It should be easy to write off Boy Meets World as a blip on the lengthy timeline of family-friendly sitcoms. The show opted for simplicity over a high concept hook: at the center was the "Boy," Cory Matthews, a regular kid who navigated the ups and downs of life along with his mom, dad, older brother Eric, younger sister Morgan, his best friend Shawn, romantic interest Topanga, and wise sage of a teacher Mr. Feeny. As a well-intentioned, by-the-books comedy, the conclusion of Boy Meets World should have spelled the end of the series in viewers' TV Guides and minds.
But Boy never disappeared. After a seven-season run and 158 episodes, the series — which aired its finale on ABC in 2000 — continues to remain popular. The sitcom thrives on DVD and ABC Family reruns, and has been reinterpreted by passionate fans thanks to the Internet's thriving GIF culture.
How did Boy Meets World's legacy survive? By seizing an endless number of opportunities in the sitcom formula.
One episode in particular encapsulates everything the show continually got right, a half hour experiment that was as risky as the show was heartfelt: "And Then There Was Shawn," the series' horror episode, which was routinely revived during the Halloween season (the episode, strangely enough, originally aired during sweeps on Feb. 27, 1998). The Season 5 episode was a teen slasher parody that still, in true Boy spirit, led to an important life lesson for Shawn and helped an audience come to terms with Cory and Topanga's breakup. To do so, it brought together the entire cast for a "whodunnit?" mystery through the high school that strayed from Boy's traditional format — not only was it extremely graphic for its young viewers, but multiple characters met their maker throughout the half-hour. Despite the episode being as bizarre as it was bloody, "And Then There Was Shawn" became instantly memorable for not only the TGIF set who reference it annually on Twitter, but for Boy's cast and crew as well.
So, in the spirit of the Halloween season, Hollywood.com assembled the cast and crew of Boy Meets World to discuss how "And Then There Was Shawn" organically came to fruition, an evolutionary process that started at the very beginning of the show's creation:
Michael Jacobs, creator of Boy Meets World: I was just wrapping up Dinosaurs ... I went to the president of Disney television and said, "In all of these shows that are being done — Family Ties, Growing Pains — you have your Michael J. Fox, your Kirk Cameron. Big brothers. But what about the kids in the middle? The younger kids? They have lives." We started looking at it, and I got more and more jazzed by the betrayal that happens when the older brother, who has slept in your room as long as you can remember, decides you're not the one he's going to take to the ballgame. He's going to take his girlfriend. The first date episode, eternal in situation comedy, as told by the point of view from the younger brother, is a whole different television show. So I thought, what if there's a kid who was an everyman who loses his touchstone, his older brother, and he's lost and confused in the world?
Jeff McCracken, Boy Meets World producer and director of "And Then There Was Shawn": Michael loves to write kids. That's his forte. He's tried to write adults… whatever [laughs], I'm not going to denigrate Michael. He writes kids really well.
Jacobs: He said, "I noticed that you like writing for kids." "I do like writing for kids." "Why do you like writing for kids?" And I said, "I like writing for kids because I'm going to have some and they won't listen to me, but they'll watch my television shows and my characters and they won't know [they've] been listening to me." And that's what happened. I have four kids and I noticed the lessons I taught them have lasted their lives, but they didn't get them from me. They got them from Cory Matthews.
McCracken: [Michael] had done My Two Dads with Greg Evigan, Paul Reiser, and Staci Keanan ... He tells the same story again and again really well. He's very good at tapping into the consciousness of the day.
Jacobs: All I wanted to ever do was write a show that never spoke down to kids, because I thought that was primarily what was happening in the world of teenage television. Let's speak up to them. They understand far more. When you look at what they're looking at, they're not tracking their generation. They're tracking the next generation.
