Twenty years ago this week, beloved Philadelphia teacher George Feeny (William Daniels) dismissed his favorite pupils for the last time. On May 5, 2000, ABC aired the series finale of its TGIF staple Boy Meets World, a series that an entire generation of kids grew up watching. Created by Michael Jacobs and April Kelly, the series followed the coming-of-age of Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), who begins the series as a wide-eyed sixth-grader and ends it married to his high-school sweetheart, Topanga (Danielle Fishel), and both of them bound for New York.
Cory wasn’t the only one who went through major life changes between the show’s first episode in 1993 and its two-part finale seven years later: His older brother, Eric (Will Friedle), his best friend, Shawn (Rider Strong) and Topanga all went through major transformations as well. In its way, the series was a precursor to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film Boyhood: an opportunity to watch a group of kids become adults in almost real time.
Yahoo Entertainment recently spoke with Jacobs over Skype about bringing Boy Meets World to a close, and the show’s enduring legacy. Watch our video interview above and read on to learn five things you probably never knew about the series.
William Daniels quit the show before the pilot
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Cory’s ever-patient teacher, mentor and neighbor, George Feeny, but for 12 nerve-wracking hours, Jacobs faced having to re-cast the role. That’s because Daniels quit the series after a disastrous table read of the pilot episode — although, to be fair, it wasn’t the real pilot. According to Jacobs, ABC executives jettisoned the original script that he turned it, taking issue with the scene at the end of the episode where Feeny waxes eloquent about Shakespeare. “Particular executives thought, ‘Shakespeare isn’t relevant to the audience we want to reach,’” he recalls. “I wrote a different story, we had the table read and it did not go well. Bill comes back into my office and quits.”
In desperation, Jacobs begged Daniels to give him 12 hours to put things right. The actor agreed, and after the showrunner got the go-ahead from ABC, he sent his one-foot-out-the-door star the original pilot script the next morning. After Daniels read it, he started singing a different tune. “All I did was pull the original script out of my drawer — to this day, he thought I spent all night working on this script,” Jacobs says, laughing. “He said, ‘If you can do this in 12 hours, I will stay behind this picket fence as long as you want me to.’”
Topanga’s name comes directly from the L.A. landmark
Inspiration can strike in the most unexpected of places. For example, Jacobs was behind the wheel of his car when ABC called to ask what he planned to name a new female character — played by Fishel — who was joining the series in the fourth episode of the first season. “I was driving down the street and the network was pressuring me,” he recalls. Gazing out the car window, his eyes went immediately to the street sign above him: Topanga Canyon Boulevard. “I looked out and said, ‘Topanga!’ They said, ‘Oh, we love that!’ I’ve said before that if they’d called me five minutes earlier, her name would have been Canoga.”
Chet was always going to be resurrected
It’s rare for a family sitcom to kill off a character, particularly when that character has a family of his own. But that’s the very reason why Jacobs decided that Shawn’s dad, Chet (Blake Clark), would die of a heart attack midway through Season 6. “We knew that when he died, it would be somewhat of a shock to a lot of the audience,” he explains. “You don’t think on that type of show, he’s going to die.” But Jacobs never intended for Chet’s death to be entirely final. The character reappeared on several episodes — including the finale — as a ghost. “I thought he would be better dead than he was alive,” he says now. “I don’t know if he was, but he was real effective dead.”
Of course Feeny knows Cory’s real name
In a classic “We named the dog Indiana” moment, Jacobs waited until the closing moments of the Boy Meets World to reveal Cory’s full name: Cornelius. And only Mr. Feeny can get away with revealing that closely guarded secret. As Jacobs revealed, it was part of a larger plan. “We wanted the audience to understand the relationship between Feeny and Cory transcended teacher-student for one reason,” he explains, drawing a direct connection between the “Cornelius” moment and one of Feeny’s final lines of the series. “It set up [the line]: ‘I love you all.’ When he calls him Cornelius, it is an act of love — even though Cory says ‘Shh.’”
A very special guest star
In one of the most memorable scenes of the finale, Cory finally realizes the meaning behind his show’s title. “Boy meets world — now I get it,” he says, while sharing some life lessons with his toddler brother, Joshua. That moment is memorable for Jacobs for a different reason: His son, Danny, plays the youngest Matthews child. Originally, another child had been cast in that part, but on-set behavior required a last-minute recasting. “We brought in another kid, and this kid ran around the set and broke stuff on set! I called my wife and said, ‘Bring [Danny] to set.’” Despite no prep time, Jacobs’s son nailed the scene in one take. “When Ben said, ‘Boy meets world, now I get it,’ and the audience laughs and laughs hard, Danny never broke — Danny never turned to look at the audience.”
Jacobs reprised that moment at the end of Girl Meets World, the sequel series to Boy Meets World that ran from 2014 to 2017. “I did that for the audience,” Jacobs said of bringing his son back as Joshua one more time. “I thought it would be a great moment for all the people who had followed Boy Meets World and saw that little boy. For him to walk in and end the show is to say, ‘This is how old you are now.’” Class dismissed indeed.
Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World are both streaming on Disney+.
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