‘Dream, Try, Do Good’: The Oral History Of ‘Boy Meets World’

01.31.17 3 months ago 6 Comments

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In 1993 Boy Meets World joined ABC’s TGIF lineup of Family Matters, Step by Step, and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. The show, created by Michael Jacobs (who had previously co-created the TGIF sitcom Dinosaurs), focused on Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), a 6th-grader navigating his way through the changes in his family and school life. Over the course of its seven-year run we watched as the love between Cory and his girlfriend, Topanga, grew. Saw his best friend, Shawn, get thrown into increasingly heartbreaking situations, and his brother, Eric, grow crazier with each episode. And throughout it all, Mr. Feeny was by their side as a mentor and guide.

Since its finale in 2000, Boy Meets World has garnered a post-TGIF legacy and a following that’s been an unexpected surprise for the show’s cast and writers. But thanks to its syndication on the Disney channel and the nostalgia of the internet, the love for Boy Meets World is stronger than ever. The outpouring of this fandom became increasingly apparent with the 2013 release of Girls Meets World, where the show’s characters live on through the worldview of Cory and Topanga’s daughter, Riley.

We spoke with Jacobs, actors Will Friedle (Eric), Rider Strong (Shawn), William Daniels (Mr. Feeny), William Russ (Alan), Anthony Tyler Quinn (Mr. Turner), Matthew Lawrence (Jack) and Maitland Ward (Rachel), and writers Jeff Sherman and Jeff Menell about the creation of Boy Meets World, its many phases and mysteries, and how the lives of these beloved characters continue on.

Chapter 1

When This Boy Meets World

ABC

Michael Jacobs had just wrappedDinosaurs when he found himself walking down the hallways at ABC, where he ran into a Disney executive. The executive pulled him aside to share with him demographic charts and records on the dollars spent from those in the 12- to 14-year-old demographic. The executive told him, “I’m just showing you how important this demographic is because you’re the one that seems to like writing for this demographic.” From this notion, Boy Meets World was born.

Michael Jacobs, creator/executive producer: All of the shows that we had seen, like Family Ties and Growing Pains, where you would focus on the oldest character, Michael J. Fox or Kirk Cameron — the template that was currently on the air — and you do an iconic episode, like that character’s first date. So what if we did a different structure? What if we took a middle child and instead of focusing on the first date aspect of the older child, he was looking at it as a betrayal? Which is what we did in the pilot when Eric went on his first date and took a girl to a baseball game instead of Cory.

Jeff Sherman, producer/writer: I had a friend who worked with Michael, Ann (AJ) Johnson, and she said “He’s doing a four-camera version of The Wonder Years,” and I said, “Who’s in it?” And she said “The brother of the guy on The Wonder Years.” It kind of intrigued me.

Jacobs: I found out who ABC had under contract at that point and there was one kid and it was Ben [Savage]. I thought, what are the odds that I could possibly like this kid? So I invited him to my office and from the moment he walked in he was somebody I respected and was, and am, and will always be extraordinarily fond of. Ben came into my office and he sat on my desk and he told me how he was going to do the show. And he was 11-years-old. He was always as good as his word because he had definite designs on the character and he was very easy to write for.

Anthony Tyler Quinn, “Jonathan Turner”: I didn’t know who Ben Savage was and when I heard that name I pictured this 40-year-old man. I just couldn’t think that the name Ben Savage was a 10-year-old kid… he was so friendly, so nice, and he wasn’t like this obnoxious child star. He was cooperative, his work ethic was great.

Will Friedle, “Eric Matthews”: I got a call one day from my agent, like I always did, that there was an audition for the role of the older brother on something called The Ben Savage Project. I was planning on going down [to New York] but I got sick. So I couldn’t go and they cast somebody else. There originally was another Eric when they shot the pilot, with somebody named Harry something-or-other. From everything I’ve heard he was a very funny guy and a good actor. But he was the same size as Ben and they knew that Ben, at 11-years-old, was going to grow up. He was going to get taller. So they wanted the older brother to be taller at the start.

Rider Strong, “Shawn Hunter”: Michael will tell you a story that I was the first person to audition for the role of Shawn. I don’t think that’s true at all. But he’s been telling this story for 20 years. And he loves it.

