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 on January 31, 1988.

1. The basic concept for The Wonder Years 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 Wonder Years 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. The Wonder Years’s 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 to play The Wonder Years’s Kevin Arnold.


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 Wonder Years 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. The Wonder Years 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 for Winnie Cooper 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 between Fred Savage and Danica McKellar 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 The Wonder Years’s Jack Arnold be a veteran.

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 in The Wonder Years 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 on The Wonder Years.

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 Wonder Years’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 Wonder Years 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 Wonder Years’s 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. 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. The Wonder Years 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 Wonder Years’s 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 Wonder Years 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.”

13 Father's Day Gifts for Geeky Dads

Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk
Amazon/Otterbox/Toynk

When in doubt, you play the hits. Watches, flasks, and ties are all tried-and-true Father’s Day gifts—useful items bought en masse every June as the paternal holiday draws near. Here’s a list of goodies that put a geeky spin on those can’t-fail gifts. We’re talking Zelda flasks, wizard-shaped party mugs, and a timepiece inspired by BBC’s greatest sci-fi series, Doctor Who. Light the “dad” signal ‘cause it’s about to get nerdy!

1. Lord of the Rings Geeki Tikis (Set of Three); $76

'Lord of The Rings' themed tiki cups.
Toynk

If your dad’s equally crazy about outdoor shindigs and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, help him throw his own Lothlórien luau with these Tiki-style ceramic mugs shaped like icons from the Lord of the Rings saga. Gollum and Frodo’s drinkware doppelgängers each hold 14 ounces of liquid, while Gandalf the Grey’s holds 18—but a wizard never brags, right? Star Wars editions are also available.

Buy it: Toynk

2. Space Invaders Cufflinks; $9

'Space Invaders' cufflinks on Amazon
Fifty 50/Amazon

Arcade games come and arcade games go, but Space Invaders has withstood the test of time. Now Pops can bring those pixelated aliens to the boardroom—and look darn stylish doing it.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Legend of Zelda Flask; $18

A 'Legend of Zelda' flask
Toynk

Saving princesses is thirsty work. Shaped like an NES cartridge, this Zelda-themed flask boasts an 8-ounce holding capacity and comes with a reusable straw. Plus, it makes a fun little display item for gamer dads with man caves.

Buy it: Toynk

4. AT-AT Family Vacation Bag Tag; $12

An At-At baggage tag
ShopDisney

Widely considered one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, The Empire Strikes Back throws a powerful new threat at Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion: the AT-AT a.k.a. Imperial Walkers. Now your dad can mark his luggage with a personalized tag bearing the war machine’s likeness.

Buy it: ShopDisney

5. Flash Skinny Tie; $17

A skinny Flash-themed tie
Uyoung/Amazon

We’ll let you know if the Justice League starts selling new memberships, but here’s the next best thing. Available in a rainbow of super-heroic colors, this skinny necktie bears the Flash’s lightning bolt logo. Race on over to Amazon and pick one up today.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Captain America Shield Apron; $20

A Captain America themed apron
Toynk

Why let DC fans have all the fun? Daddy-o can channel his inner Steve Rogers when he flips burgers at your family’s Fourth of July BBQ. Measuring 31.5 inches long by 27.5 inches wide, this apron’s guaranteed to keep the cookout Hydra-free.

Buy it: Toynk

7. Doctor Who Vortex Manipulator LCD Leather Wristwatch; $35

A Doctor Who-themed watch
Toynk

At once classy and geeky, this digital timepiece lovingly recreates one of Doctor Who’s signature props. Unlike some of the gadgets worn on the long-running sci-fi series, it won’t require any fancy chronoplasm fuel.

Buy it: Toynk

8. Wonder Woman 3-Piece Grill Set; $21

Wonder Woman three-piece gill set
Toynk

At one point in her decades-long comic book career, this Amazon Princess found herself working at a fast food restaurant called Taco Whiz. Now grill cooks can pay tribute to the heroine with these high-quality, stainless steel utensils. The set’s comprised of wide-tipped tongs, a BBQ fork, and a spatula, with the latter boasting Wonder Woman’s insignia.

Buy it: Toynk

9. Harry Potter Toon Tumbler; $10

Glassware that's Harry Potter themed
Entertainment Earth

You can never have too many pint glasses—and this Father’s Day, dad can knock one back for the boy who lived. This piece of Potter glassware from PopFun has whimsy to spare. Now who’s up for some butterbeer?

Buy it: EntertainmentEarth

10. House Stark Men’s Wallet; $16

A Game of Thrones themed watch
Toynk

Winter’s no longer coming, but the Stark family's propensity for bold fashion choices can never die. Manufactured with both inside and outside pockets, this direwolf-inspired wallet is the perfect place to store your cards, cash, and ID.

Buy it: Toynk

11. Mr. Incredible “Incredible Dad” Mug, $15

An Incredibles themed mug
ShopDisney

Cue the brass music. Grabbing some coffee with a Pixar superhero sounds like an awesome—or dare we say, incredible?—way for your dad to start his day. Mom can join in the fun, too: Disney also sells a Mrs. Incredible version of the mug.

Buy it: ShopDisney

12. Star Wars phone cases from Otterbox; $46-$56

Star Wars phone cases from OtterBox.
Otterbox

If your dad’s looking for a phone case to show off his love of all things Star Wars, head to Otterbox. Whether he’s into the Dark Side with Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the droids, Chewbacca, or Boba Fett, you’ll be able to find a phone case to fit his preference. The designs are available for both Samsung and Apple products, and you can check them all out here.

Buy it: Otterbox

13. 3D Puzzles; $50

3D Harry Potter puzzle from Amazon.
Wrebbit 3D

Help dad recreate some of his favorite fictional locations with these 3D puzzles from Wrebbit 3D. The real standouts are the 850-piece model of Hogwarts's Great Hall and the 910-piece version of Winterfell from Game of Thrones. If dad's tastes are more in line with public broadcasting, you could also pick him up an 890-piece Downton Abbey puzzle to bring a little upper-crust elegance to the homestead.

Buy it: Hogwarts (Amazon), Winterfell (Amazon), Downton Abbey (Amazon)

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

16 Priceless Treasures We've Lost Forever

jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
jeanyfan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Steven Spielberg is known for crafting such masterpieces as Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, and Jurassic Park. With such a long and acclaimed film career, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Spielberg got his start behind the camera at just 17 years old when (with the help of his friends and his high school marching band) he directed his first feature-length film, Firelight.

What's that? You've never seen Firelight? Well, you're certainly not alone; sadly, just under four minutes of the original footage remains. After screening Firelight for around 500 people, the young director sent a few of the film reels off to a producer for review. When the budding director later went back to retrieve his film, he discovered that the producer had been fired—and his movie had vanished.

Firelight is just one example of the many priceless items that have disappeared from history. On this episode of The List Show, we're rediscovering all sort of treasures—from writing by Ernest Hemingway to natural landmarks—that have been lost to time (or circumstance). You can watch the full episode below.

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