Category Archives: Bonus Features

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.

 

It’s Alright: Back to the Bell

vlcsnap-2014-09-06-14h07m15s224

Our second bonus documentary from the season one and two DVDs is pretty much a bunch of people sitting around talking about Saved by the Bell. There’s no really coherent script and some of the anecdotes are contradictory. It features pretty much the same players as Saturday Morning: From Toons to Teens, so I won’t bother rehashing them.

We open with Peter Engel telling us that the original concept of Saved by the Bell was that each episode would be a “week in the life of,” following the gang from the first bell on Monday to the last bell on Friday, which is news to me. If this is what they were going for in the first season, they failed to convey it at all. In fact, this knowledge only makes things more confusing.

Dustin Diamond insults us all by telling us we either know a Screech or are a Screech. Good god, if that many Screeches are running around, I don’t know if I want to live any longer.

This time, we actually get mention of Good Morning, Miss Bliss as Peter Engel says that the show was Brandon Tartikoff’s idea based on the most significant person of his childhood, his sixth grade teacher, Miss Bliss. No mention is made of the original pilot or why that cast wasn’t carried over. Dustin Diamond tells us he auditioned many, many times with Mark-Paul Gosselaar to get the role of Screech. Dennis Haskins says he was the last person cast.

Peter Engel tells us he named all the characters after people he knew, even Screech. He also insults our intelligence by telling us Dustin Diamond was a comedy genius. Yes, there were the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Robin Williams, and fucking Dustin Diamond. Give me a break.

They kind of gloss over the cancellation of Good Morning, Miss Bliss and don’t really tell why Disney Channel choose not to renew it. They also make no mention why Mikey and Nikki weren’t carried over to Saved by the Bell. In fact, Mikey and Nikki aren’t mentioned at all despite showing a photo with Mikey and Miss Bliss.

Peter Engel says after the cancellation, he had a meeting with Brandon Tartikoff and the decision was made to move the kids to California for a new show that would be a week in the life of. Peter Engel hated the name Saved by the Bell but it was chosen anyway. Dennis Haskins found out he would be carried over to Saved by the Bell because a wardrobe assistant was told to keep Haskin’s costumes. Also, Engel admits that Screech was his last ditch effort when a scene wasn’t working in an attempt to get cheap laughs. Makes sense.

There’s some mention that Elizabeth Berkley originally tried out for Kelly. Thank god she wasn’t cast as Kelly. She was also the oldest of the cast.

Peter Engel continues telling us about how clueless he in the development as he admits he did not want a bell or to hear “I was saved by the bell,” in the theme. Yeah, he was definitely the visionary on this show.

We get some admittance that the show was pretty unpopular in the beginning but eventually people came around. Dennis Haskins tells us that it was the TBS episodes that really made Saved by the Bell popular.

Don Barnhardt tells us there were eight to ten people writing each of these episodes. No wonder some of them seemed like such a mess.

Mention is made of Hawaiian Style and how most of it was filmed in Santa Monica, with only a few exterior shots in Hawaii because the producers were cheap asses despite having one of the most popular shows on television at the time.

Peter Engel once again shows how out of touch he is with what actually happened on the show when he says that Tiffani Amber-Thiessen wasn’t available for the last thirteen episodes of the show because she was on 90210. He apparently forgets that year in between Saved by the Bell and her stint on 90210 when she was on a little show called The College Years. Yeah, she just didn’t want to be on the fucking show anymore, dip wad.

We find out the reason Tori isn’t in the graduation episode is because it was shot before Tori joined the cast, which is a weak excuse. They talk about how Tori was a supposed replacement for Kelly. They also spend some time talking about famous people who were on the show.

They also try to pretend “Jessie’s Song” was some profound breakthrough in teen programming and about how the show is essentially all about something wrong being made right.

Eh, I guess it’s kind of cool hearing these people talk about Saved by the Bell but it’s kind of a soft documentary. Like Saturday Morning: From Toons to Teens, it really only glosses over anything that was wrong with the show while extolling it perfection from on high.

Saturday Morning: From Toons to Teens

I’ve mentioned that the DVD release of the first two seasons is horrible, and I’ll be talking more about that in my recap Wednesday. One thing the DVDs got right, though, is bonus features that are more substantial than most. In the case of Saved by the Bell, that means two documentaries about the series.

vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h17m34s173

The first is Saturday Morning: From Toons to Teens, where we learn why Sam Bobrick and Peter Engel were geniuses for creating a live action show exclusively for Saturday morning tween audiences at a time when Saturday morning was dominated by cartoons. More on that in a minute. First, let’s meet our interviewees.vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h16m19s186

Mr. Belding sure hasn’t aged well. Little Zack must have hit him up for pain and suffering after his experience with Scott.vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h16m25s5

Hi, random guy from TV Guide who I know nothing about and have no reason to trust other than having a relationship to a magazine about the medium which brought us Saved by the Bell.
vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h16m44s181

Oh, Warren Littlefield. They rolled you out of the nursing home to come talk about your glory days? Guess someone had to fill the seat for the late Brandon Tartikoff.vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h17m00s100NO! IT’S HIDEOUS!

vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h17m09s193

I’d rather remember Lark like this than those not so flattering photos that recently surfaced.vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h17m15s247

Hey, everyone! It’s Mike Myers’s Turtle Man character from Master of Disguise! Chase it away or it will infect this documentary with stupidity!vlcsnap-2014-08-25-19h26m43s45You know, Don Barnhart, I might have more positive things to say about you had you not directed most of the horrible The New Class episodes during the first four seasons.