Rider Strong, "Shawn Hunter": Michael was both the heart and brains of the show. Every week, sitcoms have two "run-throughs," where the cast performs the show for the writers, producers, and network executives. Afterwards, the Executive Producer will give notes to the actors. On most shows, that means five to 10 minutes of notes. Michael rarely did less than an hour. Sometimes over two.
Ben Savage, "Cory Matthews": Other people would be "la dee da" [when approaching shows]. I've worked on other sitcoms — and I'm not saying other shows don't try as hard — but with Boy Meets World everyone was so passionate about every aspect of the show. It stood alone.
Jacobs: Bill Daniels [Cory's teacher Mr. Feeny], who I gave very few notes to (nor did I have to), would sit through all of the note sessions. He wanted to be part of what was happening with the kids. In the beginning, he pulled me in — this is year one ... during the very youth-oriented plot lines — and Bill called me to the set once, and I was sitting in my chair and he said to me, "Michael, how long exactly am I going to have to sit by this little fence [Feeny's stomping ground outside the Matthews' home]?" I said, "Seven years, Bill." And he said, "No!"
Strong: He'd go page by page through the script, discussing character, theme, you name it. And he would reference everything from specific episodes of Taxi to Noël Coward plays. And he would quote them verbatim. I not only learned about acting, but storytelling in general. I don't think I would be the actor, writer, or director I am without those note sessions.
Over the course of Boy Meets World's first five seasons, Jacobs and McCracken wrapped their work on Jim Henson's Dinosaurs, earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for producing Robert Redford's Quiz Show, and continued to develop new projects. But multitasking never took a toll on the show, with the cast and writers' interest in Boy continuing as strong as ever.
Strong: It's hard to remember all the seasons distinctly, but I think Season 5 was probably one of the most fun. Michael Jacobs had spent three years sort of coming and going with the show — he had been trying to develop other pilots that had all failed. But Season 5 he came back strong and I remember feeling like the show hit a new groove.
Jacobs: I had three [shows] on the air. I was trying to nurture other shows while keeping very sharp tabs — reading all the scripts, going to all the tapings — on Boy. The other shows ran or didn't run, and I was able to come back to it.
McCracken: Michael asked me to direct the third season, which led to the fourth, fifth — I started directing all the seasons.
Strong: That year, in real life, I started going to college — the producers of Boy were giving me my mornings to attend classes, and I was splitting my nights between a dorm room the school required me to have, and this huge loft I found in downtown LA. So during that season, I was entering adult life and figuring out how to navigate school, work, different sets of friends... girls.
Savage: We were growing up on the show. I was applying to college, doing plays. Moving on. There was a lot going on. But in terms of my commitment to the show, my expectations to Michael — that didn't change.
Danielle Fishel, "Topanga": We were all juniors/seniors in high school and had a lot of other things on our plates. The show was usually pretty good at evolving and some of my favorite moments were when the show broke the fourth wall.
Will Friedle, "Eric": When the show started, we were very young and still trying to find our characters… By Season 5 we were much more comfortable, which made the entire flow of the show more natural.
Savage: In a way, we had taken such ownership of our characters, we were so protective of them, that it didn't matter, really. We were going to make sure the integrity of the character held up.
Matthew Lawrence, "Jack": I think coming into Season 5, they wanted to add more to the show. They wanted another guy to bounce off Will. And to have a B story line. You had Rider and Ben, and then they had me to pair up with Will. A little fresh blood into a situation that was already really good. I was very happy to [be that].
Jacobs: Nowhere in Season 5 or Season 6 or Season 7 did we ever think, "We've already run the gamut on possible storylines for where the show could go." The audience, at least in my experience, was so appreciative of it.
Strong: Artistically, of course, I wished I was on a more interesting, cutting-edge show or doing movies that suited my own tastes more — things like the Richard Linklater or Tarantino films of the time that I loved. But personally, our set was a haven: an incredibly tight-knit group of supportive, talented people. And so when I think about it now, a lot of the reason I was able to handle my first steps into the big bad world was precisely because I had this secure environment that I clocked into everyday.
