Category Archives: Biopic

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

So this has been one of my most demanded reviews, and I’m not quite sure why.  The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was Lifetime’s 2014 attempt to cash in on Dustin Diamond’s book and tabloid television. It was pretty generally panned by both critics and audiences, though it had good enough ratings that a biopic for Full House was later ordered.

I must confess: I was going to review this when it first came out, but it was so painful to get through that I soon gave up. I figured I’d get around to it eventually when I had nothing else better to do, so here we are, and boy is it bad. Let’s see just how bad!


We open in Cincinnati in 1990, which neon pink numbers are nice enough to announce to the world in true nostalgia-puke color scheme fashion.


And the guy playing Mark-Paul Gosselaar looks like he’s about to fall asleep. Come on, guy, wake up! You’ve still got an hour and a half of this shit to get through! It’s just beginning! These are all virtually unknown Canadian actors they’re using and it shows how inexperienced they are, but the guy playing Mark-Paul is the only one you might recognize from being on the Canadian teen sitcom Wingin’ It and a year of Degrassi: The Next Generation, where he played a hockey player who committed suicide because he can’t get roles other than in stupid teen stuff.

Yeah, I’m not going to have much positive to say about this cast.

The teens of Saved by the Bell are on their way to a public event, one of their first since the show aired, and they’re nervous that no one will show up.


Dustin Diamond is the first to notice the gaggle of underage girls surrounding the car because of course he is.  Girls even through themselves on a moving limo hoping to get a piece of them.


Mark-Paul goes to do a time-out as the girl on his right stares at his ass, and he starts to deliver a monologue about Saved by the Bell being a wild ride…


But he’s interrupted by Dustin Diamond saying this time it’s about him because Lifetime choose to base a good chunk of their shit on his book. Great, so it’s going to be full of lies, exaggerations, and shooting cats apparently. He’s all, “THIS IS MY STORY! PLEASE LIKE ME! I’M COOL YOU GUYS!!!”


Yes, this is The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story, complete with the worst opening I’ve ever seen. It’s basically just showing lots of pictures of Los Angeles and traffic and shit. If I wanted to see that, I could go sit in it. Los Angeles traffic is not fun, believe you me.


So we go back to 1988..


…to Peter Engel and Linda Mancuso meeting with Brandon Tartikoff and listening to him pontificate about his old teacher, Miss Bliss. Oh, god. I just realized Linda Mancuso is in this. Please don’t let her fuck Dustin Diamond. Dear lord, don’t let it happen!

Oh, wait, no, that’s “Sharon Harris,” a completely different character who’s nothing at all like Linda Mancuso except fulfilling her role to a “T.” I guess at least the producers of this have more class than Dustin Diamond and choose not to drag the name of a dead woman through the mud.

That’s always a good sign, isn’t it: when your biopic about real people has a fictional character in it. We’re off to a great start.

Anyway, you know the story: Tartikoff wants a sitcom about his teacher and he gets Peter Engel to create a show about her, a family sitcom about the high school we all wish we’d gone to, even though Good Morning, Miss Bliss was set in middle school. Engel is skeptical about setting it in Indiana and asks who would put a television show there? Ever heard of One Day at a Time. I hate people talking smack about my home state. Dick.

Engel’s not sure he’s the right person for the job, but Tartikoff and “Sharon” convince him to do it, and so we’re off for casting calls without even an acknowledgement that there was an original pilot with different characters because who cares about accuracy.


Dustin Diamond and his father sign in for a casting call, with Dustin’s father doing what he does best in this film: bitching about driving Dustin to casting calls because he wants to support his son’s acting career all the while making him feel guilty about it I guess.


We see Lark Voorhies sitting there…


…making googly eyes at Mark-Paul, because we need foreshadowing that they’re going to fuck apparently.


Dustin Diamond wants to read with this guy auditioning for Zack Morris, who snubbs him because everyone in the world is a jerk except for Dustin Diamond. You might not think much about this character, but, according to the credits, this is supposed to be Brian Austin Green. Yeah, Dustin Diamond isn’t petty or anything. On a different subject, if Green wanted to be on the show, why would he have to audition again if he was in the original pilot? Seriously, did the writers of this do any research about the history of production?


Mark-Paul will read with him, though, and the two have a chemistry that leads to them being cast, while Lark is so good as Lisa they change her from a Jewish princess to a sassy African-American girl.


