Now that Disney Channel's Boy Meets World follow-up Girl Meets World has found Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence's young daughter, the real work begins.
Boy Meets World executive producer Michael Jacobs, who is overseeing Girl Meets World, hopes the pilot and potential series is a nod to the past that will pay dividends in the future with the inclusion of two characters viewers have grown up with for seven seasons. But don't expect a retread of ABC's "TGIF" comedy staple. "If we do a redo of the original series, that’s no good," Jacobs told The Hollywood Reporter. "Nobody wants that."
Reaction to Girl Meets World has been loud to say the least since news broke in November, and concerns raised by fans of the original are being taken to heart. "As soon as we talked about redoing the show, the response was so overwhelming and positive that no matter what happens with this show, myself, the staff, Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel are incredibly gratified," Jacobs said.
In an in-depth conversation, Jacobs talked exclusively with THR about why he cast Rowan Blanchard for the title role in the Disney Channel effort, the appeal of bringing back a classic to television more than a decade later and whether Rider Strong (and other Boy Meets World regulars) could really drop by.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why about 11-year-old Rowan Blanchard made her right to play Cory and Topanga’s daughter?
Michael Jacobs: The thing about casting that has changed is that there were tapes that came in from all over the country, every city and town. When you say this was a national casting search, this really was. We looked at just about everybody. We had it in mind that she should be in seventh grade, 13 years old and that she should be representative of the typical 13-year-old girl. That’s basically how we set about Boy Meets World. We brought in finalists, girls we thought would be absolutely lovely in the role, and we had a test session. When we were listening to the girls and the dialog coming out of their mouths, we realized something was wrong. The girls seemed a little too old in aspect. We were doing a coming-of-age story and you can’t cast somebody who has already come of age. The cost of coming of age has gotten a little younger. I remembered Rowan and how I felt about her when she first came in. I felt like it was Cory Matthews walking into the room.
THR: What were the first reactions to her?
Jacobs: I put her in front of Gary Marsh, Adam Bonnett, Corey Marsh and all of the people at Disney Channel and they immediately said that they were very intrigued by this. It was our first breath of real honesty, that this was a real girl who was actually growing up. We came to love her quirkiness and naturalness. Rowan instructed us that this is the show we should be doing.
THR: What’s the appeal of doing a project like this right now, 13 years after Boy Meets World went off the air?
Jacobs: The appeal to me was exactly the same appeal that I had in doing the original, which is that I look around at the landscape and I look at my children and what is on television for them, and there are very few shows that are like this, what we aspire this show to be. I think of Boy Meets World and I think of Wonder Years and I think of Happy Days, which I grew up [with]. The thing that delineates this show is that I don’t want this to be anything except the natural experience of actually growing up in this current world. I’m reading a lot about, “Is this girl going to be a singer? Is this girl going to aspire to be an actress?” This is a girl who is going to aspire to put one foot in front of the other and to try and understand the confusion that is her life. That’s what I think becomes real about this show. The stories we intend on doing are stories about a real girl who is coming of age. The beauty of this show is the girl will have two parents whom the world has already watched come of age and their natural confusion in the next step of Cory and Topanga’s own evolution: being parents. I’m looking at what the condition of the world is right now for kids who are growing up and if we can offer the same sort of guidance and entertainment that Boy Meets World offered, then the show is a good thing to do right now.
THR: From your perspective, Girl Meets World is filling a void that that you believe exists in TV?
Jacobs: Since Boy Meets World went off the air, I haven’t seen this kind of programming on the air. That was reflected in the reaction, which I am extraordinarily grateful for. As soon as we talked about redoing the show, the response was so overwhelming and positive that no matter what happens with this show, myself, the staff, Ben and Danielle are incredibly gratified. It’s rare that in your own lifetime you get to hear positive response in this volume about the work that you’ve done. Boy never left the air. It ran on Disney Channel, it ran on ABC Family, it’s running on MTV2, you can turn on the television any time of day and catch an episode. There has to be the realization that the public does want this type of honest show or at least the aspiration to be honest in its characters.
THR: Do you have fears that viewers may gravitate more toward Cory and Topanga, who I assume will act in support, than Riley?