Running with the idea that, in Season 5 , the Boy Meets Worldaudience understood the format, understood the characters, and understood the rules of the show, Jacobs and his team of writers had the freedom to play. And play they did, lifting the basis for ""And Then There Was Shawn"" from R-rated horror movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Jeff Menell, writer of ""And Then There Was Shawn"": I was a film reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter. Their New York film reviewer. So [before Boy], I was doing freelance writing, kind of enjoying my life.
McCracken: Jeff is a great film buff. He's a walking library.
Menell: It was around the time of the Scream movie. That was the impetus of it. I'm the big film guy of the staff. I love movies. I saw Scream. Was very scared. And the idea came from wanting to do a Halloween show.
Strong: It was a release valve. With the dream structure, our writers were able to get away with murder. Literally.
McCracken: Once you've established the communication with your audience, the audience is willing to go a lot more easily. If we had tried it the first season, they would have gone, ""What the hell is this?"" They wouldn't known what we were doing.
Menell: The way the [writers'] room worked, ideas are fished out all the time. It's not necessarily your idea. You get assigned scripts. I did campaign to get this one because I just love movies so much. I knew I could write this one. Of all the scripts I wrote, this was certainly the fastest and the easiest and the most fun, just because of the nature of the show.
Jacobs: It was important to me that we would be proud of as many episodes during the year as we could. I would tell the staff, ""In a 22- or 24-episode season, it is inevitable that you're going to do a dozen really good episodes, eight good episodes, and four barking dogs. In those barking dogs, it is easy for us to stay up one night and put in some iconic moment or some B-story that will propel the audience to next week. It helped us serialize Boy.
Menell: Every script on Boy Meets World was a group effort. You write a script, it gets tabled by the room. But of all my scripts, this one was changed the least.
McCracken: I've seen scripts that have come in and were totally rewritten from page one. Jeff Menell… it was shootable from the first draft he wrote. It would have been absolutely perfect. All we did was add a few little things. Amped up the humor.
Jacobs: ""And Then There Was Shawn"" was right out of Menell. We knew it was going to be an incredible episode — and a lot of fun. What happens is, it invigorates the staff. We know we're having so much fun that the best of what the staff can offer [goes] into it because we know it's going to be an incredible week.
Strong: I actually thought, ""Well, this will be fun for us, but our audience might hate it.""
Fishel: It was exciting on the page. I also loved the fact that we were going to be allowed to break character a little bit and be a little goofy. Topanga was always so rational, so breaking that up a bit was fun.
Strong: We were a primetime show. But as far as the adult world was concerned, our show didn't even exist. Boy Meets World was hovering in this strange middle ground: We weren't as popular as other family shows like Full House or Sabrina, but we also weren't a crappy Saturday morning show like Saved by the Bell. And so when we stepped out of the box with an episode like this, it kind of felt like we were in our own little corner of the playground, and no one was paying attention. Which means, in a way, we were thumbing our nose at expanding our audience — and by definition, building a cult following.
The positive reactions to "And Then There Was Shawn" from the cast and crew were across the board. But there were obvious questions when it came to pulling off the intricate episode within the constraints of the traditional sitcom format. Shooting logistics were one thing. Finding clever ways to kill off castmembers — a pencil through a teenager's head or stabbing Mr. Feeny with a pair of scissors — was another story.
McCracken: There was concern from the network. They said to us, "Nothing can be graphic." They were all over that at the table read.
Menell: The dead Feeny was something we wondered, ""How are people going to react to that?"" But he wasn't dead!
Jacobs: I'll never forget something Jeff Katzenberg taught me. When he was at Disney [Katzenberg was a Studio Chairman from 1984 to 1994], I went in to him to speak about epic fantasy. His answer was that he felt it was extraordinarily important that the viewer knew the rules of the new world they were about to enter. That there were parameters that had to be set so that the audience would feel in a very stable surrounding and that they were in good hands. It helped me in my storytelling and certainly helped in the Scream episode. Rider as Shawn, through the episode, sets down the rules.