And so we’re at the studios of Disney to film Good Morning, Miss Bliss, with Dustin looking on in amazement that he’s a part of any of this. What I really want to know is what show is that hamburger in the background for? Seriously, I don’t remember that in any classic Disney show.


We meet Mark-Paul’s mother and learn he’s half Indonesian, and Mark-Paul and Dustin go exploring the studio and acting like kids to convince us Mark-Paul was a nice guy in the beginning before that evil fame went to his head.


We meet Hayley Mills and Dennis Haskins, and Dennis awkwardly kisses Hayley’s ass and talks about how he wanted to bang her as a kid. Nice, awkward conversation to be having.


As the two of them and Mark-Paul try to do a read-through, Dustin makes chicken noises because he’s Dustin Diamond and everything, every moment of the day has to be about him. Dustin says it was like a dream come true, being with people who recognized his superior intellect as a human being, and he wished it would never end.


But then, five months later, Peter Engel tells the cast that Good Morning, Miss Bliss has been cancelled. No reasons given; it just is because we have to move along to more important things.

And we manage to get through that entire scene about Good Morning, Miss Bliss without anyone mentioning Mikey and Nikki because shut up.


So we’re back in Brandon Tartikoff’s office, where Tartikoff suggests revamping the show to be about the teenagers since that’s the only thing anyone cares about with this show apparently.


So Dustin Diamond sits at home, whining about going to school as his father acts like  caricature and tells him to just start standing up for him and shit. I guess that’s the advice he took years later when he tried to stab a guy in a bar in Wisconsin. He gets a call telling him they’re bringing the show back, except he thinks it’s going to be about Zack Morris and Screech this time around because we have to inflate his little pubescent ego to the max at all times.


Our big neon numbers inform us it’s now 1989, and it’s time for more thrilling casting calls, because that’s what you tuned into this to see for the first twenty minutes!


We meet Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley, who are both up for the role of Kelly and they vow not to hate each other because I guess all people who are up for the same role hate each other at all times. We also get some clunky exposition about how Tiffani is a model and Elizabeth is a dancer, but they both want people to take them seriously as actors and shit, which is why they’re going to be on Saved by the Bell.


We also meet Mario Lopez, who wows them so much as Slater that they cast him despite Linda, I mean “Sharon’s” reservations that he’s Latino. Are they trying to imply that Linda Mancuso was a racist or something? I guess that would be just a little better than having sex with Dustin Diamond, but still…


They’re divided on Kelly, though, and decide to throw away that girl on top, Jenni Garth, because she’s never going anywhere in her career. Engel can’t decide between Tiffani and Elizabeth for Kelly so he just decides to create a sixth character for Elizabeth, and the rest is history.


Cut back to the new cast gathering to read the script, and Mark-Paul doesn’t want to talk to Dustin anymore because he’s talking to Mario at this very second about driver’s licenses! What an asshole not wanting to talk to someone every moment of every day! And Dustin has to sit on the other side of the table by Dennis Haskins! What horror! They sure were shitty to him, weren’t they guys?

Peter Engel lectures them on being professional and shit and tells them to keep their relationships professional as Mario hits on Tiffani and Elizabeth because Dustin Diamond thinks Mario got all the ladies…


…while Mark-Paul and Lark secretly hold hands under the table because they’re totally screwing.


It’s time for a run through, and everyone sucks. Mario can’t remember his lines, Lark isn’t loud enough, and Dustin is Dustin. Enough said. “Sharon” is worried they won’t be good enough to last, but Peter insists they just need to give them a chance.


To really amp up the excitement, we get to watch the cast in school! How thrilling! I think Sydney Sharron was very miscast, though. I don’t remember him looking so feminine when he was on The New Class.

Well, teacher lady leaves the room, and this gives us a chance for exposition dump. Peter’s been asking all the cast about their interests outside of acting so he can incorporate it into the show. Mario’s a dancer and a wrestler and Tiffani likes horses but is going to have to settle for modeling because Saved by the Bell can’t afford horses. Mark-Paul’s not really a blonde, shock of shocks, and is the son of Dutch and Indonesian immigrants, and Dustin likes karate, which no one gives a shit about because Dustin is so misunderstood and outcast.


So it’s almost time for their first audience rehearsal, and the cast is getting ready, including Mark-Paul dying his roots and shit.


