Saved By The Bell: The Truth You Never Knew About The Show

Saved by the Bell is iconic. From 1989 to 1992, the teens of Bayside High defined cool for teens and tweens. The show focused on six central characters: Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond), Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen), and Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley).

The teen sitcom launched many of its stars into superstardom and remains one of the most beloved shows of the 1990s. The show’s comedy was often over the top, but it was also heartfelt and poignant, serving up a healthy dose of cheesiness while also remaining relevant and teaching kids important life lessons.

Whether you watched the show during its initial run, caught it later in reruns, or only know about the original Saved by the Bell because of its 2020 reboot, there’s plenty about this show to discover. Here’s a closer look at Saved by the Bell in all of its glory.

Saved by the Bell started off as a different show

Even if you’ve been a fan of Saved by the Bell since the beginning of its run, you may not have realized that the high schoolers at Bayside were actually middle schoolers on another show, Good Morning, Miss Bliss. As noted by Screen Rant, Good Morning, Miss Bliss focused on Miss Carrie Bliss (Hayley Mills) and her sixth grade class. The show was based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The only person from the pilot eventually cast on the show was Hayley Mills. After the pilot, the class was recast and the students were aged up a little.

Zack Morris, Lisa Turtle, Samuel “Screech” Powers, and Principal Belding (Dennis Haskins) were part of this version of Good Morning Miss Bliss, although the show was canceled after 13 episodes.

After Good Morning, Miss Bliss was canceled, the show was change into Saved by the Bell. Mills was dropped from the cast, and the setting was moved to Los Angeles with the characters now in high school. Good Morning, Miss Bliss was later renamed Saved by the Bell: The Junior High Years.

Everyone thought Saved by the Bell was going to flop

Given Saved by the Bell‘s already rocky history as a retooled version of the canceled show Good Morning, Miss Bliss, it’s not too surprising that people did not have high hopes when it debuted. As Mark-Paul Gosselaar put it in an interview with USA Today, “Every season it was like, ‘OK, we had our run and we’ll see each other at some point.’ And then we were always surprised to come back.”

Even the network didn’t believe in the show. As producer Peter Engel explained on the podcast Industry Standard (via The Comic’s Comic), NBC only ordered seven episodes of the show to start off, convinced that the Saturday morning show would flop. Engel fought for an additional 13 episodes of the show, heading to the office of NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff demanding either a greenlight for the additional episodes or for security to be called to throw him out. “In retrospect, if I hadn’t done that, we’d be seven episodes and out,” he said.

Contrary to expectations, Saved by the Bell ended up lasting for four seasons, long enough for our favorite Bayside High students to get their high school diplomas.

Saved by the Bell character Jessie Spano was created for Elizabeth Berkley

It’s hard to imagine Saved by the Bell without Jessie Spano, but the character wouldn’t have been part of the Bayside High crew at all if it hadn’t been for Elizabeth Berkley. Jessie wasn’t one of the characters originally envisioned for the series, but when Berkley auditioned for the role of Kelly Kapowski and lost the part to Tiffani Thiessen, the role was created just for her.

Show producer Peter Engel revealed on the podcast Industry Standard (via The Comic’s Comic) that most of the people involved in casting actually wanted Berkley to be given the role of Kelly, but he and NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff fought the casting department. As noted by Complex, the role of Jessie was created so that Berkley and Thiessen could both join the cast of Saved by the Bell. Clearly that was the right call.

Saved by the Bell's A.C. Slater and Lisa Turtle were originally supposed to be pretty different

The characters of A.C. Slater and Lisa Turtle were imagined to be quite different from how they eventually ended up being portrayed on Saved by the Bell. As show producer Peter Engel said on the podcast Industry Standard (via The Comic’s Comic), A.C. Slater was originally envisioned as Italian. Engel described the original iteration of A.C. Slater as “a street kid” and “an Army brat.” They had a hard time casting the role, though, until they opened up the part to other ethnicities. The character of A.C. Slater eventually went to Latinx American actor Mario Lopez.

Fashionista Lisa Turtle, according to Engel, was originally planned to be a Jewish girl from Long Island. When Lark Voorhies read for the role, Engel said that the casting team protested, saying, “Lisa Turtle’s not Black.” Engel answered, “Well, she is now,” and Voorhies won the part.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar didn't have a lot in common with Saved by the Bell's Zack Morris

To kids growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, Zack Morris was the epitome of cool. Saved by the Bell wouldn’t have been the same without Zack, the most popular kid at Bayside High. Who can forget his effortless charm, his trademark blonde hair, and, of course, his cell phone?

