Professor shares Hollywood memories

Jeff Stepakoff

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 14, 2014) - “Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in…

Georgia (Oct 14, 2014)

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 14, 2014) - “Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back… with wonder.”

For die-hard fans of the television show “The Wonder Years,” those words are no doubt familiar as the closing lines that wrapped the show in 1993. For six seasons, viewers tuned into the ABC comedy-drama that chronicled the lives of Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper as they grew up in suburbia in the late ’60s and early ’70s. One of the writers who helped tell their stories was Kennesaw State Associate Professor of Screen/Scriptwriting Jeffrey Stepakoff.

As a story editor, or fulltime staff writer, on the series, he is credited on 23 episodes, including Season 4, Episode 3, “The Journey,” which he wrote, chronicling Kevin and best friend Paul’s attempt to crash a girls’ slumber party.

“It was a fun job,” Stepakoff said. “Virtually all of us writers were in our 20s. We were kids sitting in a room talking about growing up.”

After more than 20 years off the air, the complete “Wonder Years” was released Oct. 7 on DVD. A limited edition of the DVD set, packaged in a miniature school locker with a yearbook signed by cast members, sells for $500. The basic 26-disc set starts at $250.

“It was a show about the magic and wonder of growing up and the beginning of the loss of innocence,” he said. “There was something really special about being a part of these magical stories. They resonated so deeply with people.”

Stepakoff has developed TV pilots for 20th Century, Paramount, MTM, Fox and ABC. He has “written by” or “story by” credits on 36 television episodes, has written for 14 different series and has been a writer and/or writer-producer on seven primetime staffs, credited on more than 180 episodes of internationally recognized television. Of all the shows he has been a part of, however, one question has followed him for more than 20 years: “When is ‘The Wonder Years’ coming out on DVD?”

Turns out, one of the series’ greatest attributes – the accompanying music – would keep it from DVD distribution all these years.

“The show in many ways was about the music of the day,” Stepakoff said. “We would watch the episodes and play cassettes of Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Neil Young, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, listening for the perfect song to propel the episodes. There was no thought of getting long-term licensing rights. Our primary consideration was telling the best story we could for each week’s show.”

Stepakoff said the distribution company spent a seven-figure sum to clear the theme song and 284 others for the DVD release – 96 percent of the original music.

Despite dwindling DVD sales industry-wide, Stepakoff predicts the “Wonder Years” set will be profitable.

“There’s more demand for this show than any other series to come out on DVD,” he said. “It’s a multi-generational show that you really don’t have anymore.”

Once thought of as “the electronic hearth of the home,” television has fundamentally changed since “The Wonder Years” went off the air in 1993. Market segmentation and niche programming, while creating “an embarrassment of riches” in great storytelling, according to Stepakoff, keeps families from watching TV together as they once did.

“Television today divides us and segregates us,” he said. “In a family of five, you have five different people, in five different rooms, on five different devices watching five different shows. ‘The Wonder Years’ brought us together. I hope people watch it together as a family on a television set, not on an iPad.”

--Jennifer Hafer

Photo by: David Caselli


 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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