McCracken: We were going to do it in a way that was going to be fun. We wanted the shock value, we wanted to scare. But we understood that we had a young audience and we did not want them running to their parents saying it's now a horror show and they can't sleep for a week. I said, '""Look, here's how we're going to do this. The pencil is going to go in his head, but when he falls, he's going to leave a pencil trail behind him. That's going to break the suspense for the laugh."" No blood. If that doesn't work, I don't know what to do in terms of funny. The janitor in the trashcan, when he pulls him up, right before then we crack a big joke. We teed it up to see it coming. Making sure we're wink-wink.
Fishel: We were always operating under the impression that the show was about to be canceled any minute. It was always a surprise and a relief when it was picked up so we didn't worry too much about that.
Jacobs: As long as your numbers are up, there are two ways to go about [dealing with the network]: the way is to be very attentive and take notes. Or the other way to do it (which I always did), instead of making anyone feel like I was giving short shrift to notes, I'd keep them there longer than they'd want to be there. So if they gave you a note, you kept expanding on that note to the point where they would have to miss the next show, miss the next lunch, and didn't want to be there. I noticed my note sessions, by year three, got incredibly short.
Menell: Michael Jacobs doesn't back down from anyone or anything. If the network would tell him to cool it down, he would probably amp it up.
Jacobs: At that point, the numbers were good. Ted Harbert [President of ABC Entertainment from 1992 - 1996] ... didn't want to talk to me. [I was] a whiny and endless bee in [the studio's] ear. They decided a long time ago, ""You know what, as long as the numbers are good, it's better to avoid him and let him do what he wants.""
McCracken: The network went with this because they trusted us enough.
With the studios approval, McCraken took "And Then There Was Shawn" to his cast and crew.
McCracken: We did the table read and [the cast] all looked at me like, ""......wow.'"" They thought it would be fun. It was off the hook. But they didn't know how we were going to shoot it. Everyone was nervous about that. But I already had it in my head. As soon as I read it, I knew. It wasn't going to be shot like a typical show.
Friedle: I don’t think it was difficult for us to shift gears. Actually, it was probably exactly what we needed at the time.
Menell: [Jeff McCracken is] such a passionate guy. He was so excited. He gets a ton of the credit for that episode. You get a lot of different directors, but knowing he was on board, I was just happy. I knew what he would bring to it.
McCracken: By the virtue of us being a well-oiled machine, to do something like that, even with special effects… [the network] didn't know how I was going to do it, but I said, ""don't worry."" That was the joy of it. Inventing the way to do it. The week before we had a hiatus so that week they were building the set for us. We created fourth walls.
Strong: Jeff McCracken was an actor's biggest advocate. He started out as an actor himself and he made us feel like we could do no wrong, and he always treated us as equals, despite being at least 30 years older (and about four feet taller — seriously, he's ridiculously tall) than any of us. We trusted him with our very souls.
Savage: [In all the episodes] I remember lots of heated discussions about whether Cory should do this, or Topanga should put her left arm on this shoulder, or Rider should say this, or I should push this guy. When you watch it you don't think about it, but everything was a discussion.
McCracken: It was going to be shot like a one hour. Shooting it in pieces, special shots. [We would] still invite the audience to watch, but with only a couple of scenes in front of them. [The cast] got really jazzed about that, to shoot a show like a film was fun for them. We didn't rehearse it like a normal show — four days of rehearsal and shoot the fifth day. We had a table read, and the third day we were shooting. We shot right through the week.
Strong: The Scream episode was also one of our hardest. Jeff had made things very complicated for himself in terms of the camera coverage, and I remember him being super stressed out.