Jacobs: Rider Strong was the first actor who auditioned for the role. There was a line of 140 kids outside my office. The casting director brought every kid available for Shawn Hunter. And Rider was the first one to audition and I said, “He’s good.” And my casting director said, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “He’s good, let’s cast him.” She said, “We have 140 kids out there!” I said, “Send them home.”

Friedle: It was down to three people: myself, my now best friend, Jason Marsden — who played my best friend on Boy Meets World — and Rider Strong’s older brother, Shiloh. The night [after I got the part] my dad and I decided to go to Universal City Walk, which was brand new at the time, and I’m walking up the hill and walking towards me is Jason Marsden with one of his friends. And he said, “Hey! How are you doing?” And I said, “Fine, fine. How are you?” And he had obviously heard and he turned to his friend and said, “This is the prick who stole my job.” My dad laughed hysterically. He’s been my best friend ever since.

Jacobs: I had always wanted to work with Bill [Daniels]. One of my favorite films ever was called Two for the Road and it was Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney and Bill Daniels was in it, along with The Graduate and along with all the things that Bill had done. You wanted to cast somebody with gravitas and Bill seemed to me perfect to play a figure of authority who not only could instruct this little boy but live next door to him.

William Daniels, “George Feeny”: Originally I said no, I didn’t want to do it. I had been doing a well-received hour show called St. Elsewhere and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be involved in a half-hour sitcom. However, I did agree to meet with the producer, Michael Jacobs, and he gave me a script. He sent me a script which I wasn’t crazy about. And I went to him with the script and he said, “This is going to be re-written.” It turns out that an executive, one of those idiots at the network, cut out things about Shakespeare and so forth thinking it was too difficult for the audience.

Strong: We did our first table read and it was a disaster. It went horribly. We had gathered all the actors and writers and all the network executives. It was a big to-do. It fell really flat and I remember everyone was really nervous. Then Michael Jacobs did what he normally does in these situations. He spent all night with the writing staff and they completely re-wrote the pilot.

Jacobs: Because I wanted to do a story that the network wasn’t sure of, and it was a very sloppy process, Bill quit on day one. And I said to Bill, “Look, I need 12 hours to make some adjustments.” And he said, “You can’t possibly do what they’re asking you to do in 12-hours.” And the next morning Bill got the script and came into my office and said, “If you can do this in one night I will stand next to this little white picket fence for seven years.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Daniels: Finally I said to Michael Jacobs, “How many scenes am I going to have to stand here and play across this fence?” And he said, “I figure about seven seasons,” [Laughs.] Wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear at the time… He was rather prophetic.

Strong: I just remember not thinking that much about the role of Shawn because he wasn’t that much of a character. He only had five lines in the pilot. It was such a small part. So I remember thinking, well, there’s not much to do. I’d much rather be Cory.

Jacobs: We really were, literally, a coming of age comedy because the writers were coming of age as well. And instead of inviting stupid crafty idiot scripts — we’d seen it on television 20 years ago — we did things out of our own lives. We didn’t invent anything. We told stories that were the truth of what had happened to us and what our aspirations were and what we wanted. Perfect love and perfect life and what are the hurdles we put in our own way and we attacked it.

Sherman: I was known on the show — and this is a horrible thing to say — I was known as “Special Jeff” because every year I’d say, “We should do something about school vandalism” or “We should do something about child abuse.” And everybody would look at me like, “Come on man. It’s a comedy, we’re not doing that.” But I just kept wanting to give a backbone to the show. I would always push that a little bit more.

Jacobs: The issues we raised, we never disguised anything and I think that the audience really gravitated to the show for that. And I think that they came to expect more and more.

Sherman: We took chances because we were an ABC prime network kind of show. I did a show the first year about running away from home, it was called “The Fugitive,” and you probably couldn’t have done that at the time on a Disney channel show.

Strong: Shawn was always a reminder that not everything in Boy Meets World land is happy, healthy, perfect family, [where] everybody’s great. Shawn was an important reminder that outside the Matthews family there’s potential for kids to go wrong, some way or another. Obviously within the confines of a safe family sitcom, so it’s not like Shawn was shooting up or killing people.

Jeff Menell, producer/writer: Rider was a great kid and a great actor but he was a little more serious of a person. Even at the age of 14, he’s carrying a book of poetry, which is something I’ve never done in my life. I think that led to a little bit more serious of a character. Things did get a little serious at times.