We get a scene at The Max that never occurred on the show and is basically just everyone talking about random shit while a laugh track plays in the background because that will make everything funny.


And Zack Morris has a plot that never happened on the show about forgetting his mother’s birthday.


While Screech dresses up as Abraham Lincoln because it’s President’s Day and he’s a dumb ass. I get they probably couldn’t get the rights to recreate “King of the Hill” scene for scene, but surely they could have made this more convincing that they knew what the fuck they were talking about. This is just…bad…


The cast do their curtain call for the audience, except Ed Alonzo because he’s not important enough to remember for the sake of this movie. And Dustin Diamond pauses a moment before the audience, his ego inflating to the max with their praise.


But their egos are soon deflated when they read the critics talk about how much they suck even worse than the original Saved by the Bell cast, especially Dustin, who’s just an unfunny idiot.


So Dustin, the entitled prick he is, does what you would expect him to do: he marches right into Brandon Tartikoff’s office and demands Screech to be a cooler guy. Brandon explains to him that Screech is a geek because he’s a role people like, but Dustin doesn’t have to be like Screech, which falls on deaf ears because Dustin Diamond turned out to be a much bigger asshole as he aged than he was as a kid.


We cut to four months later, where Peter Engel and “Sharon” deliver the bad news that Saved by the Bell has been cancelled. Though they say they’re proud of the work that the cast has done, ratings just haven’t been where the networked hoped and they’re pulling the plug. And Dustin Diamond’s there to tell us, “See! I’m the omniscient narrator and told you Good Morning, Miss Bliss wouldn’t be the last time we were cancelled! Please think I’m cool!”


Yes, it seems that, in the pre-Internet days of the 1990’s, word of mouth convinced gaggles of young teens to start watching Saved by the Bell, or at least that’s what this version of the production would like us to believe. It seems to contradict other versions of how the show got popular, including the one I’ve heard most often: through constant syndication.


But, for the purposes of this film, we now have little girls begging Zack Morris to marry them via t-shirt, even though merchandising shouldn’t exist yet if the show is just now getting popular.


So Brandon Tartikoff tells Peter Engel randomly that the show is now a bona fide hit, meaning they seem to be implying that Peter Engel doesn’t keep up enough about his own show to know what the hell is going on and shit.

So we’re back to the scene from the cold opening. Teenagers are flipping out over getting to meet our six teenagers.


And then shit goes out of control and they decide to go after Mark-Paul’s clothes in the incident referenced in the E! True Hollywood Story.


Security rushes them inside with Mark-Paul’s shirt in shreds because they wanted to see his nipples. And the others just start celebrating inside…wherever the hell they are, even Mark-Paul, despite his characterization in the E! True Hollywood Story as being kind of shy and not particularly liking the fame Zack Morris brought him.

I haven’t talked much about the soundtrack of this movie yet, but it’s pretty early-nineties. The music they play has nothing to do with the show other than being released in the same time period it aired, and they seem to love one-hit-wonder Cameo’s hit song “Word Up”…a lot…


So Saved by the Bell is bringing the network lots of money, but “Sharon” isn’t happy that someone authorized sexy time photos of Mario because it might ruin their wholesome image and shit.


Mark-Paul, meanwhile, isn’t happy to discover that his parents won’t let him buy a car because they’re investing his money in a trust, which he should be grateful for considering how many teen idols find their parents squandered all their money.


The girls find out just how popular they are when they’re out shopping and a couple of girls tell them how much they over-obsess about the show and base how they live their lives on the gospel according to Kelly Kapowski.


This makes Elizabeth decide they need to push for more serious story lines that will teach life lessons to these kids who apparently don’t have parents who give a shit about them. Mark-Paul and Mario agree to help them influence the writers who will eventually influence Peter Engel.


During all this, Dustin is busy hiding in the closet because of course he is. He scares a random member of the crew with a fake spider and she wonders where she went wrong in her life that she has to put up with this bullshit.


He watches Mario taking a girl on a tour of the set and getting ready to get it on…


…and has a creepy fantasy sequence that girls are waiting in a hot tub to fuck him…


…complete with some of the worst effects ever aired on television. Seriously, I find the aliens on the original Star Trek more convincing than these horrible CGI muscles on Dustin Diamond. It’s just absolutely atrocious!


