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, sued for sexual harassment. The case was settled. A female crewmember on the set of Fox’s The Grinder, which ran from 2015-18, 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 with directing jobs on 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.
The young woman in question has declined to speak to THR. But sources say she shared that she was sometimes fearful of him when he was angry. He was “extremely controlling of her daily behaviors,” says one associate who observed their interactions. “He was manipulative and erratic.” Another crewmember says she tried to shield the younger woman from Savage, at which point “he proceeded to verbally harass me and belittle me.” This woman says she found Savage “scary” because “when he pulled me aside multiple times when he was verbally harassing me, his eyes would go dead,” but then “he flips a switch and he’s Fred Savage.”
The crewmembers who had become uneasy observing the interaction between Savage and the young woman say that ultimately, she seemed to be transformed by her interactions with Savage — no longer the bubbly person that she had been.
It was primarily concern about the hold that Savage seemed to have on this far younger person that ultimately prompted several women to report him to Disney HR. But she wasn’t the only one on the crew who attracted Savage’s attention to the point that others noticed. One of the women who reported Savage says she saw his “very blatant favoritism” toward another crewmember, a woman in her early 30s, and found it unsettling. “I’ve been in the industry a long time. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I’ve seen a lot,” she says.
The woman in question, who has worked in the industry for about a decade, tells THR that Savage befriended her over the course of months on the show. “We became acquaintances and friends,” she says. “It was very platonic.” He took her to dinner and offered expensive gifts that she declined. He met and charmed her parents. Knowing that she was an aspiring writer and comedian, she says, he made efforts to help with her career. He came to her shows. He paid her to co-write a public service announcement. She says she considered him to be like a brother or a cousin.
At one point, she went through a bad break up. “He was aware of it. I was very vulnerable,” she says. “You’re on set 16 hours a day. I told him everything.” Then, she was abruptly fired, though she does not believe that was at Savage’s direction. “I was given no prior warning or cause,” she says. “I texted Fred. He was ecstatic. He was, `This is the beginning of your career. You’re going to move to L.A.’”
Though she was no longer working on the show, one night in early December 2021 she was invited to join the group at Astoria, a bar near Savage’s house with an outdoor space where the crew often gathered. “He was buying shots for everyone,” she says. At one point, she went to the restroom. As she was walking out of the stall, Savage entered. “I started laughing, like, `What are you doing? This is a women’s bathroom,’” she says. She says he approached her with “just like, dead eyes” and pushed her against a wall. “I said, `Please, don’t do this.’ I meant ruining the friendship. I was pleading, not from fear so much, but this was no going back.”
At that point, she says, “He put his mouth on mine very forcefully. He went for the top of my pants. I brushed him away. Then he put his mouth on mine again, grabbed my hand and pulled it on his groin area. I was pulling back. He stopped very angrily. I shoulder checked him so I could get out.”
They both returned to the outdoor area and Savage quickly left with the younger crewmember who had also absorbed so much of his attention. But she says he texted her that night asking her to come to his house right away. “To remain neutral I laughed it off like,`Ha ha, no, have a good night,’ because I was honestly scared of him for the first time,” she says.
He continued to text and call for a couple of weeks, she says, asking to meet. “One time he just sent the word, `Tonight,’” she says. Then there was silence for a few weeks, and then a voicemail that she shared with THR. “It’s your old friend Fred,” he said. “We worked together for a while and then we didn’t and then I was a huge asshole. A huge asshole. And I’m really sorry. And I’ve kind of owed you an apology for a minute here and so, uh, the truth is I really like you and I really want to be friends and I’m so sorry that I fucked that up.” She says she did not respond.
Several women who reported Savage to Disney HR say concern for the younger crewmember was the primary motivator for reporting his conduct to Disney. But they express disappointment in someone who has presented himself as an ally for women who wanted to promote their career advancement. “These men in charge know what the public is looking for and they know what words to use,” says one. “We all felt supported by Fred. We truly thought he supported women. He told us he supported women. But this kind of support isn’t real.”