McCracken: When I was a young actor I did a Wes Craven film with Linda Blair. I had my horror chops introduced to me by a horror master. I love the genre for what it is, even acted in a couple, but never directed any.
Jacobs: There were a ton of differences in the show. It was almost shot filmic because it mimicked a film. There was plenty of it that played in front of the live audience. I'd say there was a greater percentage of pre-shooting that played in front of a live audience then we would normally do. We would pre-shoot 20 percent of a show — scenes that were difficult, scenes that involved action. I would say that show we pre-shot twice that.
Friedle: That was very rare for us. It might actually have been the only time that we ever did that. I completely understand why … We were laughing so much that it must have been a bit stressful for Michael and Jeff. We loved it. I really think it brought us all closer as a cast.
Strong: We actors could not stop laughing. I mean, it was a problem. We usually would break character to laugh once or twice an episode, but when we were filming the Scream episode, we were falling apart on every single line. That's not an exaggeration. You know how when you were a kid and you'd get the giggles and not be able to stop for a few minutes? That's what it was like shooting the Scream episode, except it lasted for hours.
In "And Then There Was Shawn," the comedy comes from every direction. Slapstick humor, meta jokes, even a handful of South Park references — there was nothing the cast and crew didn't squeeze into the framework of their horror parody.
McCracken: Michael is wild. He can go off and be as looney tune as the next comedy writer. But the thing that always pulled him back was the heart of the characters. What were they feeling? What were they experiencing? What was the arc? What were they facing? How did they deal with the obstacles?
Lawrence: The first two or three shows I had to learn how the set was run. Michael liked to have a real legitimate undertone to our comedy. The first three weeks was like a boot camp. I got 80 percent of the notes [laughs]. I was like, ""What am I doing wrong?"" It was me learning the way that it worked. Once I figured it out... We could have really serious moments in episodes that were not sitcom moments at all. Very real. And then the next show would be a complete spoof. I think Michael knows it works that way.
Jacobs: Many of the episodes had wild farce moments. We could have done this more often, but I perceived that the show, in its slot, on that evening, ran best when you realized the formula that Feeny was going to put something on the board. The cast was as adept at slamming doors and doing farce as it was at offering a very pure heart.
McCracken: Will Friedle was one of the funniest people. He does voiceover work like crazy. He was the funniest actor I have ever worked with. In terms of improvisation, spontaneity, imagination, creativity. He just blew me away.
Menell: He had Jim Carrey qualities. He was willing to do anything. We made him a little too dumb sometimes. Even he would say, ""Come on guys."" There was stuff we didn't do because we thought it was too ridiculous. He was just really, really funny.
Jacobs: For Eric Matthews, we started with a dependable brother and said, ""What kind of incredible moron can we turn this character into?"" No matter how much moron we gave you, you always wanted more. We were happy to supply it.
Friedle: I always said that you could never go too far with the character and the writers did their best every week to test that theory.
Jacobs: Will didn't understand what I found funny [laughs]. There was an episode I always remember, this episode where we basically did the Alanis Morissette story. There's a scene where he goes into the hangout, Chubby's, and [his girlfriend's] sitting next to him and he's listening to how saccharine sweet she is and he can't stand it. I kept telling him, ""it's not animated enough, not loud enough."" He said, ""But I'm telling this girl that I don't want her alive."" I tell him, ""Will, if you tell her with any sincerity, the audience doesn't like you, I don't like you."" He completely, wildly overplayed the scene and people couldn't stop laughing. The laughs were so incredible and sincere. Will learned that if the audience accepts you, there are very few parameters in a Jerry Lewis world that you can't get away with as long as you're not redundant. We did so many different lovely things for Will because of the one overriding aspect of his character: his incredible heart and love for his friends.
Friedle: Occasionally, Michael and I would make a bet on show night as to whether or not I could get a laugh on a certain line. I think he still owes me some cash.