Mark-Paul and Lark have a date on the roof, where he gives her a birthday present, which gives her an opportunity to exposit about how she’s a Jehovah’s Witness and isn’t supposed to celebrate birthdays and shit…


…and they’re interrupted by Elizabeth, which sends Lark scurrying along because…I don’t know. I don’t get this scene at all. All it really does is give Mark-Paul a chance to tell Elizabeth how insecure he is in his secret relationship with Lark  since they never get to spend any time together.


It’s not helped by Tiffani deciding she needs to practice her kiss with Mark-Paul before they do it in front of a live studio audience. Oh, Tiffani. Your audience has never been touched by anyone. They would be awed even by the awkward peck kisses you were doing at first.


The cast gather to take promo photos, and there’s tension between Lark and Tiffani because Lark’s jealous of the little tickles Mark-Paul is suddenly giving her.


And we get to explore Dustin’s notorious hatred of Mario doing push-ups on set…


…leading them to randomly almost fight for nearly no reason.


We go to a Winter Carnival scene so Dustin can tell us that whoever was dating on the show was dating in real life as Mario and Elizabeth get close, which is obvious bullshit since Zack Morris and Lisa didn’t date until season four…


…and I’m pretty sure Tori Spelling wouldn’t touch Dustin at all off set. Yeah, we get to hear Dustin Diamond brag about getting his first kiss from Tori Spelling because of course he would. He’s Dustin Diamond. He once bragged about shooting his neighbor’s cat with a BB gun.


In real life, though, this Dustin Diamond is portrayed as not getting the poon himself despite his portrayal of himself in his book, as we see this girl using him to get to meet Mark-Paul. Oh, boo hoo. You didn’t lose your virginity in middle school. Cry me a river, asshole.


Peter Engel tells his producers he wants to do more serious story lines for the kids, which “Sharon” and the rest think will never work…


…but Brandon Tartikoff loves, so more serious story lines it is because we have to keep Brandon Tartikoff’s ass thoroughly kissed. Also, we get to see Dustin giving Tartikoff’s daughter a tour of the set, with Tartikoff commenting that Dustin has matured a lot since he last saw him. Yeah, don’t hold your breath for that to last, Brandon.


Elizabeth interrupts Mario sunbathing to tell him about the script, and how she’ll be popping pills. This scene mostly only serves to set up “Jessie’s Song,” but he does assure her she’ll be great in the role, and there’s a hint of romance and shit.


So Mark-Paul and Elizabeth practice the infamous freak out scene from “Jessie’s Song”…


…and Dustin Diamond is portrayed as being the only one who thinks the scene is ridiculous because he’s an auteur and shit. The others call him a dumb ass for hurting Elizabeth’s feelings about her big scene, causing him to stomp out like a little baby and kick a trash can.


It’s there that he meets Extra Guy, who never gets a name but plays a major role through the rest of the film, getting Dustin started on vodka and shit. I guess he’s supposed to be based on the guy in Behind the Bell who tried to screw Dustin Diamond over. I wonder if he’s a combination of that guy and Dustin’s best friend who’s frequently mentioned in Behind the Bell but never seen in this film. But I know the makers of this film have enough integrity they would never change shit from the narrative they believe happened, right “Sharon”?


We skip to 1991 and season three…


…and we briefly touch on the Malibu Sands episodes as an excuse to show the cast playing practical jokes on one another as Mark-Paul gives Mario a photocopy of his ass, literally.


Things are rocky outside the show as casting calls for movies about Eleanor Roosevelt don’t want to take Elizabeth seriously as an actress because she is in a kids show, or at least the receptionist doesn’t. I’m pretty sure he has little say over whether you get to play Eleanor Roosevelt or not, dear, although I’m pretty sure you’re not right for the role.


Things are rocky for Mark-Paul and Lark as well as she’s jealous that he’s spending so much time with Tiffani, even being filmed in public going to the movies with her. He says he doesn’t understand what the hell their relationship is supposed to be, so she stomps off in a hissy fit and shit.


Dustin and Extra Guy get heckled waiting in line for a movie about how much Screech sucks ass and how Dustin and Extra Guy are probably gay for each other…


…so Dustin does the mature thing and lays the heckler out on the ground because why the hell not.


