The First of Its Class: From Sit-com to Icon

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h51m40s415

Before we take a look at the final episode of the original Saved by the Bell on Friday, I thought we’d take a look at the final bonus feature on the Saved by the Bell DVDs, and it’s, of course, another documentary about how awesome Saved by the Bell is. Three original documentaries on the DVDs. Let’s see if this one has anything new to add.

So, let’s meet our cast for this feature.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h52m28s193

 

Of course, there’s Peter Engel talking about how brilliant Saved by the Bell is and practically sucking Brandon Tartikoff’s cock posthumously. He’s wearing the same clothes he was in the other two bonus features, which leads me to believe either he has Matlock’s wardrobe or they were all shot on the same day.

I’m also not so sure about his account of the origin of the show since he says Tartikoff was concerned about losing the high end of the cartoon demographic on Saturday mornings. Considering Tartikoff’s original idea was Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which evolved from a raunchy prime time comedy into a Disney Channel original series, I kind of tend to think Engel’s blurring details together in his old age.

Engel claims that, despite research showing nobody would watch Saved by the Bell, within four weeks of it being on the air, 15% of all teen girls were watching the show. He says that, at one point, more kids were watching Saved by the Bell on Saturday morning than The Cosby Show, then the number one show in prime time.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h53m37s382

Bennett Tramer is a new face for this feature. He was the show runner for much of the original series and, damn him, helped develop The New Class. Interestingly, Peter Engel admits that Tramer used to get on his nerves so bad. Tramer says that they really looked for ways to make cliched plots original, like stealing your principal’s car instead of your parents’.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h54m43s749

Jeffrey Sachs was one of the many writers for the original series. Both he and Bennett Tramer are on set at The max, leading me to ask if they actually reconstructed the set just for this feature. Weird…

Sachs talks about the screaming audiences and how frustrating it could be that Saved by the Bell had one of the most easily impressionable audience in the world.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h55m25s040

Carl Kurlander was a writer and producer on The New Class, mostly during the third and fourth seasons. I have no clue why he’s here as The New Class isn’t mentioned once during the feature and he didn’t have anything to do with the original series. I guess they needed another guest to pad it out? In any case, fuck you, Carl Kurlander, for writing The New Class.

Kurlander does talk about the morality aspect of the show and how they tried to deal with the things that kids were really dealing with on the show and showed that things always work out, because that’s a positive message to send to your target demographic when things don’t work out. Also, yes, kids deal with caffeine pill addiction all the time.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h56m03s489

Ellen Seiter is a professor of critical studies at USC and has, perhaps, some of the best insights in the whole thing as to why Saved by the Bell became the phenomenon it has. They should have done the whole thing around her. While the others were shrugging their shoulders and saying, “I don’t know why it was popular,” she actually analyzes the show and gives real reasons for its success.

She talks about how the Saved by the Bell universe is basically utopia: what would high school be like in a universe where everyone basically loved each other and the kids were in charge and, at the same time, it helped kids to understand moral lessons realistically. Basing the situations in the mundane realities of adolescent life was ingenious for the show.

There’s a spread of ages who like the show and learned from it, she says. In addition, the fact that the characters took turns being the butt of the joke lead audiences to have a great affection for them.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h57m36s453

They also interview three random Saved by the Bell fans who I guess they found on the street to find out what they think. Lisa here  talks about how Saved by the Bell helped her transition from middle school to high school and, I swear, the way she says “transition” I thought they were actually going to show a transgender person. I should have known better: not in a documentary featuring Peter Engel.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h58m00s272

Gavin says he loved the characters and idolized each of them in a different way. Oh, Gavin. Don’t idolize Screech. It will only encourage him.

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-15h58m20s983

Regina says she used to watch the three hour blocks of reruns on TBS while she was on the phone with her best friend being as easily impressed as the studio audience.

Engel and Kurlander talk about how the FCC and Congress each sited Saved by the Bell as example of educational shows before the three hour ruling came out. Because everything works out, kids can learn from Saved by the Bell because they always made the right choices. Yeah, because you can predict whether kids will take that away or Zack Morris’s sociopathy. Tramer says most of the writing staff were parents and wanted to make sure they presented these issues in the a responsible way.

They also think it helps that the kids were, roughly, the same ages as the characters they were playing, unlike the background characters. Interestingly, Engel says he didn’t realize Dustin Dimaond was only eleven until three episodes in or he wouldn’t have hired him. Oh, to have a time machine and go back in time and change that. They bring up that Lisa’s and Slater’s characters were originally supposed to be white kids and they changed them because of Mario Lopez and Lark Voorhies. How progressive I guess?

vlcsnap-2015-08-02-16h02m10s864Some of the more interesting revelations are around how the show was written. The staff would spend hours laying out each episode and deciding how it would go before they assigned it to a writer. They would work the show out and break it down. Above, you see a board where they’ve written down scene by scene what should happen in every episode, from which they produced a ten page outline they gave to the writer.

The bottom line: they think each new generation finds something new in Saved by the Bell. Engel says they shot each episode like it was both their first and their last, a standard of quality I guess didn’t carry over to The New Class.

I guess this is okay for a bonus feature. Hearing about the writing process was interesting and Ellen Seiter’s comments were very interesting but, overall, I guess there’s not much here I didn’t already know.

 

3 responses to “The First of Its Class: From Sit-com to Icon

  1. ILovedKellyKapowski

    It’s pointless listening to all the “experts” give their 20/20 hindsight opinion about why the show was so successful. Every viewer has his/her reasons for liking the show. (Mine was Kelly Kapowski.)

    Formulating a hit show is an art, not a science, and audiences are unpredictable and fickle, especially teen audiences. When The New Class tried to duplicate the formula of the original series, they failed miserably.

    Well that, and The New Class just really sucked!

  2. “Engel says he didn’t realize Dustin Dimaond was only eleven until three episodes in or he wouldn’t have hired him. Oh, to have a time machine and go back in time and change that”

    Ohhh how I predicted you were going to say something based on that first sentence 🙂

  3. “Some of the more interesting revelations are around how the show was written. The staff would spend hours laying out each episode and deciding how it would go before they assigned it to a writer. They would work the show out and break it down. Above, you see a board where they’ve written down scene by scene what should happen in every episode, from which they produced a ten page outline they gave to the writer.”

    That’s actually how 95% (or more) of series are written.

Leave a Reply