By Matt Moryc, Walt Disney Archives
If you grew up watching television in the 1980s and 1990s, there is an objective argument to be made that some of the greatest family sitcoms of all-time were produced during this era. The American Broadcast Company (ABC) was at the forefront of this golden age of adolescent television with their Friday night programming block titled TGIF (short for “Thank Goodness It’s Funny”). Debuting in 1989, TGIF became a staple in millions of homes across America, and would continue to be throughout the 1990s as audiences tuned in weekly to watch classic shows such as Full House (1987–95), Step by Step (ABC: 1991–97; CBS: 1997–98), Family Matters (ABC: 1989–97; CBS: 1997–98), and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (ABC: 1996–2000; WB: 2000–03).
For Disney fans, these titles are memorable not only for their place in ABC history, but also for the episodes of each show that were filmed at Walt Disney World Resort. The idea to send family sitcoms to the vacation kingdom could not have come at a better time for The Walt Disney Company as it was in the midst of vastly expanding its hold on ’90s popular culture with a string of hit animated films and new Walt Disney World attractions that were ripe for promotion via television programming created for families.
One of the most popular ABC sitcoms during this era was Boy Meets World (1993–2000), starring Ben Savage (Cory Matthews), Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter), Danielle Fishel (Topanga Lawrence), and Will Friedle (Eric Matthews). The show centers on Cory, a young suburban Philadelphia boy trying his best to navigate the triumphs and tribulations of friendship, family, school, and romantic relationships along the path to adulthood.
During the show’s third season, the episode titled “The Happiest Show on Earth” finds Cory reeling from a breakup with Topanga, who has recently won a school trip to Walt Disney World thanks to a paper she wrote about the environment. Initially, Cory is happy for Topanga until he discovers that Ronnie “Lips” Waterman (Andrew Keegan), the class heartthrob known for being a flirt, also won the same trip to Florida. Encouraged by his brother Eric, Cory decides to take his best friend, Shawn, with him to Walt Disney World in order to win back Topanga.
The characters split their time between the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, with the latter park factoring heavily into the episode’s plotline. Many of the important story beats take place at The Living Seas pavilion (now called The Seas with Nemo & Friends), and there’s even a special guest star appearance by another TGIF alum, Staci Keanan, who played Dana Foster on Step by Step. Ultimately, Cory and Topanga decide to get back together while sharing a romantic embrace perfectly timed to the majestic aquatic choreography of the EPCOT Fountain of Nations.
Thanks to our partners at ABC, the Walt Disney Archives is delighted to share publicity and behind-the-scenes imagery from the filming of the 1996 Boy Meet’s World episode “The Happiest Show On Earth,” and don’t forget to check out the show now streaming on Disney+.
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