On set, Dustin and Dennis are running through lines as Peter Engel walks through, and I genuinely thought Engel was about to chew Dustin out for the fight in the last scene. But, no, he’s distracted because Brandon Tartikoff and his daughter have been in a car accident. Brandon is okay but it’s not looking good for his daughter. This is actually based on Tartikoff’s daughter, Calla, who really suffered a brain injury in a car accident and needed extensive therapy to walk and talk again. Really, Tartikoff and his family were very unlucky. Besides his own early death from lymphoma and his daughter’s tragedy, Tartikoff’s parents survived the collision of two 747’s in Tenerife in 1977 that killed 583 people. Seriously, I would give him a hug if he hadn’t been dead for twenty years.


The injury of Taratikoff’s daughter makes Dustin storm off to be alone and kick shit, ignoring Dennis’s suggestion he take the afternoon off. Real maturity there, guys. And he drinks him some vodka, showing he’s become the alcoholic he was destined to be thanks to Extra Guy.


Now it’s 1992…


…”Sharon” and Peter discuss the future of the show, and “Sharon” insists it can’t be cancelled because too many people love it. Don’t worry, “Sharon”, I’m sure you’ll find an inferior knock off to keep the cash cow mooing. Peter says it’s time to go, that the kids have grow up and are ready to do other things. “Sharon” wants twenty-six more episodes, which she’s not going to get since there weren’t twenty-six episodes produced for season four when you factor in the may out of season episodes, but never mind that now. Peter says the kids are only under contract for ten more episodes, so what are they to do?


Why, send them on expensive trips to bribe them into resigning, of course! Mark-Paul and Tiffani are going to Paris, and I can’t tell whether Lark is happy or ready to cut a bitch. They kind of dropped the whole Lark being jealous of Tiffani plot so I’m not sure where anyone stands with anyone at this point. Elizabeth and Lark are going to New York City, and Mario to Miami.


Dustin, always being the weakest link, is sent to Spartanburg, South Carolina, because no one really gives a shit about him. He takes Extra Guy along with him and whines about everyone getting to go to awesome places but him, so Extra Guy convinces him it’s a good idea to get drunk before a public appearance.


This leads to him back in L.A. and being chewed out by Peter Engel, and Dustin whines about being picked on and shit and blah blah blah! Dustin Diamond is so misunderstood and all he did was get drunk, make an ass of himself, and fuck some random fan. How horrible! Peter says if Dustin messes up again, he’ll have to fire him.  This is another incident from Behind the Bell and I just want to slap Dustin Diamond for thinking he deserves any sort of sympathy for this.


In Paris, Mark-Paul and Tiffani get some wine because French stereotypes and all, and Tiffani tells Mark-Paul that she and Elizabeth aren’t going to renew their contracts because Elizabeth wants to make it big in movies and Tiffani wants to keep growing as an actress and shit. Mark-Paul is stunned.


And we’re back in L.A. where Tiffani and Elizabeth are already saying goodbye to their costars.


Mark-Paul can barely hold it together, trying to be a tough guy and shit.


Tiffani and Elizabeth leave together, wondering if they made the right choice in not renewing their contracts as they see Leanna Creel dancing around on set for Peter Engel, for some reason, the only time we’ll see her in this film. I guess at least they included her, unlike other people from the franchise.


A daredevil motorcyclist rides around outside, scaring Mario.


Yeah, turns out it’s Mark-Paul, and Mario warns him about breaking the dangerous activities clause of his contract, but Mark-Paul doesn’t give a shit about any of that noise. Don’t worry, though. It’s never brought up again, making me question why it’s even in here to begin with.


Meanwhile, Dustin hangs around and is filmed by Extra Guy smoking a joint and doing bad Wayne’s World impersonations. Extra Guy is pissed off, though, because Dustin hasn’t gotten him a better role on the show because that’s something actors have the power to do apparently.


Mark-Paul and Mario attend a random party where they run into Tiffani and Elizabeth. There’s no real purpose to this scene other than to establish that Elizabeth might be getting the lead in an awesome new film coming out.


And Extra Guy reveals he’s blackmailing Dustin with the joint tape. He says he wants a piece of the action, which I assume means he wants a little something something from Dustin. Yeah, this is another incident from Behind the Bell. Do I feel sorry for Dustin Diamond as the film wants me to? Hell no.


It’s 1993 and “Sharon” is concerned that the cast are doing wild things like drinking and partying. Peter tells her they’re just kids an they can’t stop kids stuff, so he suggests sending them out with the graduation fans have wanted the past four years.


