Cory Matthews — The boy on ABC’s long-running family comedy Boy Meets World — was a man betrayed. By ”man” we mean, of course, ”sixth grader,” and by ”betrayed” we mean ”unjustly subjected to the horrors of growing up.” Cory faced those horrors every Friday night (as part of ABC’s TGIF lineup) with a sitcom-ready stable of supporters: Shawn, the best friend with a troubled home life; Topanga, the pal-turned-love interest; Eric, the charming yet self-absorbed older brother; Morgan, the little sister (who magically aged several years between seasons 2 and 3); clean-cut suburban parents; and a dry-humored teacher named Mr. Feeny. The result was an innocent but never pandering collection of half-hour life lessons with a side of romance, corny humor, teen drama, and Fee-hee-heeenay.
But this is where the Boy Meets World phenomenon sets itself apart from other sweet ’90s sitcoms: In late 2012, more than a decade after the show’s conclusion, Disney Channel (the network where BMW found a second life in reruns) announced plans to film a spin-off pilot called Girl Meets World. Internet-dwelling twenty- and thirtysomethings responded accordingly — by blowing up Twitter. No one was more shocked by the excitement for Girl — which will debut next year — than creator Michael Jacobs. ”Not until we announced that Girl Meets World was going to get done did I realize the fondness that people have for Boy Meets World,” he says. ”It’s been the most touching, gratifying thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
Ben Savage Cory Matthews
Ben Savage grew up in the entertainment business. He first stepped onto a movie set at the age of 5, and from 1988 to ’93 he watched his brother, Fred, star on The Wonder Years. So when the 12-year-old learned he’d have his own chance to star on a TV show, he handled the pressure by setting his sights low. ”I prepared myself: ‘Oh, you’re not going to do this show for the next seven years,”’ Savage recalls. That’s exactly what happened, though. Audiences fell in love with precocious, curly-haired Cory, but the real magic happened when he developed a crush on Topanga (Danielle Fishel), a girl as unique as her name. ”People saw it from the very beginning when Cory and Topanga were hanging out and playing basketball with a pair of socks,” says Savage, 33. ”[The Cory-Topanga relationship is] something that’s very special to people who grew up with the show.” Savage spent his post-Boy years earning a degree in political science at Stanford before jumping back into producing and acting full time. He’ll reunite with Fishel for Girl Meets World, which will follow the couple’s tween daughter (Rowan Blanchard). ”It’s a new show with new kids and new themes,” he says. ”We want it to affect people and hopefully inspire people just as Boy Meets World did for our generation.”
Danielle Fishel Topanga Lawrence
Fishel was not the first person picked to play quirky girl next door Topanga. After an audition for producers, she got a role as a student — but it had only two lines. That is, until they decided to recast Topanga and gave Fishel a second opportunity to read for the part. What they didn’t know was that she had spent the first day on set watching the director work with the original actress and noting the things she did that weren’t quite working. ”Opportunity, preparation, and luck came together in a moment that made that happen,” remembers Fishel, 32. Over the years, viewers saw Topanga grow from a strange little girl with a knack for channeling dead spirits into a confident young woman (thanks, life-changing onscreen haircut!) and half of one of the most beloved TV couples of the ’90s. She hopes the next chapter of Cory and Topanga’s story will bring some of that heart back to the small screen: ”Girl Meets World is coming out at a time where the audience is watching Boy Meets World in reruns and going, ‘Man, I miss this.”’
Rider Strong Shawn Hunter
He was a tough kid, that Shawn Hunter. A leather-jacket-wearing, sharp-tongued young man whose home life consisted of a trailer park and absent parents. And at the time, teenage Rider Strong wouldn’t have had it any other way. ”When Shawn became more dramatic, it was really right for me because that was more me,” says Strong, 33. ”I was kind of an angsty teen — writing poetry and very serious about everything.” After years of carrying heavy story lines, he admits that he missed ”dumb Shawn” from earlier episodes — the one who got into mindless trouble with best bud Cory at every opportunity. ”I think that is my favorite [Shawn phase] even though it was the shortest-lived,” he says. These days, Strong works behind the camera, writing and directing a Web series called Micah the A–hole Ghost for Sean Hayes’ Hazy Mills Productions. Could he imagine taking these skills to TV and, say, directing an episode of Girl? ”Directing would be wonderful — just being back on a set,” says Strong, who’s had unofficial conversations with creator Michael Jacobs about reprising his role as Shawn on the spin-off.