So, yeah. The documentary is very much ten minutes and twenty-eight seconds of vomit inducing praise about how genius NBC was to air Saved by the Bell on Saturday mornings. The story supposedly goes that Brandon Tartikoff didn’t want to compete against so many new cartoons coming from ever increasing cable stations. Tartikoff wanted to capture the tween demographic that are normally lost once they outgrow Saturday morning cartoons.

In addition, no show had ever been created with kids as the stars. Shows like Family Ties and Growing Pains that produced breakout child stars were originally designed as vehicles for the adult characters. Saved by the Bell changed this by having kids star in it who were, more or less, the ages of their characters. This made the show relatable to teens and tweens and captured a new Saturday morning demographic since everything happening on the show was happening in their real lives.

Of course, there are several problems with their version of events. First of all, Saved by the Bell‘s history as a retooling of Good Morning, Miss Bliss isn’t taken into account at all. The series was not originally created to be a Saturday morning show per Tartikoff. Instead, it was a show for the Disney Channel, with possible rebroadcast on NBC in the summer months. Saved by the Bell came to Saturday mornings because Tartikoff was looking for a way to salvage his pet project, Good Morning, Miss Bliss, without Hayley Mills. They also don’t mention the fact that Saved by the Bell really didn’t explode until TBS started airing the reruns five days a week.

Second, it’s debatable if this was the first show with kids as the stars. Consider shows like LassieFlipper, Punky BrewsterHappy Days, and Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince, where child characters may not receive top billing in the credits but it is obvious they are intended to be a focus on the show.  And let’s introduce the show that completely disproves this dumb theory:

The Wonder Years

Yes, nearly a year before Good Morning, Miss Bliss hit Disney Channel, The Wonder Years rolled out as a revolutionary look at a man’s suburban childhood in the 1960s. You might say it was a nostalgic show for adults, which is true, but kids, myself included, loved it as well. I argue it’s one of the best television shows to come out of the ’80s. And guess what? It starred twelve year old Fred Savage as the point of view character, Kevin Arnold. Yeah, most of the claims in this documentary are bull shit.

Hell, technically Saved by the Bell doesn’t even fit this since Good Morning, Miss Bliss was conceived as a vehicle for Hayley Mills. I think what they mean is that they gave birth to the industry of tween comedies such as those on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon today. If so, fuck you. Fuck you for indirectly making stars out of Shia LaBeouf, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, and Miley “God Damn I Want to Gouge My Eyes Out” Cyrus. Fuck you for creating the industry they came out of and then having the god damned nerve to come back and brag about it!

And, from what I can tell, this show was not relatable to teens and tweens. What tween has ever had to outwit an idiot Air Force agent who believes she’s an alien? What tween has ever brought her baby brother to school because her parents were snowed in at a ski lodge and know no other adults? What tween has ever had her principal come over to her house and eat pizza in her bed while shit-talking the opposite gender? What tween has ever developed a crippling addiction to caffeine pills in less than a week? Worst of all, what kind of tween gains ESP after a lightning strike and is used by her peers for personal gain? Meanwhile The Wonder Years was tackling shit like first love, first heartache, changing cultural norms, the pressure to fit in, and what it meant to be a family. Which one do you think was more relatable?

These idiots don’t seem to know what we all know. The appeal of Saved by the Bell was that it was goofy humor from six teens who seemed to have it all. It’s stupid. At times it’s mind-numbing. In the end, though, it’s mostly harmless and it’s what we all hoped high school would be like. We wanted high school to be an awesomely magical world that was full of excitement and new adventures every week. Instead, we got to high school and realized the writers of Saved by the Bell had probably never attended it themselves. But it says something that, even after all these years, people keep watching these old episodes in fond nostalgia, unlike The New Class and pretty much every other cookie cutter clone series Peter Engel rolled out for TNBC.

They go into some bullshit about diversity and how they were “color blind” in casting but fail to mention the lack of diversity among the background characters. Dennis Haskins even claims race was never mentioned on the show. He obviously forgot about Jessie’s white guilt subplot in “Running Zack.” He makes the bold statement that they had all the colors in the rainbow but forgets that neither Saved by the Bell nor either of its spin-offs features main characters who were Asian, Native American, or green Martians. There’s some bragging as well about Zack Morris and Lisa supposedly being the first interracial kiss on children’s television. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I’m far more impressed with William Shatner and Nichelle Nichol’s kiss on Star Trek way back in 1969.

There’s some bragging about the Peter Engel clones like Hang Time and California Dreams. The TV Guide man mentions that The College Years was the first time a Saturday morning show transitioned into prime time, but he naturally forgets to mention that grand experiment only lasted a year. We get some bull shit from Don Bonhart about why no show like Saved by the Bell could be made today because that was a much more innocent time. Way to over-hype the ’80s. I lived through the ’80s and they weren’t as amazing as he makes it out to be. Plus, he’s probably not watched Disney Channel lately.

The documentary closes with TV Guide man saying that people still look back on Saved by the Bell with fond memories because it was ours. It was a moment in time. All this documentary has taught me is that the people closest to Saved by the Bell really have no idea why it did succeed and are making up shit on the fly.

Don’t get me wrong; I have much respect for Brandon Tartikoff. The man turned around what was then the worst-preforming of the three networks by being a cheerleader for classic, much-beloved shows such as Law & OrderHill Street BluesALFFamily TiesCheers, and, yes, Saved by the Bell. His wise actions probably saved NBC and completely turned the network around in the ’80s and ’90s. But this account of the franchise’s legacy is so white-washed and over-romanticized that it makes me want to puke. RIP to the legendary Tartikoff. I’d rather know what he would say about Saved by the Bell if he were still alive today.