In the costume room, Mark-Paul and Lark try on their gowns while Mario wears his Kermit the Frog ballet costume.


Tiffani and Elizabeth are back, too, because the producers called them up and asked them to do the episode. This is the only version of the production history that says the graduation episode was the last one filmed. If this is the case, it makes no sense why Leanna Creel wasn’t a part of it, so I choose to believe this is yet another liberty this film is taking with what actually happened for the sake of drama and shit. I don’t believe it for a second.


Mark-Paul goes to search for Dustin to tell him it’s time for the read through, and finds him alone in a library I guess. Dustin confides in him about Extra Guy blackmailing him, and Mark-Paul convinces him he needs to tell the producers because they will protect him despite Peter’s warning not to do anymore stupid shit. We never find out if he does in this film (though Behind the Bell confirms the network buried Extra Guy in lawsuits, as Mark-Paul said they would), and I’m not sure why they even brought it up this late in the film. This is the problem with this biopic: shit is brought up and then forgotten about because there’s too much they need to get to in ninety minutes.


Peter gives the cast one final pep talk and says he’s proud of how far they’ve come during the course of the show.


We get a reenactment of the graduation scene, complete with scenes of each of the six teens from this film so we can remember all the stuff we just watched. Yeah, I hate it when shows do that. The least they could have done is show actual scenes from the cast, not these second rate replacements.


As Peter watches them, he says he can’t believe it’s over, and “Sharon” says that maybe it’s not.


Dustin does one final time out to tell us it wasn’t over. The College Years lasted a season but they don’t give a shit about it so why should we? He says no one wanted to see them grow up, which I’m pretty sure is a huge simplification for why The College Years failed. He says this was their last cancellation, even though it wasn’t, but they’re not going to talk about The New Class at all in this. Dustin gives a brief “Where Are They Now” for the six teens, except he’s really vague about where he went because I guess it would mean saying he’s a huge douche bag today and has alienated himself from most of the cast and crew and received multiple felony charges. Then they time in.


Everyone throws their caps and celebrates…


…and our film ends with this odd title card. Are they implying Saved by the Bell could come back some day? I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen, for the simple reason no one likes Dustin Diamond anymore.

Overall, this is a pretty damned terrible look at the making of Saved by the Bell. Attention to detail is horrible, and it’s obvious it’s trying to combine so much from Behind the Bell, the E! True Hollywood Story, and other sources that it doesn’t have time to flesh out anything and just hits on a bunch of random shit and quickly forgets about it. Most notable is Mark-Paul and Lark’s romance, Mark-Paul’s motorcycle, and Extra Guy’s extortion of Dustin. I don’t feel like anyone got much of a look but, rather, a few hit and miss glances.

A good biography should make you feel a connection with the characters whether you know anything about them or not. This fails in every way to do just that. It treats them as two dimensional and doesn’t make you feel for them at all. If I didn’t already know as much as I do about the six, I wouldn’t feel compelled to learn anymore. Maybe this is why I had so much trouble completing this review in 2014: I just didn’t give a shit about it.

What’s worse, for something that pretends to be giving such an overarching view of Saved by the Bell, it sure does miss a part. Dennis Haskins and Haylee Mills are minor characters, Leanna Creel is barely mentioned, and the complete absence of Ed Alonzo and The New Class just makes it feel like they weren’t concerned about giving anything more than a sanitized, brief overview of the show. Really, for a movie that claims to tell the shocking true behind the scenes story of the show, it doesn’t have much to say other than what’s been said before. Dustin Diamond used marijuana and the teens were sexually active! How horrible! They tuned down a lot of stuff from Behind the Bell, probably scared of being sued. And the way it just causally turned Linda Mancuso into a fictional character and told a complete lie about how the graduation episode came about made me wonder how dedicated to the truth this film really was.

The E! True Hollywood story was a much better telling of the general Saved by the Bell story. I hope never to watch this one again.

Well, I’m nearly out of material for this blog, but I have one more review next week. In two weeks, I’ll have some final thoughts about this franchise and the process of producing reviews of it every week, and then I’ll be saying goodbye to the halls of Bayside High for good. So join me for the final weeks of Saved by the Bell…Reviewed!

Saved by the Bell: The E! True Hollywood Story


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?