The Saved by the Bell episode of E! True Hollywood Story aired in 2002, and was the first attempt to do a sort of behind-the-scenes account of the show. Being that this was years before Dustin Diamond’s douche-baggery, it has much more cast cooperation than any subsequent behind-the-scenes book or movie.
So we start with Peter Engel and the narrator giving us the origin of the series in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, even going all the way back to the original pilot in 1987, one of the few times I’ve seen it openly referenced. The story is familiar by now: Brandon Tartikoff wanted to create a show about his sixth grade teacher, and he only had one lady in mind who could pull it off.
Yes, Sandy Duncan was to play Miss Bliss because apparently they wanted someone who screamed conservative schoolteacher who once played Peter Pan. Unfortunately for them, Sandy Duncan was busy doing The Hogan Family, so they got Hayley Mills instead, taking a risk since she’d never been in a television show before. And, damned if they even got Hayley Mills to do an interview, and they even acknowledge Jonathan Brandis, Jaleel White, and Brian Austin Green.
The story from here is familiar: the show didn’t get picked up by NBC and moved to Disney, where it was completely revamped with new kids, a new city, and a new school, and set about casting the kids. Mark-Paul Goosselaar, Dustin Diamond, Lark Voorhies, and Dennis Haskins were soon on board, with Diamond acknowledging he was picked because he’s always been weird. An asshole is the word you were going for, Dustin. No acknowledgment of the rest of the cast, though. I guess Heather Hopper and Max Battimo wanted nothing to do with the interview.
Mills says that Good Morning, Miss Bliss just wasn’t appealing towards children or adults. It couldn’t find its audience, and it was soon cancelled. Tartikoff soon revived the series as a Saturday morning sitcom called Saved by the Bell. They dropped Hayley Mills, moved to California, and came up with a teen-centered show as a fantasy about what kids hope high school will be like.
But the brass was skeptical.
Oh, god, Linda Mancuso. I feel so sad to see you after the bull shit Dustin Diamond wrote about you in his book. This was like a year before she died, too. You never knew what that douche would say about you after your death.
We get the same information on casting about Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, and Mario Lopez we have before. I don’t think there’s any dispute over this stuff. The most distracting thing here is Peter Engel describing the music on the show is hot. I guess if you’re into really boring muzak.
Peter Engel says their original crew sucked, and, as they were taping the first episode, they couldn’t get through a scene without the actors being interrupted by some problem such as cameras hitting lights. I guess NBC wasn’t willing to give up its top tier people for the show.
They decided to launch Saved by the Bell in the prime time for three weeks during the summer before moving it to the prime time. Of course, critics hated it, and Engel says at least one critic made fun of Tiffani’s name.
Mancuso says that, as they were trying to juggle issues kids really face, they were trying hard not to be preachy. I guess they forgot all about that by the time “No Hope With Dope” and the myriad of very special episodes for The New Class came around.
By mid-season one, the narrator says Saved by the Bell was gaining a huge teen following. This is news to me as I’ve always heard it said the show didn’t really pickup until TBS started airing reruns. They even ranked number one among teens, and beat The Bugs Bunny and Tweetie Show in ratings. Merchandising was to follow.
We get some of the stuff about limited hours and breakneck speed of filming that was alluded to in Behind the Bell. Dustin Diamond even gets a chance to whine a bit about being an outcast years before he would talk shit about the cast in his book.
They talk about bizarre fan letters, with one guy writing Dustin Diamond to tell him he was going to kill himself because Tiffani hadn’t written him back. Mark-Paul struggled with his heartthrob status, and even ripped his clothes when he went out the front door. Mario relished the attention, and Dustin Diamond was the misunderstood outcast.
They briefly talk about “Jessie’s Song” and the ridiculousness of caffeine pill addiction. They also tell about Scott Wolf, Denise Richards, and Tori Spelling each having early roles in their careers on the show.
And Dustin Diamond talks more about being excluded. Geez, I really see his book coming from a mile away. Peter Engel and Bennett Tramer admit there was lots of dating going on and it made things tense and awkward when people broke up.
They went into syndication and did a thirteen city mall tour, and they were discovering just how popular they were. And here’s where the opening scene of the Lifetime biopic comes from: Dustin Diamond talks about Mark-Paul having his shirt ripped off by a fan.
Leah Remini talks about coming on the show for the Malibu Sands episodes and Patrick Muldoon talks about being hated since he broke up Zack Morris and Kelly.
By season four, the teen actors were feeling the pains of not having a real childhood and having their growing pains aired on television. Don Barnhart says the kids were getting sick of the show and ready to leave.
The success of the show led to Hawaiian Style, which the narrator tells us was the last thing that Tiffani and Elizabeth shot with the cast.
They finally graduated, but they still couldn’t escape because NBC brass ordered The College Years. Engel says Tiffani was brought in because testing on the new series showed audiences missed the girls. It was up against Full House, though, and, with terrible reviews, they just couldn’t gain an audience for the new show.
And Dennis Haskins continued on into The New Class. Haskins says he was told to embrace being a part of Saved by the Bell or run far away from The New Class and he embraced it as long as he was on the show, which I totally believe. Everything I’ve seen suggests Haskins is just an amazing guy and loved being a part of this franchise.
Mancuso admits they never quite got the cast of The New Class right: they were never as talented or likeable as the originals, which is an understatement if I ever heard one. But it would continue while The College Years was cancelled and ended with Wedding in Las Vegas.
Most of the cast, of course, had trouble post-The New Class, except Dustin Diamond, who was brought back for season two. The rest of the cast wanted to shed their squeaky-clean images, though, and found themselves taking roles on other shows we’re very familiar with: Mark-Paul on NYPD Blue, Tiffani in Beverly Hills, 90210, and Elizabeth in Showgirls. They do a run-down of where everyone ended up after Saved by the Bell. Strange enough, it’s Dennis Haskins telling most of what happened to the cast. How has he kept up with the cast this well when they weren’t on the show anymore?
Dennis Haskins says the last year and a half of The New Class was not fun for him at all, and he felt they were taking liberties with Screech and Mr. Belding. Well, yeah, they basically made you gay lovers. He says they were disrespecting the cast, and Mancuso says they were running out of ideas and repeating stories. They finally ended it and put Dennis Haskins out of his misery.
Post-The New Class, Dennis Haskins and Dustin Diamond found themselves typecast. Dustin Diamond went into stand-up, I assume because no one else wanted anything else to do with him. Most of the rest of the stuff they talk about with the cast were short-lived shows and forgotten movies. Yeah, Mark-Paul, Mario, and Tiffani are really the only ones still doing much of anything.
Overall, it’s a pretty good if not rose-colored glasses picture of Saved by the Bell. It’s worth watching if you want a basic background on the franchise, though it’s definitely not complete. I couldn’t help but notice Ed Alonzo and Leanna Creel, though seen in stock footage and promotional footage, are not mentioned at all, and they mention The College Years and The New Class as little as possible, which is probably for the best. It’s all stuff that can be found elsewhere, but, in this pic’s defense, it did it first.
Well, that’s it, right? That’s the biopic you’ve all been bugging me to review, isn’t it? No? You want me to review that other one? Well, I guess if I must. It can’t be worse than reviewing seven seasons of The New Class, can it?