Jacobs: Will could get away with absolutely anything. He used to bet me, ""Is this laugh track or is this laugh?"" And I told him, ""It's never going to be laugh track."" He decided to believe it.
Lawrence: I play more of the straight guy. I know that timing really well — how to set up the pitch for the guy who is going to knock it out of the park. Will was so comfortable. He's hilarious. It was a kind of synergy you don't have an explanation for. It just really worked.
Jacobs: One of my favorite lines in that episode is when Will and Matt Lawrence were told by Rider that ""it is the virgin who lives. The person engaged in sexual activity that is first to die."" Eric says, ""I'm dead."" And Matt says, ""I'm dead."" And Rider says, ""I'll get as sick as you can get without actually dying."" A giant laugh in the house.
Fishel: Our friendships made it super easy because we were so comfortable being goofy, having fun, and laughing together.
Strong: It was one of the few episodes where all of us were in scenes together, and so we were simply enjoying being an ensemble. But part of it was also just how freaking bizarre the script was. It was madness.
McCracken: We tried to keep it light all around it all the time. There's always a joke prior to the scare, and always after. When Feeny falls forward with scissors in his back, Danielle goes ""Aaaaaa!"" there's a joke to break it again. Once you get Kenny, and the pencil mark, and the screaming of Angela, that all worked to say we were going to take liberty with the horror film and we're going to spoof it. Having fun while addressing the break-up of Cory and Topanga.
Richard Lee Jackson, ""Kenny"": The cast was great on screen and off, I felt at the time like we really hit it off. They kept referring to me becoming a regular, but of course that was up to the producers. You could tell the whole cast and the producers had a groove with the show, which makes a guest role easy to come in and play my part — kind of like a pinch hitter in baseball. Just get up to the plate and take a few swings.
Jacobs: He was the fifth guy on the Star Trek pod, and he ain't coming back. Little rules like that make the audience comfortable.
McCracken: I think Menell wrote the first joke about them killing Kenny. Will and I on set said that, when he opened the door, [he would] give me the "howdy ho" reference. That joke was the gateway. To officiate more South Park.
Strong: South Park raged through Hollywood like napalm. I remember Will got a hold of one of the original tapes of their short film The Spirit of Christmas and we organized screenings for all the writers and the crew. So by the time the show was on Comedy Central, the whole Boy Meets World cast and crew were already complete fanatics.
Friedle: We were all obsessed after that.
Strong: It was the dark side of kid comedy. Everything our writers probably wished they could do but couldn't.
Another layer of meta comedy was added in the form of a cameo, a casting surprise that elevated the episode to ""sweeps worthy.""
Menell: When we got Jennifer Love Hewitt to guest star, that added something to it [too].
Savage: Boy Meets World was always having a whole host of fun guest stars. Especially with Michael, we would have interesting, old timer guest stars. Rue Mclachlan, Phyllis Diller, Buddy Hackett, Bernie Kopell — 50s and 60s and 70s comedians. We had an episode in the early years where Jim Abbott was on. I think [Jennifer] was going to happen. She was a big star and she was around anyway.
Friedle: I always had fun working with Love. Not only was she my girlfriend but also a close friend. There really is nothing like working with close friends. You know what they are going to do as actors, which allows you to play a little bit more with your characters. I remember how excited we both were when Michael mentioned that he wanted to put her on the show.
Jacobs: She was adorable. She was such a good sport. So cool on the set. Anything we asked her to do she would do and then she'd want to do more. 'Feffie.' Jennifer Love Feffeferman. She was very happy doing it. They were adorable together.
Menell: [The making out] was a little uncomfortable during the run-through [laughs]. We didn't know she was going to be a megastar!
Perhaps the biggest shock of the ""And Then There Was Shawn"" is its ending, a surprisingly poignant moment in the Shawn's character arc. At the end of the episode, the ""killer"" turns out to be Shawn himself, the entire madcap adventure a dream manifested from Shawn's own inabilities to deal with Cory and Topanga's failed relationship. The cast and crew saw it as a testament to the show's abilities.