William Russ Alan Matthews
Over seven seasons, Alan performed every fatherly duty under the sun, from threatening a cult leader who was trying to lure Shawn to skydiving to prove that he loved his sons equally. So what’s Russ’ favorite Boy Meets World memory? ”Some of my greatest memories are from the first year, when the kids were little and it was all new and fresh,” says the 62-year-old actor. ”Maybe it was even the episode when we chased each other with water guns.” Today, Russ is having fewer water fights and doing more dramatic work, with guest spots on shows including NCIS and Criminal Minds.
Betsy Randle Amy Matthews
As überinvolved mother Amy, Randle didn’t get always have the most prominent story lines during BMW‘s run. (Among her favorite moments? An episode set in the ’40s where she got to dress up like Rosie the Riveter.) But Amy’s Everymom presence was an important part of the puzzle. ”The role of the mother was actually much more heard than I thought at the time,” she says. ”I realize that now as people stop me and thank me for being this good mom.” Since the show’s end, Randle, 58, has been involved in regional theater and is currently working on producing her third one-woman show.
Will Friedle Eric Matthews
Eric Matthews was a wild card — happy to give brotherly advice when needed but mostly a scene-stealer with cartoonlike energy. Fittingly, Friedle now spends most of his days bringing animated characters to life. In the years after the show, Friedle discovered a passion for voice-over work and has voiced notable characters like Transformers Prime‘s Bumblebee. ”I love how every day you wake up and you don’t know which character you’re playing,” says Friedle, who credits his time on BMW for helping get his foot in the animation door. (The wife of a producer who worked on the animated TV series Batman Beyond was a fan.) Friedle says he stopped doing on-camera work when he turned 30 (he’s now 37), and demurs when asked about Girl Meets World: ”I will be involved with the show as a fan. Who knows, maybe sometime down the line Eric comes back.”
Lily Nicksay Morgan Matthews, seasons 1-2
She was only 4 years old when she filmed the Boy Meets World pilot, so Nicksay’s memories of the experience consist of little more than tea parties, a melted doll (once featured on the show), and piggyback rides from Savage. Though her character was recast after season 2 (a ”mutual decision” between her parents and producers, she says), Nicksay remains a recognizable face among fans. She couldn’t even escape BMW in Scotland. ”The first time I walked into my bagpiping class, my teacher recognized me immediately,” marvels Nicksay, 25, who attended high school and college abroad. She has since reentered the acting world with a spot on CBS’ The Mentalist.
Lindsay Ridgeway Morgan Matthews, seasons 3-7
After the show wrapped in 2000, Ridgeway, 28, ultimately decided to focus on school, getting her master’s degree in counseling from the University of Redlands in California. She now works with Special Olympics Southern California, among other nonprofits. Ridgeway looks back on her BMW experience fondly — especially the behind-the-scenes antics. ”The guys would lip-synch to the Backstreet Boys in front of the audience between takes,” she says. ”I actually still have it on a VHS tape somewhere in my mom’s den.”
William Daniels Mr. Feeny
The Feeny Call became something of an iconic trope thanks to Eric Matthews, but in real life, bellowing the character’s name is probably not the best way to get Daniels’ attention. Just ask the busload of children who once sent the actor scurrying down a New York street. ”They spotted me and they started yelling, ‘Mr. Feeny! Mr. Feeny!’ I’m a coward — I ran all the way around the block just to escape them,” remembers Daniels, who recently recurred on Grey’s Anatomy. Still, the lasting influence of teacher, neighbor, and mentor-you-always-wanted George Feeny is not lost on the actor, who will reprise his role in Girl‘s premiere. ”People who are now parents write saying, ‘You helped me grow up. You helped me raise my family,”’ says the actor, 86. ”That has been really gratifying.”