Among that enormous demographic of people born after 1981, you'll find a major generational touchstone: the TV show Boy Meets World.
Nick Gray, 24, says, "Everybody that I know that is our age --"
"-- watched it," interrupts his girlfriend, 21-year-old Elizabeth Spivey, "and loved it!"
Every generation has its television families. Boomers watched Leave It to Beaver; in the 1970s, it was The Brady Bunch; in the '80s, it was The Cosby Show. Boy Meets World aired on ABC from 1993 to 2000 and lives on in syndication. At its peak, 10 million viewers followed the main character, young Cory Matthews, as he stumbled toward adulthood along with his girlfriend — and later wife — Topanga.
Now millennials are starting to have kids of their own, so Disney, which owns ABC, decided it was time to reboot Boy Meets World for a new generation. It offered one of the show's original creators, Michael Jacobs, the chance to reunite his original team of writers and hire back the original stars, this time as young parents of a 13-year-old girl.
The title? Girl Meets World, of course. But Jacobs was dubious.
"I'm 58 years old," he observes dryly from his office at Disney's complex on the edge of downtown Los Angeles. "I'm surrounded by these 58-year-old guys. We like to think of ourselves as cutting edge." Here, he gives a measured pause. "That's how foolish we are."
So four young female writers joined the writing staff. One of them, Randi Barnes, jokingly refers to her office as "the writers' womb," rather than the writer's room, because it's where the young female writers hang out. Propping up her sneaker-shod feet on her desk, she says the men have generously shared the show's legacy and expressed what it's like to be a parent, while the young women have explained what it's like to be a daughter, and the experience of growing up now.
The girl of Girl Meets World is Riley, a dutiful daughter with a "bad" best friend. Bad by Disney standards, anyway, meaning she wears adorable studded leather boots and rides the subway all by herself. Fans Nick Gray and Elizabeth Spivey think her glamour is the show's biggest deviation from the original. They say the kids looked relatively normal on ABC's Boy Meets World, but Girl Meets World is a Disney Channel show, like Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire.
"They're just really, really pretty," Gray says of the shows' teenage stars.
"They don't look like children," Spivey adds. But the first episode did not completely disappoint. "It was wholesome in the same way that the original series was," she says.
Michael Jacobs, the show's co-creator, says that's because Boy Meets World was based on the simple rhythms of his own childhood: "Get up. Go to school. Try. Tell my parents I'll try harder. Those stories worked on Boy Meets World."
But Jacobs doesn't think they'll work on the reboot. "Are we off the record?" he wonders, deadpan. "No? I think girls are smarter. ... I think that they're tougher."
A new TV show needs to be smarter and tougher too, in a world crammed with channels and platforms all vying for audience attention. Disney hopes the audience of Girl Meets World will include nostalgic millennials, but some of them will not be easy to reach.
"We don't have cable," Gray admits, somewhat sheepishly. He's part of a pronounced cord-cutting trend. In order to watch a preview episode of Girl Meets World on a mobile device, he had to use a parent's cable password.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Alright every generation has its touchstone TV families. Boomers watched "Leave It To Beaver." In the '70s, it was "The Brady Bunch." A decade later, it was "The Cosby Show." Starting in 1993, kids watched "Boy Meets World," which ran for seven years on ABC. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, this week the show gets a reboot for a new generation.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Here's how popular boy meets world was the 1990s. At its peak, it drew 10 million viewers including Nick Grey and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Spivey, now 24 and 21 and living in Florida.
NICK GREY: Everybody that I know that is our age...
ELIZABETH SPIVEY: Watched it and loved it.
GREY: ...Loves the show.
ULABY: "Boy Meets World" was about an affable kid named Cory Matthews, his family, school and friends.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOY MEETS WORLD")
BEN SAVAGE: (As Cory Matthews) It's a new year, a new me. You notice the spring in my step? Boxer shorts.
