It was as Fred Savage was preparing to direct his ninth episode of ABC’s reboot of The Wonder Years that a group of six women on the crew united to take action. Despite their fears about possible repercussions, in February they sent a complaint to Disney and subsequently spoke to an HR executive regarding their concerns about the former child star’s conduct toward several women on the production.
“To their credit, I was contacted within hours,” one of the group says. “An investigation started immediately and he was barred from set.” On May 6, news broke that Savage had been fired as executive producer and director of the well-reviewed series, which has been renewed for a second season. A spokesman for Disney’s 20th Television cited “allegations of inappropriate conduct” but did not elaborate.
Days later, a Page Six item reported that sources close to Savage said he was “doing a lot of self-reflecting.” Savage “knows he can be an a-hole at times,” the column said. “Despite everything, we’re told Savage has had ‘overwhelming support’ from friends and colleagues on The Wonder Years production.” That’s when several of the women who had reported Savage decided to contact The Hollywood Reporter about the issues that led them to report their allegations to Disney. “I and the other women feel that people need to know what the wrongdoing was,” says one.
She notes that Savage has withstood allegations before. In 1993, a costumer on the original The Wonder Years sued Savage, then 16, for sexual harassment. The case was settled. A female crewmember on the set of Fox’s The Grinder, which ran from 2015-16, sued claiming that Savage “constantly hurled profanities” at women employees and had shouted at and struck her during a costume fitting. Fox found no evidence of wrongdoing and the lawsuit was settled. In both cases, Savage denied wrongdoing. Despite those allegations, Savage has had a prolific career, not only acting but directing episodes of Boy Meets World, Black-ish, The Conners, Modern Family and 2 Broke Girls, among other shows.
The women who worked on the Wonder Years reboot say they saw two very different sides of Savage: a charismatic, seemingly supportive colleague and a far darker, angrier alter ego. They say he could flip to the latter persona in an instant, and in such moments, one says, “His eyes would go dead.” One says Savage never engaged in such behavior in front of actors or executives. “They all see his absolute perfect, best face,” she says, but he sometimes showed a different side to “below-the-line employees who don’t have power.”
The women who contacted Disney have requested anonymity out of fear for potential damage to their careers. They say they initiated the complaint regarding conduct toward women that ranged from verbal harassment to one alleged assault of a former crewmember.
In a statement, Savage tells THR: “Since I was 6 years old, I have worked on hundreds of sets with thousands of people, and have always strived to contribute to an inclusive, safe and supportive work environment. It is devastating to learn that there are co-workers who feel I have fallen short of these goals. While there are some incidents being reported that absolutely did not and could not have happened, any one person who feels hurt or offended by my actions is one person too many. I will work to address and change any behavior that has negatively affected anyone, as nothing in this world is more important to me than being a supportive co-worker, friend, husband, father and person.”
One Wonder Years crewmember who was not part of the group that complained to Disney says she had a very positive impression of Savage. He was not only an exceptionally competent director but “very charming” and “very friendly.” She continues: “Fred is very social. He would invite crew to a bar or to a little house he was renting.” She remembers those gatherings as “so much fun.”
But then, suddenly, he was gone. “It was so mysterious,” she says. In the media, the narrative focused on Savage’s alleged anger issues. But this crewmember acknowledges she had been uneasy about the “strangeness” of Savage’s relationship with one much younger woman working on the crew. (Savage is 46 years old and married with three children.)
This source wasn’t the only one who had become concerned. Others say at one point the young woman moved into the house Savage occupied in the artsy Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta, where The Wonder Years was filming. An associate says she shared that he was buying her gifts and talking about what they would do together in the future.