April 18, 2014 – On March 24, I took part in an on camera interview for the upcoming, highly anticipated release of The Wonder Years on DVD. It has been twenty-five years―a quarter century―since the phone call that changed my life forever. While working as an assistant and later a script clearance reader in the legal department at 20th Century Fox, I was spending all of my down time feverishly cranking out spec scripts. While temping, I’d written my infamous Murder, She Wrote episode, then followed that up with two specs for CBS’s short-lived revival of The Twilight Zone. The feature screenplays Temporary Insanity and Dead Reckoning followed. And while I was getting good feedback, I wasn’t getting a job. Finally, a friend of mine asked if I’d seen this new show that had premiered after the Super Bowl. Not being much of a sports fan, I hadn’t, but promised I’d catch the next episode. That show was, of course, The Wonder Years, and I instantly felt that I was reliving my own past, being only two years younger than Kevin Arnold. Over the first two seasons, I studied the show, then finally sat down to write a spec script loosely inspired by my thirteenth summer when my family vacationed in the place where my mom and dad had honeymooned―Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was there I met a girl who was a year my senior, and it was with her that I experienced my first French kiss. With that tiny seed of an idea, I cranked out “Summer Song” and sent it to my agent, Sylvia, who promptly passed it on to the producers of the show. A few days later, she called and told me they had liked the script and wanted me to come in and pitch. “Pitch what?” I asked, naively. “Ideas for other episodes.” “But I don’t have any others.” “Then you better come up with some before next Tuesday.” When the day arrived, I was nervously ushered into the producers’ offices on Hayden Place in Culver City, and even more nervously proceeded to pitch a handful of ideas including a Halloween episode, something about an essay contest, and a more personal story about the death of a beloved science teacher, Miss Sentelle. It was this last idea that got traction with the Bobs―Bob Brush, the showrunner, and Bob Stevens, his second in command. We then scheduled a day that I would come back and we’d “break” the episode for me to write as a freelance assignment. As I left, I honestly don’t recall the earth being beneath my feet.
The following week, I met the Bobs at the writers’ offices―an apartment building about a mile or so from the converted warehouse where the show was filmed. We tried valiantly to crack the teacher dying story, but as often happens in a writers’ room, we weren’t getting any traction. The Bobs decided to “put a pin” in that idea as something I might write later on, and the conversation turned to the show’s impending third season. That’s when someone mentioned that the character of Wayne would be celebrating his 16th birthday. “Then you should do the episode where he gets his driver’s license and uses it to terrorize Kevin.” I’m pretty sure it was Brush who snapped his fingers and said, “That’s your episode.” And that’s how I pitched “Wayne on Wheels,” which became the third episode of the third season, and my first professional writing assignment. Flash forward a few weeks, and the Bobs liked my revised draft enough that they offered me a ten week staff gig, and on my first day as a professional writer, working with a staff of freshly Emmy-nominated scribes*, I learned that they were also planning to buy “Summer Song” as the season opener that year. After that high note, I went on to do three seasons of the show, racking up a total of eighteen writing credits before deciding it was time to move on and broaden my horizons. To this day, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to say The Wonder Years―a show about first crushes, first kisses, first pimples, etc―was also my first. Stay tuned…
Look for The Wonder Years complete series on DVD, with the original music (unlike the episodes streaming on NetFlix), coming late fall from Time-Life.
* Although The Wonder Years had four of the five Emmy nominations for best comedy writing that season, Diane English won for the pilot of Murphy Brown.