11:30am PT by Lesley Goldberg
'The Wonder Years' Reboot Featuring Black Family a Go at ABC
The Wonder Years is returning to ABC.
The network is teaming with Empire co-creator Lee Daniels for a reboot of the coming-of-age comedy nearly 30 years since it wrapped its six-season run — only this time, it will feature a Black family.
The comedy has received a sizable pilot-production commitment and will open a mini writers room once the network approves the script. The goal, per sources, is for the new Wonder Years to be developed for the 2021-22 television season.
While the original series starred Fred Savage and revolved around a white middle-class family in the 1960s suburbs, the Disney-owned network's new take focuses on how a Black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama, in the turbulent late '60s made sure it was "the wonder years" for them, too.
Comedy veteran Saladin K. Patterson (The Big Bang Theory, Frasier, The Bernie Mac Show) will pen the script and exec produce alongside Daniels and his Lee Daniels Entertainment banner president Marc Velez. Original series co-creator Neal Marlens is attached as a consultant. Savage, who broke out with The Wonder Years and has maintained a long career in Hollywood, will also exec produce and direct.
Sources say Daniels, Velez, Patterson and Savage brought the idea directly to ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke, who previously singled out The Wonder Years as one of the programs that made her want to work in television. Savage and Patterson are close friends, with the former having directed the latter's untitled Leslie Odom Jr. multicamera pilot last year.
The potential series is produced via Disney-owned 20th Century Fox Television, where Daniels and Savage are both under overall deals.
Daniels is fresh off wrapping Fox's Empire, which had production on its final season cut short by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Rumors have also swirled that Fox could bring back the franchise with a Taraji P. Henson-led spinoff that would also help wrap up the flagship's narrative. He currently is working on feature The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Savage most recently directed multiple episodes of ABC's Single Parents, The Conners and Modern Family and hosted/created the Fox summer series What Just Happened?! Patterson most recently wrote on and exec produced FX's Dave and TBS' The Last O.G. His credits also include years on Two and a Half Men and Psych and co-writing the screenplay for 2003's The Fighting Temptations, starring Beyoncé and Cuba Gooding Jr.
For ABC's part, The Wonder Years arrives as the network is moving forward on filming only a handful of its pilots after the production shutdown upended the season. The network has maintained a critically acclaimed comedy brand that features family fare that represents communities that have traditionally been underserved on television, with series including Black-ish, the recently wrapped Fresh Off the Boat and, to a lesser extent, The Conners, which focuses on the working class.
The Wonder Years ran for six seasons between 1988 and 1993. Savage starred as Kevin Arnold, a teen growing up with his middle-class family in the suburbs, though exactly where was never reveal. The series earned a prestigious Peabody Award and an Emmy for best comedy after its first season. Savage at 13 also became the youngest actor ever nominated for a lead actor in a comedy series Emmy in 1988. Danica McKellar, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Olivia d'Abo, Jason Hervey and Josh Saviano co-starred, with Daniel Stern providing the show's trademark narration as a grown-up Kevin.
Reboots continue to be in high demand across the TV landscape as they come with built-in brand awareness that helps programs cut through a cluttered landscape that features more than 500 scripted originals. They also help reduce the sizable costs of marketing and promoting a show. Having the original creators and studios involved is often key to reboots and revivals. The Wonder Years has its original co-creator, the blessing and involvement of its star and the original studio (20th TV).