the first time in the medium's history: As of July 6, courtesy of TV Land, parents who grew up watching the Beav with their siblings can settle in with their children and do it all over again.
Robert Batscha, president of the Museum of Television and Radio, says this was to be expected. "This is the development of the literature of TV," he observes. He notes that in order for an art form to progress, it must build on its past, and says, "TV has a history. Now, that past is becoming part of our culture just like classic books."
Back with Lucy, I watch as the classic chocolate-factory episode unfolds. My daughter says, "OK, Mom, now the candy's going to speed up and she's going to start jamming it in her mouth," which it does, Lucy does, and my two children both convulse with laughter. I find myself laughing too. Mr. Batscha notes that this intergenerational sharing of culture is also part of the maturing of an artistic medium.
"TV has the common icons of our culture," he muses, observing that these outlets for the classic shows make it possible for us to enjoy sharing all these icons. Now, he adds, we can share Lucy with our children, the way earlier generations shared their favorite books.
I wonder about this as the channel switches to a newer classic-in-the-making that has already found its place on Nick at Nite, "The Wonder Years." I never watched the show in its original TV life. But I find myself being drawn in, and settle in to watch befuddled Fred Savage.
This, says Diane Robina, senior vice-president of programming at TV Land, is why classic TV is so successful. "The networks have abandoned the families," she notes. Classic TV, on the other hand, has a timeless, generation-bridging quality that allows a communal experience - in the way that is nearly impossible with the niche-programming of much of today's shows.
How broadly the story line appeals to families is a key criterion in selecting shows, says Ms. Robina. "We want to find good stories and characters that parents won't be embarrassed or bored to watch with their children," she adds.
The success of the classic programming has taken many by surprise, but none more than the folks at Nick at Nite and TV Land, who weren't prepared for the many letters young viewers have sent addressed to them for Lucille Ball. "They don't know these shows are old," says Robina. "They just know they're good."
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