‘The Wonder Years’ cinematographer David Robert Jones on how the show captures the reality of the 1960s [Exclusive Video Interview]

When cinematographer David Robert Jones first heard about ABC’s reimagining of “The Wonder Years,” he wasn’t necessarily sold on the concept. Then he read the script from creator and showrunner Saladin K. Patterson, who based the comedy on his own experiences growing up in Montgomery, Alabama in the late 1960s.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing. This is so good,’” Jones tells Gold Derby on our Meet the Experts: Cinematographers panel. “This was a totally different thing and its own story.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

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Set in 1968, the new version of “The Wonder Years” focuses on the Williams family, particularly through the experiences of 12-year-old Dean (EJ Williams), who narrates the show from the future as an adult (voiced by Don Cheadle). To recreate the era and the specific sense Patterson evoked in his script, Jones and the show’s directors looked to images and photographs from the time period – but found it difficult to source pictures of Black families in everyday settings. Still, “it was a blast, trying to recreate a nostalgic feeling, a family environment, and we wanted it to feel like a real family. The litmus test for every scene or setting was to run through Sal and get his stamp of approval.”

Jones says he knew they achieved the goal of authenticity when even crew members would find themselves transported back. “It was so satisfying to get those reactions, when we do a scene and they’re like, ‘Oh, man, that’s what my mom used to say all the time.’”

Jones says most of the series was shot under extreme time constraints because of the child actors at its center. But the pressure yielded numerous memorable moments, including a scene in the pilot when a comedic argument ends with the Williams family finding out that Martin Luther King has been killed. That blending of laughter and serious pain is a hallmark of the show.

“The whole show is like that. It’s a comedy but we didn’t approach it like a comedy,” Jones says. “We approached it like a drama and it had funny stuff that happens. We wanted every scene and all the actors to play the reality of the moment the best they could. So that the comedy will come through in the reality of the family’s life.”

“The Wonder Years” airs on ABC and Season 1 episodes are streaming on Hulu.

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