Strong: I was always the drama factor and I was always the one who had family members dying and family members abandoning him or whatever the tragedy was, they would always throw it at me. And I think, for me, it’s not something I would have watched, even as a teenager. Again, there was distance between my personal taste and the show that I was on.

Jacobs: It changed when we realized we had a hit on our hands. We stopped being cautious because we knew that we weren’t going to be canceled and that we were going to be picked up for a number of years. And that enabled us to actually get better because the audience came to expect something that was a little bit better each week and the network couldn’t wait to come to the table to see what topic we would be tackling because it was from the point of view of children.

Friedle: We had no publicity about our show at all. And there would be tons of publicity about Urkel and Family Matters. And then our show was on, nobody talked about it. Sabrina came on, everyone talked about Melissa Joan Hart and Sabrina.

Sherman: We were huge the first season. Sabrina eclipsed everybody on the night eventually. It was the big popular show. I mean, how do you beat a magic cat?

Chapter 2

For The Love of Cory and Topanga

ABC

A driving force ofBoy Meets World was the saga between Cory and Topanga. When we first meet Topanga in episode four, “Cory’s Alternative Friends,” she is a hippie child assigned to work with Cory on a school project. This results in her visiting his house and drawing lipstick on her face in a performance art piece. The writers saw the chemistry and grew their relationship from there. Though the relationship was tested throughout the years.

William Russ, “Alan Matthews”: [Jacobs] always had it in mind that sometimes there are people, and sometimes you meet them when you’re very young, who you’re supposed to be with. And sometimes you don’t know that. You break up then you come back again and we all have karmic destinies to live out, if you want to look at it that way. And I think he always knew that Topanga and Cory were destined to be together one way or another. Is it unusual? Yes. But sometimes it isn’t.

Jacobs: I thought, what’s going to happen with this boy confused by life? What would be the stabilizing influences? And I thought that he would want to discover and find love forever and we pretty much decided early on that wouldn’t it be great if we could do a show about a kid who knew what he wanted? Fell in absolute love with somebody and against every conceivable storyline we could come up, they made it work? And that was something that we wanted early on.

Sherman: For a while we’d break them up and have other girls come in. But they were just so great together we thought, well what if he did have a childhood romance that was the person he ended up with?

Menell: The episode where things really changed was “Cory’s Alternative Friends,” where [Topanga] puts the lipstick on [Cory’s] face and they end up doing a project together. And when their hands touch there’s a spark. They had chemistry, the two kids, the actors, so we just kept writing storylines and I think it progressed as a natural thing.

Sherman: Michael, every year we’d have to talk him out of [Cory and Topanga] getting married, “Like Romeo and Juliet, they’d run away at 14.” I’d say, “No they’re not.” He kept wanting to get them every year and I’d say, “No Michael, they can’t get married this year.”

Jacobs: The head of ABC, when I told them we were going to marry them at 19, said it was a very irresponsible thing to do and that the audience didn’t want it. And I said to him, “Listen, you have this thing called abc.com,” it was brand new, “why don’t you run a graphic and find out how many people are waiting for Cory and Topanga to marry?” And so he said, “It’s ridiculous, we’ll get maybe 20,000 hits and that’s it and who can tell anything from that?” And I said, “Why don’t we try it.” And in the first seven minutes they got about 280,000 hits and then the thing broke. And out of the 280,000 hits, 280,000 people said, “What do you think we’re waiting for?” I got a call from the president of the network the next day who said, “Could you please marry them in sweeps?”

Friedle: You find that person like Cory who focuses his love on one person and that’s what you’ve got. I give my all to this one person forever. And then you find someone like Eric who loves everyone. And he really is the smile of humanity. Every person I meet I can find something I love about them, this person’s wonderful, that person. So I think he wouldn’t want to concentrate on one person and that’s why he is a Senator now. I love America, I love people, and I just want to help them. Eric’s dating the world. That’s just how he is.

Chapter 3

Eric Goes Crazy

ABC

Of all the characters onBoy Meets World no one changed to the degree of Eric Matthews. When the show started he was a cool older brother, someone Cory looked up to and felt abandoned by once he started dating. He was academically average but by no means was anyone questioning his sanity. As the show progressed, and with Will Friedle’s comedic talents becoming more apparent to the writers and audience, the character shifted dramatically to accommodate. By the time the show was in its college years Eric was hiding in sofa seat-cushions and professing that his favorite fish was penguin.

