One of television's greatest coming-of-age stories was that of Fred Savage's Kevin Arnold, the wide-eyed and enthusiastic lead on The Wonder Years. After six highly acclaimed seasons, The Wonder Years was somewhat surprisingly cancelled at ABC, with a variety of traditional reasons offered then and later. But now, the show's matriarch Alley Mills has revealed it was allegedly a bogus sexual harassment lawsuit against young stars Fred Savage and Jason Hervey that actually sealed the show's fate at the network. In Mills' words:
When we shot the series finale ... nobody knew whether or not The Wonder Years was going to be renewed. 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. So I just thought it was a big joke and it was going to blow over. It's a little bit like what's happening now --- some innocent people can get caught up in this stuff; it's very tricky. It was so not true. It was my dresser, and I don't care if she's listening --- I probably shouldn't be telling this, but I don't care because it was so long ago and it's gotta be over now. I wasn't allowed to talk then, which made me so upset. We had a gag order on us. And I wanted to scream on television, 'This is ridiculous!'
If all this is true, Alley Mills' wild explanation for why The Wonder Years really got cancelled is something of a game-changer. Not in the sense that we can go back and change time so that the comedy could produce a seventh season, but in the sense that the stain of a harassment lawsuit (legitimate or unproven) is a believable impetus for why ABC would have cancelled The Wonder Years back in 1993.
At the time, there were rumored disputes happening between The Wonder Years' creative team and the network over how adult and mature Kevin's story was allowed to get as he reached his later teen years. As well, there were rumored disputes over the cast's contracts and episode budgets amounting to more than what the network wanted to spend, especially when the drooping ratings were considered. And, of course, it's certainly possible that those elements played sizable roles in The Wonder Years getting axed, but an employee-centered sexual harassment lawsuit against two of the show's young stars would almost definitely also be a red supergiant of a contributing factor.
Bringing up this long-forgotten lawsuit story to Yahoo, Alley Mills pointed her finger at her ex-costume designer Monique Long, who was 31 years old when the lawsuit was filed back in 1993. In the suit, Long claimed that Fred Savage and Jason Hervey physically and verbally abused her on a daily basis, to the point where doing her job became difficult. She was fired the previous year, and it was purported that she was let go because she had complained to employers about the harassment. At the time, the allegations were denied by those connected with the show, but Mills stated that ABC reportedly still ended up settling with Long out of court.
You know, they bought her off, which really made me mad. 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.
Alley Mills' words were inspired by the current allegations-heavy climate in the entertainment industry, where quite a few sexual harassment lawsuits are in motion. The Wonder Years actress wholeheartedly dismissed the possibility that Monique Long's harassment lawsuit was real, arguably setting this story in particular on a parallel with the accusations made against Aziz Ansari, which were almost immediately put under as much public scrutiny as those against Woody Allen and others. And if true, Mills' story sets an early precedent for other projects that got dismantled or restructured in the wake of such scandals, and it would also point out an early example of execs allegedly squashing damaging lawsuits with financial settlements.
Interestingly enough for those who didn't know, the series finale wasn't filmed as the finale at all, since Alley Mills was correct in saying no one knew if they were getting renewed or cancelled. So thank goodness the show already utilized Daniel Stern's voiceover as Adult Kevin, since that was how the show actually had to wrap up its various narratives. Much to the chagrin of anyone hoping Kevin and Winnie were in a lifelong romance.