Jacobs: I was very happy with that episode, not just because of the stylized benefits we got. How do you write an episode where one of the characters says, ""It is not okay with me, that the love you aspire to someday, isn't working anymore. And for that I will burn down the world."" And then you get that episode from that idea.
Menell: The fact that it was about Cory and Topanga's relationship, that was probably more infused by Michael Jacobs and the room than my initial draft.
McCracken: I have to say, one of the things we'd always talk about was, yeah, we liked the slapstick, we liked the humor. Norman Lear was always a great inspiration — All in the Family, The Honeymooners. There's always a great beating heart at the center of the show. Michael has a heart that way as well. At that time, our audience was very stressed about [Cory and Topanga breaking up]. We used Shawn as the conduit, the Greek chorus, linkage to our audience for their concern over [the break-up]. That was big for everyone. Shawn had broken up with Angela and it that was something people were already upset about. So the network loved it because it was dealing with what they perceived to be a great emotional through line. How we were doing that, they thought would be great because it would tie into Halloween.
Jacobs: There's a dichotomy of what the style was opposed to what the message was. The message at the end is that it's necessary for Shawn to know that Cory and Topanga are going to be okay or he was going to burn down the world. That was important to him. By association, it became important to the audience.
McCracken: And who was the killer? That was also the dynamic of the episode too. Figuring out who was the killer when everyone started to die off.
Strong: The worst was there was a kid who had been an extra with us for years — we had a rotating group of regulars who would be in the background in school scenes — who had the unfortunate job of being my double. Me in the killer suit. He had to stand opposite me for the final reveal that I'm the killer, and we had to shoot it two directions, so it would appear that I was looking at myself. And all of us — I mean all of us, even the actors off-camera — were dying laughing. I think it was the last shot of the night. And this poor guy who just wanted to get his paycheck as an extra, get the hell out of there, and maybe move on to big acting gigs someday — this poor guy had to endure take after take because none of us could keep a straight face, including him. Who do you think would get fired in that situation? He didn't, thank God, but I remember feeling horrible.
Savage: [Most episodes] we literally didn't go home until it was perfect. You're dealing with a lot of neurotic actors and writers. That's Hollywood.
McCracken: It was a great cast. I had a great time. I never cared to direct TV, really. But when you find great people to work with… it was really just a phenomenal time.
Strong: It's the one time I can remember Jeff yelling on set. And he needed to. We were a disaster. But by the next morning, we were all laughing about it together. It's one of my most cherished memories.
The rest is history. ""And Then There Was Shawn"" revealed the malleability of Boy Meets World and proved that when the writers and actors stuck to their guns, audiences would connect with the material.
McCracken: We showed the first cut to [ABC] and they couldn't believe how well it came out. They were ready to pounce on it and cut things out. But they looked at it and went, ""Wow."" We didn't even have music to it yet. Everything helped to create this special episode.
Menell: There was a little backlash. There were people frightened by the episode. So there was bad mail that came to ABC. ""This isn't the show we watch!""-type stuff.
Strong: I remember talking to some young kids years later and they called it the ""scary episode"" and they actually meant that — they were scared by the janitor. Our show was supposed to be for kids of all ages, but kids under 10 don't really get irony. They just see a scary movie.
Jacobs: That's going to be allowed if the audience recognizes it as a Halloween episode. You go a little bit farther and it's not a problem. If this is an episode that ran without that benefit, that would be a little harsh. Especially for a young audience. If you remember the way Feeny fell down... it was not farcical. He dropped to his knees and fell forward.
Fishel: I like doing shows and episodes that push the boundaries because I think the audience appreciates it and wants to watch that much more because you took that risk.
Jackson: As crazy as it is, I still have people I don't know message me on Facebook having seen me on Boy Meets World.
