A reunion of Boy Meets World actors at New York Comic Con in honor of the show’s 25th anniversary showed how difficult it is to separate character from actor, especially at such a formative age. Will Friedle threw out quips and one-liners like fireballs, while Danielle Fishel approached everything in a calm, composed and intelligent manner. And in true Cory Matthews fashion, Ben Savage approached the panel with an anxious, furrowed brow.
“When Danielle talks to me, I feel like I’m in a timeout,” he joked to an energetic audience filled with fans of the ABC show, which ran from 1993-2000. But it seemed like that timeout came to an end quickly, as the trio spent the panel playfully exchanging laughs and memories while they answered questions from the crowd.
The ‘90s-spanning Boy Meets World obviously aired at a time without social media, which made it tougher to gain a sense of overall reception.
“I think I had this feeling we were doing the show for our grandparents,” Fishel said — though the advantage of not being able to gauge audience response in real time allowed the actors to concentrate more on building the characters to their own liking.
“We always talk about when we were on the air, we weren’t that popular,” Friedle added. “It wasn’t until the second or third runs when people started to recognize us.”
It’s a recognition that has transcended generations, as through syndication and streaming Boy Meets World has still served as one of the go-to sitcoms when it comes to life lessons. Fishel attributes that success to showrunner Michael Jacobs.
“I wouldn’t say they were orchestrated,” she said, “but there are things he knows are universal subject matters that no matter what time period you watch them, they’re relatable.”
Added Savage, “I think we tapped into more universal issues: love, family, work. We went into issues pretty much everyone can relate to.”
Among those life lessons are drinking, gang violence and death. One particular message discussed was an episode about body positivity. After Friedle and Fishel both gained weight during a break, Jacobs decided to pen an episode that dealt with body image issues. Though the focus on Fishel garnered press at the time, it was also something she took pride in.
“I was never the stick figure growing up, and that never bothered me,” she said. “I was just happy to be myself and wanted to enjoy my life. For so many reasons, I think Topanga is a role model. But going through junior high and high school, you need that message that you can look like whatever you want to look like.”
The conversation then turned to the show’s literal and spiritual successor: Girl Meets World. Savage spoke to some of the backlash that came about from Boy Meets World fans who were frustrated on the central focus not being on Cory and Topanga. “There was a bit of a generational tug of war between the Boy Meets World fans and the Disney Channel fans,” he said. “We wanted to apply a lot of life lessons that we wrote about and talked about and give it to a new generation. They’re getting a lot of the same lessons and stories that you guys got growing up with Boy Meets World.”
Friedle recalled an experience on set with the other adult characters, watching the kids from afar and simply saying, “That’s us.” He mentioned the guidance that Savage and Fishel were able to give the younger actors on set, something the pair set out to do from the beginning.
“It was really important to Ben and me to be there,” Fishel said. “At 11, 12, 13 years old, we knew what it was like to be there. We navigated that world. And though the world is more complicated now, it’s nice to have someone there. We were able to put the lessons we had learned into effect.”
Savage also discussed the difficulties actors face now in the age of social media. “It’s such a different world than our generation grew up in,” he said with a sigh. “It’s a much more complicated environment. We didn’t have social media, so we could grow up and make mistakes. In this world, there is so much pressure on young actors, because not only do they have to do well onscreen, but they have to be a perfect person.”
But being a young actor 25 years ago did not go without its own problems, something Friedle recollected in a rare somber moment on the panel. He spoke about the extreme anxiety he faced by the time Boy Meets World wrapped, a behavior that drove him out of onscreen acting and behind a voiceover mic, where he started to build an illustrious career in animation. He has been slowly dipping his toes back into the live-action waters, though, and even hinted at a show that he and Fishel were currently shopping around.
“When Will came back to Girl Meets World, I was so thrilled,” Savage said. “It was like everyone was coming home. The people to my left are very important in my life. They’ve really left a mark on my life, on who I am. They’ll always be part of my family.”
And with generations full of people who consider Friedle, Fishel and Savage to be a part of their own family, the trio finished the panel reflecting on their favorite lesson their work imparted onto their audience.
Friedle: “You don’t have to be blood to be family.” Savage: “People change people.” Fishel reached back to the series finale and the advice given by sage teacher Mr. Feeny: “Dream. Try. Do good.”