When Rowan Blanchard auditioned with soon-to-be TV parents Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, she reacted like any die-hard Boy Meets World fan: ”I was like, ‘Wow!”’ says the 11-year-old Blanchard, who will star as Riley on the series’ reboot, Girl Meets World. ”They’re Cory and Topanga.”
She’s not the only one giddy about their return. Since news broke that the hit ’90s sitcom from ABC’s TGIF lineup was being revisited for Disney Channel, fans have been burning up the Internet with equal parts nostalgia for BMW and speculation about the new show. The response — particularly on social media — has been so fierce that everyone from Boy Meets World co-creator Michael Jacobs, who is back as writer/exec producer on the pilot, to the returning stars was completely caught off guard. ”When I read Twitter and Tumblr I understand that this way lies madness,” says Jacobs, who admits that he was initially wary when executives at Disney first reached out. ”I got a phone call: ‘We love Boy Meets World. Could we do this again in some capacity?’ And my answer was no.”
Jacobs explains he was worried about tarnishing the legacy of the original series. After giving it some thought, though, he came back with a different proposal. ”I said, ‘Listen, what if it wasn’t actually a sequel?’ ” — a word that he associates with failed second acts. ” ‘What if it was real life?”’ For Jacobs, ”real life” meant picking up with Cory and Topanga more than a decade after Boy Meets World‘s finale in 2000 — which showed the newlyweds moving to New York City — and following them as they raise their two kids, 12-year-old Riley and her 13-year-old brother, Elliot, who has yet to be cast. (And yes, if Topanga got pregnant in their first year of marriage, the math checks out.) Then he added another twist. ”I said, ‘What if the point of view of this show was their daughter? So rather than do Boy Meets World 2, we do Girl Meets World.”’
Of course, to pull off what he dubs a ”continuation” of the series, Jacobs, who returned to television to helm the project, needed both Savage and Fishel to reprise their roles. ”I definitely had some hesitation,” explains Fishel, 31. ”But most of that stopped when I knew that all of us were on the same page with wanting to only bring this back if we really felt like we had something of value to add.” After discussing the idea with Jacobs, Fishel says she next heard from Savage, whom she had stayed in touch with (along with Rider Strong, who played Cory’s friend Shawn Hunter) over the years. ”One night I got a text from Ben that just said, ‘Hey, what do you think about being my wife again?”’ Fishel recalls. ”I wrote him back and I said, ‘Nothing would make me happier than to call you my husband five days a week.”’ Adds Savage, 32, whose character in the new iteration will follow in the footsteps of his mentor Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) by teaching at Riley’s New York City school: ”I think for us, we just wanted to make sure that it was something that honored the past show.”
With the two of them on board, it was time to find the Girl. Blanchard’s first audition for the part of Riley didn’t exactly end well. While Jacobs loved her performance, Blanchard, who previously starred in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, was a year too young to play seventh grader Riley. Jacobs consoled her with the possibility of finding another role for her on the show. Remembers Blanchard, ”I sat in the car and cried.” After rounds of failed auditions, however, the exec producer decided to loosen the age restrictions and give Blanchard another shot. Her chemistry with Savage and Fishel was immediate. ”With Rowan it was just a natural fit,” says Savage. ”There’s a sweetness about her. She’s just the kind of girl that you like being around.”
Though Blanchard is a year younger than her character, she says they’re practically the same person. ”We’re both happy people that deal with everyday problems,” explains the actress, a self-proclaimed early riser who spent many mornings watching reruns of Boy Meets World well before the project came her way. So if the pilot, which goes into production next month, gets greenlit as a series, viewers can expect to see Riley dealing with crushes, grades, and having Dad as a teacher — not auditions or performances, as on many other Disney shows. ”The show is about Riley growing up. It’s not about Riley singing or Riley dancing,” says Blanchard. ”I think that’s what makes the pilot unique.” Since she landed the role, though, Blanchard’s life has been far from ordinary. ”It was kind of crazy,” the sixth grader admits. ”My phone was blowing up and I had gained, like, 5,000 followers overnight.” She also gained plenty of new friends at her school, but Blanchard isn’t letting it go to her head: ”Let’s just put it this way, my true friends are really happy for me.” Sounds like a lesson passed on from Cory Matthews.