It has been nearly 30 years since “The Wonder Years” premiered on ABC. The coming-of-age dramedy, set in the late ’60s and early ’70s, aired from 1988 to 1993, yet covered themes that remain relevant today. The series is still beloved by many; in 2016, Rolling Stone ranked “The Wonder Years” No. 63 on its list of 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
So why did the popular show — which won four Emmys and was nominated for dozens of awards during its tenure — really end after Season 6?
Twenty-five years before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements swept Hollywood, the show was rocked by its own sexual harassment scandal — a scandal that, according to explosive allegations from one of the show’s stars, played a major role in the show’s cancellation.
Alley Mills, who played Fred Savage’s TV mom, Norma Arnold, sat down with Yahoo ahead of next week’s anniversary of the show’s debut and claimed for the first time that a lawsuit led to the show’s demise.
“When we shot the series finale … nobody knew whether or not The Wonder Years was going to be renewed,” Mills says, as seen in the video above. “And that’s because of a completely ridiculous sexual harassment suit that was going on against Fred Savage — who is, like, the least offensive, most wonderful, sweet human being that ever walked the face of the Earth.”
In 1993, a 31-year-old costume designer for the show, Monique Long, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the show’s young stars, Fred Savage (who played Kevin Arnold), then 16, and Jason Hervey (who played older brother Wayne Arnold), then 20. Long alleged that the actors verbally and physically harassed her, and because of that, she claimed, she couldn’t do her job properly and was fired. Representatives for the show and for the actors vehemently denied these allegations years ago.
“So I just thought [the lawsuit] was a big joke and it was going to blow over,” Mills recalls. “It’s a little bit like what’s happening now — some innocent people can get caught up in this stuff; it’s very tricky. It was so not true. It was my dresser, and I don’t care if she’s listening — I probably shouldn’t be telling this, but I don’t care because it was so long ago and it’s gotta be over now.”
Mills claims that she “wasn’t allowed to talk” back then about the lawsuit, “which made me so upset. We had a gag order on us, and I wanted to scream on television, ‘This is ridiculous!’”
The lawsuit was dropped after an undisclosed out-of-court settlement was reached, a move that the actress alleges their network, ABC, was behind. “I just thought this was a joke. You know, they bought her off, which really made me mad,” she says. “That was incorrigible that the network did that; they should never have paid her off. They wanted to avoid a scandal or something, but it made them look guilty. You know, you don’t pay someone off when there was no crime, you just fire the girl.”
ABC didn’t comment on Mills’s claims regarding the alleged gag order or settlement, when contacted by Yahoo. Representatives for Savage and Hervey have yet to respond.
When reached via email, Monique Long — who still works as a costume designer — told Yahoo that she stands by her claims made in the lawsuit: “What I will say at this time is, that back then, claiming sexual harassment was NOT popular nor acceptable in Hollywood. Now all these years later the truth about the dark side of Hollywood and the rampant prevalence of sexual harassment in the industry is out. It’s an issue of power and control and continues to be! People can say what they want, but the truth has always been public record in the complaint and all the documents and depositions filed with the courts. If anyone wants the truth of what happened they can read it there. To this day I stand by the truth in those documents.”
Long adds, “My only response to Ms. Mills’s slander is that it proves exactly why women in the industry are forced to remain silent about sexual harassment.”
So did the lawsuit end “The Wonder Years”?
When asked directly if a seventh season was torpedoed because of the allegations, Mills proclaims, “Yeah.” She adds, “I mean, it would have gone as long as the show — when you keep up a certain amount of ratings, they keep a show going. But it was because of all that garbage.”
While ABC declined to comment on Mills’s assertion, back in 1993, two different reasons were cited for “The Wonder Years”’s cancellation. First, as the stars of the show matured, the themes and storylines needed to as well, something the network was uncomfortable with.
“When [Kevin] 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,” writer and executive producer Bob Brush told the Los Angeles Times years ago. “We would get notes from the network saying, ‘You could do this on any show besides ‘The Wonder Years.‘’”
An ABC spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times 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. … The show was largely viewed by young audiences who watch with their parents, and we had to be considerate of the viewer expectation that they could watch together and feel comfortable doing so.”
Second, the paper reported that escalating costs, including more location shoots and rising cast salaries, factored into the network’s decision to end the show.
When the cast filmed the series finale, “Independence Day,” no one knew if Season 7 was going to happen. People reported at the time that the mood on set soured as they wrapped Season 6 amid the harassment scandal. “We work together 14 hours a day, five days a week, and we’re like a family,” a female member of the crew told the magazine. “Now we’re not allowed to hug on the set because it could be construed as sexual harassment. It’s real sad.”
Mills says the ambiguity regarding the show’s fate “upset” her while filming what would ultimately be the series finale.
“So, when we were standing in that parade at the end in the final episode of the show, the camera was panning on all of the characters. And we didn’t know what our voiceover was that Daniel Stern does later. Usually we do, and we have this wonderful guy Kirk Trutner — he was our narrator on the set — and Kirk would read the narration so that when the camera comes in on you, you know what [Daniel] is saying and you know what’s happening, emotionally.
“We had no idea as the camera goes over us, for the last episode of the ‘Wonder Years,’ what they were going to say,” she recalls. “And I just said, ‘This is wrong.’ I was always kind of the loudmouth, because I was the grownup. … But I was very, very upset, and they all knew it.” After the finale aired, however, the actress says she was satisfied and realized that it was ultimately a fitting end.
As for her younger co-stars, Mills was fiery in her defense of Savage and Hervey 25 years ago, and she is just as unwavering in her support of them today.
“[Fred] and his family are, like, the greatest human beings that ever lived. He still is! He is an amazing kid, Fred, just amazing; his family is amazing,” she says, sarcastically adding, “and you know, Fred, who would hold you by your ears and tell you that he loved you, that’s sexual harassment.”
She continues, “So it gets really tricky, you know, this thing that’s happening right now, all of these allegations. When they’re true, awesome. You know, bring it out, bring things to the light. But it’s so important — because I actually know a couple that are not [true] — it’s tricky, it’s really tricky because people would rather just let go of it than allow you your truth and your time in court. So, this was like, one of the first ones.”
— Reporting by Jon San
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