Friedle: When I started the show, as an actor, I was terrible. When you go back and you watch the first episodes I was very wooden, I was very stiff. Just trying. “Please don’t fire me, I’m trying to say my lines!” It was that kind of thing. It wasn’t until second or third season [where] I really started to loosen up. And then when you start to loosen up and start to take it in a different direction, then they’re no longer writing to you, they’re writing for you.

Jacobs: If you have characters, especially as the years go by, that become well known to the audience, the audience will trust you if the rhythms change. And all of the sudden they were laughing. I mean we had live audiences and they were laughing at eyebrow raises and just looks that Will was able to do and it greatly affected the rest of the cast because, of course, they wanted it too. I think the audience noticed and the audience would sit up and pay attention because they didn’t quite know what the formula of the show was going to be and that was a benefit to us.

Friedle: One of my favorite moments was in the first season, and it was my favorite moment for a number of reasons. One is because it was my first ever on-screen kiss, with Keri Russell. And it was the first episode I got to really work with Bill Daniels. After that, Feeny and Eric became a thing which had never happened before. And also because I got the biggest laugh I’ve ever had to date and it unlocked something in me too. “Oh, that’s how you get the laugh.”

Maitland Ward, “Rachel McGuire”: I wish I had been able to play a little bit more with Eric but Michael did make a point, cause people always ask, “Why didn’t you give Eric a shot? Why didn’t he have a shot with Rachel?” And Michael Jacobs would say, “It was always funnier when Eric didn’t win. It was always funniest if he was pursuing her but never quite got there.” So that makes sense to me, but playing with Will is so great.

Friedle: The character changed dramatically, from being a suave older brother who always dated girls, to sneezing out lottery numbers while wearing a helmet.

Jacobs: Will’s a good looking guy, he was always a good looking guy who we thought would be an interesting older brother and good influence for Cory. And then we decided that the dumber we made him the better a character he was. And the network said, “How dumb can you possibly make this guy?” And we thought, dumber. Dumber, dumber, dumber. Let’s really explore the depths of how stupid this character could be while keeping his heart the best heart of the entire cast.

Menell: I don’t think on the show it got so crazy that we would wince or regret it. There was an episode where he was trying to get Topanga and he’d hide in a painting, he’d hide in a couch, he got struck by lighting. It was just so funny we didn’t care. The laughter it brought from our end and, we believe, from the audience at home… it was worth it every single time.

Friedle: I knew what my job was and there were times when I loved it and times when I didn’t like what was happening. And my job was, I’m here to make you laugh. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m a part of this, especially certain stories like the cult or something like that, okay well now we’re going to cut to Eric’s story where we can lighten up what’s going on. And then there were times I would talk to Michael about it and say, “Look, I feel like they’re all acting, doing one show, and then you’re cutting to me dancing.” And then he’d say, “Alright, we’ll work something in.” And then they would do like a Tommy kind of thing, or Eric going to college kind of thing. So they definitely tried to layer in more of the dramatic stuff for me towards the middle. And then towards the end Eric just got crazy. But at that point it was so much fun to play that it didn’t matter.

Strong: Will and I quickly became very close and good friends. It was detrimental to the show if we were in scenes together. In general, if you ever got more than three of us in a scene together, we would fall apart. That’s why certain episodes were the most fun to shoot. Like the Halloween episode, “And Then There Was Shawn,” that episode was this legendary awful night where we could not stop laughing. We were having so much fun. When you watch that episode there’s six or seven of us in every scene together all the time. So it’s all of us, just making each other laugh constantly and goofing off. I’m sure it was a nightmare for everybody.

Sherman: I wanted to do my swan song and I loved Will. I’m such good friends to this day with Will, Rider, and Ben. I thought, what do I want to tell my kids? What do I want to tell kids? I loved Eric’s character and he would always complain to me that I wasn’t writing enough for him. I did the one where he did the one-man show. It was an interesting thing. I knew it was my last episode. I said [to Michael], “I want to get Eric in college.” He goes, “He’s such an idiot.” I said, “I know he’s an idiot on the show but the thing about Eric is he’s an idiot on the surface but he’s brilliant on the bottom. Deep down he’s like this sagely guy, we have such a responsibility.” So I put my foot down and said, “I’m writing this show.”

Jacobs: [Eric] was the most loyal, he was so interesting. And then, of course, it came out that what we were trying to do was not make him foolish or dumb at all. What we were trying to say was that this character, at his core, also should be aspired to. Because he was the one who knew, “Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself,” which is one of the smartest things we ever said. So it was a wonderful arc for Eric.

