The Wonder Years, featuring a Black family in middle-class Alabama in the late ‘60s, premieres on ABC Sept. 22. Speaking on a TCA panel, the producers said their focus is to portray a family going through the everyday dramas that families go through, but things viewers have not seen from a Black family.
“We wanted to really take the opportunity to show a part of Black middle-class life that had not been seen before,” said Saladin Patterson, executive producer.
Lee Daniels, also an executive producer, said viewers have seen the Black community’s civil rights battles of the ‘60s. This is something different. “When you think of this time period in Black America, you don’t really think of the middle class,” he said. “This is our story, a story that hasn’t been told to America.”
Don Cheadle is narrator Dean, looking back on his childhood, and Elisha “EJ” Williams plays the young Dean. Dule Hill plays Dean’s father, Saycon Sengbloh portrays his mother and Laura Kariuku his sister.
Fred Savage, who played Kevin Arnold in the original Wonder Years, which was on 1988 to 1993, said the new show offers a similar blend of comedy and drama, but blazes its own trail. “A brand-new family and brand-new characters allow us to maintain some of the things we love about the original,” he said, “while also telling a wholly unique story.”
Savage is an executive producer too, as is Marc Velez. Savage directs the pilot. Hill described Savage as “a phenomenal actor and an even better director.”
Sengbloh called herself a big fan of the original Wonder Years. “Watching Fred and Elisha together on set is so heartwarming,” she said. “I’m always reliving my memories of the show.”
On Oct. 13, original Wonder Years stars Savage, Dan Lauria and Danica McKellar appear in various ABC comedies.
The producers said they were prepared for fights with ABC over some of the show’s edgier content, but ABC “embraced” The Wonder Years, Patterson said.
Daniels said “there is so much damn blackness on the show.” Shooting The Wonder Years brought him back to his childhood. “You’re saying exactly what my parents would say,” he said. “This is the conversation that we need to have.”
Elisha Williams had some fun dressing in ‘60s outfits. “The thing I’ll probably never get over is how tight those pants are,” he said.
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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