From 1988 to 1993 we sat in our living rooms and watched as Fred Savage, Olivia d’Abo, Jason Hervey, Danica McKellar and the rest of “The Wonders Years” cast wrestled with the very familiar everyday struggles of growing up. The show was an immediate hit thanks to its ability to confront and tackle the very same real-world issues that we all deal with from puberty all the way into adulthood. Crushes, finding our identities, and coming to grips with the world we live in were just a few of the prevalent themes throughout the TV series. We’ve corralled the stars of the popular TV series to see what they’ve been up to since the show went off the air and to find out where they are today. We’ve also uncovered some of the show’s lesser known facts.
First, let’s see what they have been up to in recent years.
Fred Savage (Kevin Arnold)
Following the end of “The Wonder Years,” Fred Savage bounced around to various TV shows and movies, including appearances on his brother’s show, “Boy Meets World” and the hilarious Austin Powers: Goldmember. He also tried on his producer shoes for a few episodes of the cult-comedy favorite, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” He most recently appeared on the series “The Grinder,” on Fox. Savage co-starred in the short-lived series with the always-funny Rob Lowe. He also married his childhood friend, Jennifer Lynn Stone, and the couple have three children together. Remember his love interest Winnie Cooper? Wait until you find out what college degree she earned in our next factoid.
Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper)
Let’s talk about Danica McKellar, AKA my childhood crush, for a moment, shall we? Danica played the cute love interest of Kevin on “The Wonder Years” but when the show ended she went to college, earning her bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She took her love for polynomials and fractions one step further, writing several math-related books that encourage middle school and high school aged students to get into STEM — especially girls. The brainiac never stopped acting and had a recurring role on “The West Wing“ and appeared on really popular shows including “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Sexy and smart — she had us at polynomials.
Josh Saviano (Paul Pfeiffer)
Remember that time the internet tried to convince us that Paul Pfeiffer grew up to be Marilyn Manson IRL. It wasn’t true (although we wish it was). Instead, he traded in his geeky glasses for a nice suit and tie and a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. When he was 39 years old he launched a law firm that focuses on celebrity brand consultancy. This is why you date the geeks in middle school and high school, ladies.
Jason Hervey (Wayne Arnold)
Hervey was perfect as Kevin Arnold’s older brother Wayne. He stepped back from the live-action spotlight after “The Wonder Years” and instead focused his efforts on voice acting in various TV series. He also produced sports specials for “World Championship Wrestling“ and worked in TV shows such as “See Dad Run, Hardcore Pawn: Chicago” and “Outlaw Country.”
Dan Lauria (Jack Arnold)
Jack Arnold was the typical curmudgeonly patriarch of the sitcom family. Following the series, he appeared in various TV shows and starred as Vince Lombardi in the Broadway play “Lombardi.” You can see his handiwork in such awesome shows as “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Mentalist,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” He’s still one of the best TV dads in recent memory.
Alley Mills (Norma Arnold)
Alley Mills played the role of Norma Arnold, the loving mother of the Arnold clan. Following her time on “The Wonder Years” she landed a recurring role on the hit series “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” She can also be seen regularly in episodes of the soap opera hit “The Bold and the Beautiful.” I have to admit I wanted a mom like Mills when I was a young kid watching the show.
Olivia d’Abo (Karen Arnold)
Karen Arnold didn’t appear on the show as much as the boys, but she did lend a special type of carefree spirit to the series. After the hit show ended she headed to Broadway where she could be seen opposite Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in “The Odd Couple.” She also recorded and released a solo album. Some of her most recent TV appearances include “Psych,” “Eureka,” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”
Daniel Stern (The Narrator)
After “The Wonder Years” ended, Daniel Stern got the crap beat out of him by Macaulay Culkin in the mega-hit movie Home Alone. He continued to act, but his biggest achievement in life might be his numerous acts of charity. Stern and his wife founded the Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families in 1999. That organization led to the creation of The Malibu Boys and Girls Club. He also joined the California State PTA, taught media literacy in classrooms, and created the Malibu Arts Commission. Just for good measure he also joined the USO Handshake Tour in Iraq. This guy has a freaking heart of gold.
Giovanni Ribisi (Jeff Billings)
Ribisi is now one of the most well-known names in Hollywood. It’s hard to believe that so many years ago he played one of Kevin Arnold’s best friend in “The Wonder Years.” The actor has appeared in such mega-blockbusters as Lost in Translation, Ted, and Avatar. He was also on the oddball comedy “My Name Is Earl” for three seasons.
Ben Stein (Mr. Cantwell)
Ben Stein’s dry humor, likely rooted in his law background, has led him to fame on such movies as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Following his time on “The Wonder Years” he could be seen regularly on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.” He also writes about controversial topics such as terrorism and taxes. He was hugely successful on the game show “Win Ben Stein’s Money,“ and he lent his voice to the unique and funny cartoon series, “The Fairly OddParents.”