Chapter 4

Feeny, Fe-he-he-he-heny!

ABC

Though William Daniels initially had misgivings about being in the sitcom he was assured that the character of Mr. Feeny would be a dignified educator. Through seven seasons, Mr. Feeny stood as an upstanding and calm force in the lives of the children that he developed a soft spot for, delivering the final words in the show’s last episode when he says, after Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric have left the classroom, “I love you all, class dismissed.”

Daniels: I didn’t want to make fun of the teaching profession which doesn’t get enough respect and is certainly underpaid. So when I met with Michael he told me who he was using as his idea from his own experience and it turned out to be a teacher from his high school who was a mentor of his and he was basing the character on that. So it came from a great deal of respect and it wasn’t going to be a foolish teacher who is doing things for cheap laughs.

Matthew Lawrence, “Jack Hunter”: His presence felt exactly like it came across on camera. He was the educator. He was the role model. He was the guy who when he walked in a room you got a little quieter. He was that guy. He was Mr. Feeny.

Jacobs: There was a scene where Danielle went to Feeny to discuss whether or not she should go to Yale or whether or not she should stay with Cory and go to Pennbrook. That was one of the great scenes because if you watch Feeny and Danielle together you just saw that Feeny is all things to all people. And that was the way the character was always devised in the very beginning. He was supposed to be a mentor to Cory but it worked so well that we realized that we could spread him out and we did.

Daniels: It fit into my personality rather well, as a matter of fact, in terms of being observant, in terms of being a little hardass. But also with a little humor, which I always try to bring to something.

Friedle: On the page it just said, “Eric goes to the fence.” And then my line was just, “Mr. Feeny, Mr. Feeny.” So the first time I said it, I said it. And I think it just progressively, at first, just started getting louder. And then it was just yelling it. And then it was just me going off and adding all the weird stuff. And then, at one point, it was just me trying to make Bill laugh because no ever one could.

Jacobs: We spoke to Will on set-up lines and on lines that were clearly not the punch lines. I said, “I don’t understand why you’re not getting a laugh on this.” And he would always say, “What are you talking about? How do I get a laugh on this?” And I said, “Find a way.” Will would shift the rhythms of the lines and we used to bet on where the audience would go. And it changed Will’s dynamic in his delivery.

Friedle: A lot of people will claim credit for [the Feeny call]. That is, in fact, mine 100 percent. I will take full credit for that one, thank you very much. Put that in bold caps if you would [laughs].

Daniels: Laughter is sacred in these shows. It’s something you really should look for. There are shows that I’m looking at now that have really good actors that I often think they’re so severe they could use a smile and a laugh every once in a while.

Quinn: When you think about William Daniels, he’s old Hollywood. When you look at his films and clips from films that he’s done, he’s worked with everybody. And he was several years older than the kids and so forth so I guess there would be a generation gap, a little bit. He and I would sit and talk for hours because I would just grill him on all these films that he was in and what was it like to work with Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty.

Russ: I think at first he was intimidated. Although he was a stage actor many times, I don’t think he had ever done a show in front of an audience like that. And so yes, Bill was very quiet. Bill loved the kids but he was very professional and he loved to read. He would be up in his dressing room reading and I was a go-between. I would come down and goof off with the kids and then I’d go sit down with Bill and talk about books, then go down and goof off with the kids again.

Daniels: Sometimes [it] was difficult for me because the kids had their families there and there was food backstage. It was like a party kind of thing, with the atmosphere that way. But I was too old to indulge in that because I was too busy making sure I wouldn’t blow my lines. So I would hang out in my dressing room while all those festivities with the kid’s families and friends would do that. And they wouldn’t shut up until somebody yelled, “rolling!” And then they’d shut up. So I’d come down when my scenes were ready to be done and do them.

Lawrence: After a long time he finally cracked a little bit and let me see some more of his softer qualities. He was an amazing man and I still tell stories that he’s told me. He and his wife talk about the golden era of film, they were part of that. His wife was best friends with Marilyn Monroe and all the incredible stories he would tell, you would try to soak up any of that when you could.

Daniels: I never spoke down to them, I never tried to give them notes on their acting, none of that. I stayed away from that. They did their own thing. I respected them as equals. They were equals. And that’s the way it remained.

