By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the late 1980s, Fred Savage burst onto U.S. television screens as plucky grade school kid Kevin Arnold in "The Wonder Years" becoming a bona fide star and Emmy award nominee.
Unlike many kids who find stardom early, Savage kept a cool head when it came to fame. He stayed away from Hollywood's party scene, went to Stanford and returned not so much an actor as a director and producer. The kid had matured.
Savage, now 35-years-old, debuts a new TV sitcom, "best friends forever," on Wednesday on NBC telling of a New York woman in her early 30s (Lennon Parham) whose best friend and former roommate (Jessica St. Clair) gets divorced and moves back into their old apartment, which she now shares with her boyfriend (Luka Jones).
Savage, the show's director and executive producer, spoke with Reuters about his new show and life outside the acting spotlight.
Q: You're the executive producer and the director which leads me to think you're pretty closely involved with the show, but was it your creation?
A: "It's very much Lennon and Jess's baby. They came up with the idea ... I met with them, and I felt very connected to the material. I had experienced all those things. My wife has an incredibly close best friend. When I was coming into our relationship, I was the interloper. I was the new guy, so I really identified with (the boyfriend). You love this woman and you have to learn how to love everybody who comes with her if you want your relationship to succeed."
Q: And how did you adjust to your own, new life?
A: "It's hard. My journey was very much like Joe's (the boyfriend) and we'll explore Joe's reaction through the first episode. There's all sorts of stages. There's competition and that will never work because competing puts your loved one in the middle. There's shutting them out, but you can't shut them out because they're asking you to choose, and there's rationalization ... but then at the end of the day, acceptance is the best way. Once you succumb to that, you realize how much richer everything is."
Q: So many sitcoms seem about the same these days. What sets "best friends forever" apart from the rest?
A: "Comedy, in general, on television has become kind of mean spirited. For us, we really wanted to make this a show about love, about the love of two friends and the love of this couple and the fact that everyone loves each other so much ... We really tried to make this a show about people not being nasty to each other, not putting each other down."
Q: Some of the humor is a bit ribald, the talk of the bikini waxing, for instance.
A: "I think the best comedy reflects your real experiences, the more people can identify with it, the better ... bikini waxing is certainly a part of life for women, and it's a frustration for a lot of women. I love that the joke was there. It sets the show up from the beginning that this is going to be real ... I'm sorry if it offended you."
Q: Oh, I wasn't offended, just surprised. I thought it was funny. For me, it's really about changing norms and mores for TV, generation to generation.
A: "I'm a parent. I certainly don't want kids exposed to anything bad, but at the same time I think the norms that get broken down allow us to see ourselves more truthfully on TV ... the more we're able to accurately depict the world around us, the better the show is going to be."
Q: A few "Wonder Years" questions. It only lasted a few years on TV but remains the source of your greatest notoriety. You've now produced and directed a lot of TV and you continue to act, but do you ever think "Wonder Years" overshadows that?
A: "That's kind of where I started and how I became known. I would be foolish to think that many of the opportunities that I get now didn't stem from there. ... I will always be associated with it. Gosh, I hope so. The fact I had that opportunity at such a young age, I really value that experience. It's never anything I want to distance myself from. It's not that people haven't allowed me to do other things. It's never hamstrung me or hindered me from doing other things."
Q: Did you pursue directing and producing to distance yourself from it?
A: "No, I was never concerned about that. Directing was something I wanted to do since I was 13-years-old. It was always my interest. It wasn't a decision away from something more than it was toward a dream I always had."
Q: But after "Wonder Years," did you long to get back the fame, the celebrity that you had? It must've been intoxicating.
A: "Fame was never a big part of my experience. I didn't hang out with celebrities or live a celebrity lifestyle. Fame can come and fame can go. When it was never a part of your life to begin with, you don't miss it. For me, it was always about the work ... I just liked being on set and working. Fame shouldn't be an end result. That's a dangerous game to play and never part of the equation for me and still isn't."
(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte, Editing by Jill Serjeant)