According to actress Alley Mills, ABC's classic coming-of-age TV series "The Wonder Years" was canceled following its sixth season in May of 1993 because of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Fred Savage, then starring in the show as All-American kid Kevin Arnold — 25 years before the #MeToo Movement and Time's Up even began.
During an interview (see the video below) with Yahoo given in advance of the 30th anniversary of the show’s 1988 debut, Mills, who played Savage’s onscreen mom, Norma Arnold, alleged that the contrary to prior reports, the lawsuit was one of the major reasons the popular show was not renewed for a seventh season.
“I just thought [the lawsuit] was a big joke and it was going to blow over,” Mills said.
An article from the March 18, 1993, edition of The Los Angeles Times details the sexual harassment lawsuit costume designer Monique Long filed against series' star Savage, then 16, and co-star Jason Hervey, then 20, who played his bully of an older brother, Wayne.
Long, who was 31 at the time, claimed the two sexually harassed her both verbally and physically, and that she was fired "because she had voiced concerns about the harassment."
Long alleged that "Savage constantly held her hand, asked her to have an affair and made sexual remarks. [And] charged that Savage and Hervey also made 'sexual and lewd' comments to other female employees on the show."
The series aired from 1988 to 1993, running for six highly successful seasons before its ultimate demise, and Mills is the first cast member to speak publicly about the lawsuit against two of the show's leading actors.
“When we shot the series finale… nobody knew whether or not "The Wonder Years" was going to be renewed,” Mills said. “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.”
The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed after the parties reached an out-of-court settlement, a move Mills believes was an ill-advised plan of action orchestrated by higher-ups at ABC.
“I just thought this was a joke. You know, they bought her off, which really made me mad,” Mills told Yahoo.
“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.”
While ABC did not respond to Yahoo's request for a comment on Mills' remarks, Long, who is still working as a costume designer, did. And she stands by her claims from nearly three decades ago.
“What I will say at this time is, that back then, claiming sexual harassment was NOT popular nor acceptable in Hollywood," Long stated in an email to Yahoo, "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.”
Savage appears to only have answered a question regarding the lawsuit once, while enrolled as a student at Stanford University.
"I was completely exonerated," Savage told the SF Gate in 1996. "I really don't want to talk about it. It was a terrible experience."
According to Yahoo, Mills said she and others involved with the show were forbidden from speaking about the lawsuit at the time, “Which made me so upset. We had a gag order on us, and I wanted to scream on television, ‘This is ridiculous!’”
Alley Mills (left) and Fred Savage (right), Getty Images
At the time the show was canceled, fans were told the series was wrapping up as the result of two ongoing issues.
One was a conflict between the series creators, who felt that "as Kevin matured, [they] wanted the storylines to mature as well," and network executives, who "felt uncomfortable with more explicit content given the time slot, saying, 'We felt it was inappropriate to present Kevin's awakening because of the setting in the 1960s, the gentle tone of the series and, most importantly, the 8 p.m. time period.'"
The second was the combined problem of "escalating costs and declining ratings. The cast's salary increases, coupled with location shooting [led to claims] that they were spending $1.2 million an episode."
Interestingly, a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone offers a curious look into Mills' perspective on the series.
Billed as "Look Back in Wonder: An Oral History of 'The Wonder Years,'" co-creator Neal Marlens and several leading cast members were asked to reflect on specific moments over the course of the series' run.
Mills responses throughout the article are... interesting.
When asked about the show's beginnings:
"Olivia [D'Abo, who played Karen Arnold] was the first person I auditioned with. And when I walked into my audition, she had on no bra. She had pretty big boobs and no bra on. When we were reading I actually…she made me blush. She in my face with her boobs. Everybody in the room was howling! But it was sort of instant chemistry. That's the kid that I used to be, but because I was being Norma at the time, she literally made my skin turn completely red."
When asked about the transition after Marlens and co-creator Carol Black left the show and Bob Brush came in as executive producer:
"I was so worried that I was sobbing, and I think I was even screaming. I said, 'You can't do this! You can't create something that could be really iconic and then bail!' But they had to. Bob Brush was new, he'd just come in, and I liked him, but I just didn't think he was going to be able to handle it. But he was seamless. I don't know how he did it; he kept the writing excellent, and he kept the quality of the show excellent."
And when asked about the series finale:
"I said, 'You cannot do this. You can't make the last episode of 'The Wonder Years' fake. You can't shoot us here at a parade, and we don't know what the narration is.' Every time there was a narration it would be read out loud as the camera would go by you. And they just generically panned us in that parade, and we had no idea what it was going to be. I was pretty much screaming at Bob Brush. [Later on] I wrote him and I said, 'You know what? I was wrong, and forgive me. I really think that you did a pretty amazing job with that last bit of narration.'"
And in Brush's own response to the end of the show, he notably shared the following:
"I knew that it would be a shock, but it was partly to inject some truth and reality into it. We didn't want it to be a fairytale; it was a real story about a real kid who grew up, and these are his memories, and then life went on; he's just like all the rest of us. It didn't seem like our story was the kind of story where everything always turned out right. I was surprised at the pushback that came after that. I know that Alley Mills was furious."
As for Long's response to Mills' take on what "really" brought "The Wonder Years" to an end, she shared this in her email to Yahoo:
“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.”