Friedle: He, in seven years, was never late. If his call time was 9 o’ clock he was there at 7:30. I think he can count on one hand the number of times he missed a line and it was only because he flubbed it. He never once didn’t have his lines memorized. Never once missed a mark. He was such a professional that we tried to absorb as much of it as we possibly could.

Chapter 5

A Change Of Cast

ABC

When the gang was in high school they had a too cool for school teacher, Mr. Turner — the man drove a motorcycle and wore a leather jacket and tasked his students with reading X-Men. He became an important mentor to everyone, but in particular Shawn. When Shawn’s family abandoned him, Mr. Turner took on a fatherly role in Shawn’s life. Then he had a motorcycle accident, ended up in a coma, and we never saw him again. Boy Meets World is full of mysteries such as this (many of which have been resolved via Girls Meets World. We can now rest easy knowing that Mr. Turner became a superintendent. He is alive!). But with Turner gone and the show reaching its next phase we were introduced to Shawn’s brother Jack (Matthew Lawrence), as well as a love interest for both Jack and Eric, Rachel (Maitland Ward) which, in turn, created a whole new world for Eric.

Jacobs: There are lots of reasons that characters come and go and a lot of them are creative. But a lot of them are budgetary as well. Remember, we work for executives who all look at research and they suggest the types of characters they want and who they would like to see. We knew that Eric was succeeding beautifully as a character but we also knew that Eric only involved with Rider and Cory seemed odd… we knew that what Eric really needed was somebody to play off of and Matthew Lawrence was available and it was a no-brainer to me. And we put them together and then decided to add Maitland Ward and all of the sudden we had these wonderful secondary stories.

Quinn: I was very excited because I thought they were really going to mine the depths of the pitfalls and the advantages and disadvantages of a relationship like [Shawn and Mr. Turner’s]. Where a teacher really becomes a mentor and a primary caregiver for a student that falls through the cracks. But I guess the network decided to go in another direction.

Menell: I think it was actually my episode where [Mr. Turner] went into the coma. The show just moved past Shawn living with Turner. They were about to be in college and we weren’t going to linger in the hospital. As far as I know we never even mentioned him again.

Quinn: I did feel like they ended it abruptly or just left it hanging. And so many people have said, “What happened to your character?” And I’m like, “Unfortunately, I don’t have those answers.” I don’t know why they did it that way. [Laughs.] But they kind of left me in a hospital bed.

Strong: Continuity started seeping in as Cory and Topanga’s love story started tracking over seven years. But even that changed. How they met changed over the course of seven years. So our show is still very much one foot planted firmly in the ’80s tradition of television and then another foot in what was becoming the new television tradition of the aughts, which is to be more continuous.

Jacobs: Tony’s character and Alex Désert, who played Eli Williams, all of these wonderful teachers were very beneficial to us. And we’re employing the same thing on Girl Meets World, we have some lovely teachers that we’re now introducing. But it was always a coming of age comedy and these teachers had long since come of age. But we felt that where the magnifying glass needed to be was on the generation that was coming of age and that’s why we added Jack.

Lawrence: With the cast, they were always nice but they were kind of like, “Who is this guy? And how is he going to be cool and fit in?” Because they were all friends and very cool and nice people. And I had to prove myself to them a little bit. That also took a little bit of time. But once they realized that I was just like them, it really started to click and work. Especially when Will and I started to develop a relationship.

Friedle: By the time Eric switched to the character he was and became the wacky guy, he didn’t really have that partner in crime. So when they brought Matty in to play the straight man, I thought it worked really well.

Ward: I was a little bit nervous because it’s such a tight-knit group of people who’ve been working together for so long and I came in right after Matt. I was intimidated but they were really welcoming and open the moment I got there. It was such a family environment and everybody was really great so they put me at ease right away.

Lawrence: I didn’t 100 percent understand Michael’s comedy at first. At the end of every show or run-through, you do notes. There’s usually a couple pages of notes and the notes can be anything from acting performance notes to camera work to lighting. There are usually 30-60 notes, somewhere around in there. The first week I think that we had 50 some odd notes that I was on and I think 50 of them were mine. And that’s also part of what Michael does. He pushes his actors and the people he works with to be better all the time. At first, it was very hard for me to handle. Then once I got it the second or third week I started to really appreciate it, then I started to feed off of it just like everybody else.