Strong: Over the years, the episodes people want to talk about with me the most are weirdest ones. We time traveled twice. We did some meta-commentary about our disappearing castmates during the graduation episode. We did an episode where Eric goes to visit the set of ""Kid Gets Acquainted with the Universe"" that mocked our own show and our own personalities.
Menell: You have a blank canvas, but you can't suddenly be a different show. The fans… and by the way, the hardcore fans of this show would point out any inconsistencies. 'Shawn would never do that!' But after seven years, you get the voice.
Strong: The Scream episode was our most free form and tongue-in-cheek. In retrospect, I wish we had done more like it. Hell, that's basically what Community's been doing.
Jacobs: What I think launched a sustained run for Boy was an incredible evolution of what you knew [and] thought you know to what you never really knew at all.
Menell: The only thing you get bogged down with is coming up with stories. Something new, something different while being true to the show and to the fans and to the characters.
Jacobs: In the beginning it was a kid show ... It grew up and all of a sudden people came. The cast was growing, the writers were growing, and the show was still growing. When the show was canceled [after Season 7], it still had some life left in it. But we had done everything we needed to do a complete television show.
Menell: The show grew. It became about Cory and Topanga. That wasn't planned in the first year. Then they started to connect and people liked that. [Laughs.] We used to sort of mock it. ""Who are these 19-year-olds getting married? It's insane."" But it built to that. A lot of the stories were built from life. A lot of Michael Jacobs life was in the show. Sometimes I felt it got a little too heavy, a little too dramatic. But at the same time, that's what gave it its credibility.
Jacobs: There were two conversations that I had with Ted Harbert that I'll never forget, where he basically called and said, ""I know this is fruitless, but you can not marry Cory and Topanga? They are 19 years old. Is this where we're headed? Can we discuss it?"" And I said, ""We've done our diligence. I believe if you look back generationally, the divorce rate is higher than it's ever been. Kids are getting married in their late 20s. A generation ago the divorce rate was significantly less and kids were getting married in their early 20s. Our grandparents got married at 19 and the divorce rate was about 4%.."" He's laughing at this point — Ted and I got along real well. So I say, ""You have a brand-new thing you aren't using: ABC.com. I'll make you a deal: Run a graphic on Sabrina on the bottom, 'Should Cory and Topanga get married or not?'"" And he said, ""We'll get 10,000 hits.'"" And I said, ""Let's see what 10,000 say."" In 15 minutes [after the graphic aired on TV], we got 220,000 hits, 98 percent of which said, ""What do you think we're waiting for?"" Ted called me the next day, ""Can you please marry them in November or February?""
McCracken: Taking a young cast like that — Ben and Will and Rider and Danielle — and watching them grow and evolve, was just a real treat. You can't ask for more than that.
Menell: When the show ended — I wasn't ready for it to end — it seemed like the natural time to end it. People go their separate ways. They go to New York. They say goodbye to Feeney. It was very emotional.
Savage: I'm glad we were able to do something for people that meant something to them. That's not easy to do this world.
Jacobs: In those [final] years, there was a woman who stopped me in the street. Somehow she knew me, which was odd because I'm not an on-camera person. She said, ""Are you Michael?"" And I said, ""I am."" This woman was 40 or 42 years old. And she put her hand on my shoulder and she said, ""I want to thank you."" I said, ""You're welcome... for what?"" She said, ""My father was a school janitor."" And she turned and walked away. She was referring to the episode where Chet Hunter, in order to stay in town longer than he ever has, takes a job as the janitor in the high school. The kids make tremendous sport of Shawn. And Shawn, at the end, is mopping the floor with Chet and there's a bond between Shawn and Chet that hadn't been there before. A precursor to Shawn suffering the death of his father later in the series. My point is, when you get stopped on the street and someone thanks you... there was never a day where I walked into that writer's room, or any of us, and didn't realize we were lucky and doing something worthwhile.
[Photo Credit: ABC (11)]
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