ULABY: It was the sheer ordinariness of "Boy Meets World" that appealed to Spivey and Grey. They compare it to "Roseanne” or "Home Improvement."
GREY: That kind of blue-collar family is just something we really related to.
ULABY: Over the years, the character Cory and his girlfriend, Topanga, dealt with regular kid problems like getting into trouble at school.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOY MEETS WORLD)
SAVAGE: (As Cory Matthews) Mr. Feeny, this stinks.
WILLIAM DANIELS: (As George Feeny) It’s supposed to stink, Mr. Matthews. Its detention. You're being detained from whatever it is you would rather be doing.
SAVAGE: (As Cory Matthews) Well, I think it's a cruel and unusual life-sucking torture.
ULABY: A few years ago, Disney, which owns ABC, got in touch with one of the show’s creators and said, Michael Jacobs, how about reassembling your old team of writers and hiring back the original stars for a show called "Girl Meets World"? Cory and Topanga will be the parents of a 13-year-old daughter. Jacobs was dubious.
MICHAEL JACOBS: I'm 58-years-old, I'm surrounded by these 58-year-old guys. We like to think of ourselves as cutting-edge. That's how foolish we are.
ULABY: Disney said, perhaps we can make you change your mind.
JACOBS: Would you think that perhaps, if you were so inclined, you could have some females on the staff who might understand what they are doing because you completely don't?
RANDI BARNES: Here, the lady writers. Cindy, Lauren, Teresa.
ULABY: And Randi Barnes. One of the young women leaving - not the writers room.
BARNES: We call this the writer’s womb.
ULABY: The writer’s womb sits or maybe nests in a huge Disney-owned complex at the edge of downtown Los Angeles. The lady writers wear jeans and high-top sneakers. They look barely out of college.
BARNES: I'm actually the oldest woman at 30.
ULABY: You'd think the ingredients are all there for a culture clash. But the older male writers, says Barnes, have been generous in sharing the original show's legacy and what it's like to be a parent.
BARNES: And for us to say, well, here's what it's like to be a daughter, and here's what it's like to grow up now.
ULABY: The dutiful daughter of "Girl Meets World" has a bad best friend - bad by Disney standards. That means she wears little studded boots and rides the subway all by herself.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GIRL MEETS WORLD)
ROWAN BLANCHARD: (As Riley Matthews) She's cool. She has a wild side. She does what she wants.
DANIELLE FISHEL: (As Topanga Matthews) But you're such a good person.
BLANCHARD: (As Riley Matthews) Who cares about that?
ULABY: Fans Nick Grey and Elizabeth Spivey watched a preview episode online. They say the biggest difference from the original is that on "Boy Meets World" the kid looked normal. Disney Channel's the home of Hannah Montana and Lizzie McGuire and the pubescence stars of "Girl Meets World" are glamorous.
GREY: They're just really, really pretty.
SPIVEY: They don't look like children.
ULABY: Not a even the boy, who's the main character's crush.
GREY: You know, he looks like his eyebrows are done, and his hair is like perfect and it's frosted.
ULABY: But that's not to say the first episode was a complete disappointment.
SPIVEY: It was wholesome in the same way that the original series was.
ULABY: That's because, says Michael Jacobs, the show's co-creator "Boy Meets World" was based on the simple rhythms of his own childhood.
JACOBS: Getup, go to school, try, tell my parents I'll try harder. Those stories worked on "Boy Meets World." They will not work on "Girl Meets World."
ULABY: And why not?
JACOBS: Are we off the record? No? I think girls are smarter. I think that they're tougher.
ULABY: New TV shows need to be smarter and tougher as they vie for audience attention and a world crammed with channels and platforms. Disney hopes the audience of "Girl Meets World" will include nostalgic Millennials. But some will not be easy to reach.
GREY: We don't have cable.
ULABY: Nick Grey is part of a pronounced cord-cutting trend. He watched a preview episode of "Girl Meets World" on a mobile device, using a parent's cable. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.