Robert Picardo (Coach Cutlip)
Here’s a fun fact: Robert Picardo is best known by Trekkers as the Emergency Medical Hologram in “Star Trek: Voyager.” He played this role on “Star Trek “from 1995 to 2001. He also appeared in “Stargate: Atlantis.” Picardo is an active member of the Advisory Council of The Planetary Society.
Now that we’ve caught up with the 11 main characters on “The Wonder Years” — Here are some really cool facts you probably didn’t know about the show.
Fred Savage’s Parents Were so Impressed with the Pilot Script They Offered to Move the Family to L.A.
After producer Neal Marlens and co-creator Carol Black auditioned a ton of kids for the role of Kevin Arnold, five different casting directors insist that they check out this kid from Chicago named Fred Savage. He had just finished filming Vice Versa. He received a letter from the show which included the pilot script. His parents read the script and were so impressed they said a move to Los Angeles would happen if he landed the role. They lived up to that promise when he was offered the role.
Danica McKellar Beat out Her Sister Crystal to Play Winnie Cooper
Danica is older than her sister, and the show’s producers realized they would be dealing with some topics that made more sense for the older sister to tackle. Danica has said that her age and her brown hair helped her beat out her blonde-headed sister for the role. Apparently, the shows producers really wanted to match her hair color with Kevin’s own hair color. A match made in Paul Mitchell heaven! McKellar was originally offered a guest role but it turned into a full-time gig and she had to get her mom’s permission to keep acting on the show. Her mom had a “no feature films or pilots” rule so her “kids could stay kids,” according to McKellar.
The Wonder Years was a Constructed Show
Anyone under the age of 18 had to work restricted hours and spend at least three hours a day in school-based classes. For that reason, many seasons were “constructed” in post-production. For example, Alley has joked that when she was talking to her kids in the kitchen, she was usually talking to tape with a smiley face or a hanging tennis ball. Here’s a fun fact — the first time Winnie and Kevin said “I love you” to each other, they were not even in the same room together.
Kevin and Winnie’s First Kiss Was also Savage and McKellar’s First Kiss IRL
Savage was just 11 years old, and McKellar was only 12, when they shot the pilot for the show. Incidentally, it was also the first time either of them had shared a kiss with someone. “I will never forget what it felt like to be there in that moment, the anticipation,” McKellar later recalled.
Fred Savage Loved Eating the “Disgusting” Set Food
Set food is not meant to be some type of five-star gourmet experience. However, Fred Savage says that he couldn’t get enough of the 60s-style menu which often features such favorites as Swedish meatballs, pork chops, mashed potatoes, and Swiss steak. He once proclaimed, “I understood that it was gross and you weren’t supposed to eat it, but I loved it. Set food to this day has a real allure.”
Crystal McKellar Eventually Dated Fred Savage — on the Show
While Crystal McKellar didn’t land the role of Winnie Cooper, she did appear on the show as one of Kevin Arnold’s love interests — Becky Slater. In a funny turn of events, she dated Kevin to make Winnie jealous. Speaking about the role she came to cherish, she said “I absolutely loved the part. This is a little girl who stands up for herself and doesn’t let herself get pushed around.”
Ever-Lasting Friendships Were Really Formed
On some shows, when the lights go down and the series comes to an end, that’s it for the cast. “The Wonder Years” wasn’t one of those shows. Joanne Savage, Mahalia McKellar, Marsha Hervey and Jane Saviano are still friends to this very day. They are all moms now and they admit to getting together more than their kids do.
The Show Was the Influenced by A Christmas Story
The narration, the coming-of-age story, the general spirit of the show — it all feels familiar. That’s because “The Wonder Years” was heavily inspired by A Christmas Story.” In fact, Peter “Ralphie” Billingsley from A Christmas Story actually appeared in the final two episodes of the show, as one of Kevin’s roommates.
The Show is Set in Anytown, USA
The show had no known hometown. When filming the series, the chiefs at ABC insisted that the show not given any clues as to where it might be located. There were no license plates, driver’s licenses or any other indications as to where the show is filmed. The show was filmed in California but for the sake of the viewers watching, it could have taken place anywhere. Which was exactly the point.
It Won its First Emmy After Just Six Episodes
“The Wonder Years” didn’t roar out of the gate with high ratings, despite its Super Bowl post-game debut. However, after the show’s sixth episode, it was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and took home the award in 1988.
Fred Savage Became the Youngest Lead Actor Emmy Nominee
In 1989, when he was just 13 years old, Fred Savage became the youngest actor to be nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category. He was also nominated in 1990. Not bad for a role he had to move halfway across the country to land. As a fan of “The Wonder Years,” I can testify to the fact that the show really did guide me through some of my more confusing years. The show was funny, introspective, and genuine — all attributes we don’t see a lot in scripted TV series these days.