Chapter 6

Instant Fame And Hair Obsessions

ABC

A notable aspect of Boy Meets World was Shawn’s hair, which became the focus of many an interview Strong had throughout those seven years.

Friedle: I was in the teen magazines but [Rider] really took off in the teen magazines. So I think he had that touch of fame. And then when you brought Matty Lawrence on and he was with the Lawrence family, that kind of stuff, they had that touch of fame. But we were never that mobbed everywhere you go kind of show.

Strong: It’s not like everyone is sitting around reading Bop going, “That Rider, he’s a really great actor. He’s really bringing it.” No, it’s more about what my hair looks like or what I look for in a girl or clothing I’m wearing. So that made me really uncomfortable. I was never good at being a physical specimen put on display.

Lawrence: I wanted to grow my hair and my facial hair and Disney basically said that I was not allowed to have longer hair or facial hair. So I put up a fight, I made a stink. I said, “Hey, we’re into our college years, I want to be relatable. So I’m growing facial hair and you can fire me if you want to.” Apparently, I was one of the first people to have facial hair on a young Disney show because I grew a soul patch and they finally let it go. Both Rider and Will were [eventually] allowed to grow goatees. I forged a facial hair path, I did.

Strong: You look at Will Friedle, his hair was kind of the same way [as mine], we were all just part of that time. I guess it was just the look. Now it’s become this ’90s defining look. It’s just kind of embarrassing. I hated it then, it’s not really my natural hair, my hair’s not naturally that straight. It’s more wavy. If my hair was the way it normally is I would look way more 1970s, feathered hair. My hair just grows out into gigantic wings when it gets that long. The Shawn Hunter hair was always a lie.

Chapter 7

The End And The Beginning

The Disney Channel

The last episode of Boy Meets World pulls at the heartstrings and provides a fitting stopping point, but in 2013, Girl Meets World debuted, offering fans a chance to say hello again while introducing the concept and many of the characters to a new generation.

Jacobs: Writing that last episode and going out with “Dream, try, do good.” “Don’t you mean do well?” “No, I mean do good.” That’s all we ever wanted to say and that sentiment exists on Girl Meets World, it’s in Cory’s room because he never forgot it.

Daniels: It was a very well-written moment. Very well set up with those kids and them leaving the room and me revealing a part of Mr. Feeny that wasn’t necessarily apparent throughout the series. I was left with some very nice lines to say and I felt that they were moving lines.

Sherman: I still can’t believe people talk about the show. I meet little kids who go, “I love Boy Meets World!”

Friedle: Plays With Squirrels ended up being a pretty significant event, which I didn’t know ’til later when there are websites and books. [Laughs.]

Strong: The only reason you’re talking to me right now is because of Boy Meets World. And it’s like, alright, that’s what I’m going to be talking about for so much of my life. My obituary is going to lead with, “Shawn from Boy Meets World Died” and that’s just something that I’m always going to be contending with because, for me, the stuff that I watch and read and think about is different. And I have other things I want to do, I have other goals. It’s a complicated relationship, it’s not like I hate everything about it and it’s not like I love everything about it. It’s somewhere in-between.

Friedle: You can get Rider to bring death into a Boy Meets World conversation. That is Mr. Strong. That is wonderful.

Jacobs: In the 20 years between Boy and Girl we think it’s a darker, much more challenging world. I mean, there weren’t even cell phones at the end of Boy Meets World. We think that kids have much greater awareness.

Friedle: For the whole first season of Girls Meets World I said, “No thank you.” And then [Jacobs] said, “Look, we have an idea, we want to bring you back and you’re going to end up being a senator.” “A U.S. senator?” “Yeah.” “Okay, that’s kind of genius.” “So will you come back?” “If I can write one.” So I came back.

Strong: I have been writing and directing, so I talked to Michael Jacobs and I said, “Look, I’ll come back and do some episodes but I definitely want to direct.” And it’s worked out great.

Friedle: Nobody is going to think about Cory and not think about Topanga. Nobody is going to think about Shawn and not think about Cory, Topanga, and Eric. We’re forever connected and it’s awesome. Some people might not like it, I think it’s wonderful. I do.

Jacobs: The threads that continue from Boy Meets World to Girl Meets World make me realize that the story just wasn’t over and that we never really wrote a last episode of Boy Meets World because life continues. Because people marry and have children. Because all of these characters that you grow up with and enjoy and fall in love with yourself… they continue.