Jacobs: I think that’s a formula. I don’t want this show to be a part of a formula. Is there a lead? Are there supporting characters? Boy Meets World was always an ensemble. There is pretty much equal interest about who you would naturally term “supporting characters.” Ben and Danielle would be the first to say that Boy was always an ensemble that Ben was in the middle of with all of the stories spun out from him. Will Cory and Topanga be supporting characters? All of the characters will have their feature stories and will be paid close attention to, so hopefully the audience will love the characters the way they loved the characters on Boy. You’re going to be seeing a lot of Riley Matthews because she’s the point of view of this show but what influences her are all of the characters in her life. You are going to see very equal attention paid to Cory and Topanga and all of the other supporting cast as you would naturally term it.
THR: How will the show be different than Boy Meets World considering it’s for Disney Channel, which has a different target audience than ABC?
Jacobs: That is not going to influence what the tone and quality will be of the show. I’m hoping parents who grew up with the original Boy Meets World will put their children in front of this because they know what we’re going to do. The world is different today. Even in the 20 years since Boy first premiered, there have been so many changes in the lives of children and how they grow and what they have been exposed to on the television screen, the movie screen and the computer screen. That influenced why we couldn’t cast a 13-year-old because it seemed to me we were coming into the middle. It seemed to me there wasn’t much to learn at 13, which was sad to me in a way. What I’m hoping is that the freshness of this will be a girl at her absolute cusp of being able to be influenced by these surrounding forces. Cory, who has been nothing but confused all his life, will try to impress upon his daughter that he knows what he’s doing now and she will see right through that. That’s going to be one of the primary relationships within the show. Topanga’s observation and realization that neither of them know truly what they’re doing and it’s not an easy world to raise a child in is what makes this show great for right now.
THR: Rider Strong was vocal about his lack of participation in the update. Now that Girl Meets World is an official pilot, have you discussed this with him or any other castmembers?
Jacobs: When Rider said that he was not approached about being a part of the show, there actually was no official show. [At the time] it was an idea that Gary Marsh, Adam Bonnett, Corey Marsh and the Disney Channel people called me up asking if I would be interested in doing this. It just got an official greenlight for pilot. I didn’t want to talk to everybody about something that was only a discussion. Then the world reacted and I got a bajillion phone calls. Rider and Will Friedle and all of the cast said, “What is this? We thought we were done!” We sat down with them and talked about what their roles on the show may be. Whoever wants to be part of this show will be and whoever wants to move on will. The most important thing is to see what the show is and then see what their part in it will be. Will Friedle said, “I will be at every taping.” Everybody is quite attached to it. The bottom line is: Will Rider or Will be a cast member? Will they put in appearances? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.
THR: Would you want this to run on Friday nights like Boy Meets World did?
Jacobs: That’s not up to me. The people at Disney are extraordinarily bright at what they do. They will put the show at exactly the right place, at exactly the right time. My concern is when we get a time slot, our show is ready and we hit the ground running and the audience gets exactly what the audience wants.
THR: How many versions of Girl Meets World did you toy with before landing on this one?
Jacobs: This was it. Gary, Adam, Corey and their staff spoke to me about doing it. I spoke to my wife. I said, “Sequels are very tough. I don’t want to do anything at all that would hurt or tarnish whatever legacy the original had.” This was before the world reacted and demanded that I don’t. [Laughs] Now I’m under absolute command of the world and I’m paying very strict attention on what the show will be. The idea I came up with is the idea we’re going forward with. Girl Meets World can be told on two levels: the coming of age of Riley Matthews and two parents who haven’t quite come of age themselves
THR: Is there anything that’s keeping you up at night? Are there challenges you’re facing in terms of how to stay as true to your original vision as possible?
Jacobs: There is literally one thing that’s keeping me up at night. Now that we’ve gotten the response – and I’m reading a lot of it. I know this way lies madness. I know to read Twitter and Tumblr, which I never did before, and everyone at Disney is taking great stock in articles that say “these are the five things we demand from Girl Meets World,” “these are the ways the show has to go.” If we do a redo of the original series, that’s no good. Nobody wants that. The world [my kids are] growing up in is a far tougher world; it’s not the same world Cory Matthews met. I certainly don’t know that it’s as kid-friendly. It’s far more complex than it used to be because of their immediate access technologically, about things they should and shouldn’t. The thing that keeps me up is will I actually be able to communicate to a vast audience the joy of growing up with a bit more innocent confusion and a bit less wanting to run off the cliff and becoming much too old much too fast? If I can do that, then this is a real contribution.