Fans probably think of actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar being just as cool as his Saved by the Bell character, yet he revealed that he was anything but on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast. “Zack Morris was a character that I created from seeing the really cool kids in my school,” he said. “I was not one of those kids.”

Not even Zack’s flaxen locks were the real deal. Gosselaar maintained the golden hairdo with lots of hair dye — so much hair dye, in fact, that Gosselaar has marveled his hair didn’t eventually all fall out. “I did that… [and] it wasn’t natural,” he said in an appearance on Live with Kelly & Michael (via ABC News).

Dustin Diamond was quite a bit younger than the rest of the Saved by the Bell cast

Samuel “Screech” Powers may not have had the effortless cool of the rest of the Bayside gang, but his nerdy persona led to a lot of comedic moments on Saved by the Bell that wouldn’t have been as memorable if they’d been portrayed by anyone but Dustin Diamond. Screech always seemed a bit less sophisticated and world-wise than his pals on the show, and it turns out that, in real life, he actually was a bit behind his peers, at least as far as his age was concerned.

When Diamond was cast, he was actually quite a bit younger than the other kids on the show. Diamond was born in 1977, making him just 10 years old when Good Morning, Miss Bliss first aired. Saved by the Bell producer Peter Engel said on the podcast Industry Standard (via The Comic’s Comic) that Diamond was actually a few years younger than the rest of the cast, although he initially had no idea, admitting that he never would have hired him if he’d known just how young he was.

There was a lot of hooking up on the Saved by the Bell set

Saved by the Bell may have been a teen comedy, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of teenage drama both on and off the set. Quite a lot of time was invested in the romances between the show’s characters, who were apparently also hooking up in real life. “All of us dated at one point or another — it was incestuous!” Mark-Paul Gosselaar told People in 2009. Tiffani Thiessen added that they often had crushes on each other, saying, “But we were so young!”

Fortunately for the young stars, the details about their dating lives managed to stay out of tabloids and the cast kept quiet about the dating scene on set for years. Years after the show wrapped, Gosselaar explained on the Anna Faris Is Unqualified podcast (via Us Weekly) that working on the show was like being “in a bubble.” He explained that as they spent so much time on set and didn’t go to school they didn’t “have a lot of choices” when it came to dating.

The Saved by the Bell cast members didn't always get along

While the Saved by the Bell cast may have been friends with each other and even more than friends at times, they didn’t always get along with one another. Mark-Paul Gosselaar told People that “sometimes the girls would gang up on the guys.” The cast may not have actually attended classes, but Gosselaar described the whole thing as very high school.

On The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast, Gosselaar said that the cast had something of a love-hate relationship with each other. While there were times when everyone was close and got along, at other times, producer Peter Engel would have to step in to help them keep the peace. Gosselaar admitted that some of the fighting was due to the “romantic entanglements” among the Saved by the Bell cast members. “It was a very small universe that we lived in and that we operated in,” he said.

This iconic Saved by the Bell scene was originally a lot darker

The scene in which Jessie gets hooked on caffeine pills and suffers a breakdown, finally admitting to Zack that she’s scared, is one of the Saved by the Bell‘s most memorable. The show handled the topic of addiction sensitively, although Jessie’s response to getting hooked on caffeine pills seemed a bit over the top. It turns out that there’s a good reason for that, though, as Jessie was originally intended to get hooked on speed, not caffeine.

As show producer Peter Engel explained in his memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True (via Vulture), NBC wouldn’t greenlight the storyline, saying that “speed was too serious for Saturday mornings.” Engel protested but eventually gave in, swapping out speed for caffeine even though “the average caffeine pill was the equivalent of a cup of coffee” and, in his opinion, Jessie might as well have been hooked on coffee beans or tea.

This is why two main Saved by the Bell characters suddenly disappeared

Saved by the Bell was never big on continuity, and the scenarios the students of Bayside High found themselves in often didn’t make much sense. That’s why it was confusing but not totally jarring when Kelly Kapowski and Jessie Spano disappeared partway through the show’s final season, only to turn up again with no warning at graduation.

Pop Matters explained that this was the result of the season getting a larger-than-usual number of episodes. Since Tiffani Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley had already decided to leave Saved by the Bell, they disappeared from the show and were replaced by a new character named Tori (Leanna Creel), and Kelly and Jessie were never again mentioned by the gang at Bayside. In the final episode, however, Kelly and Jessie are seen graduating with the rest of the class, and Tori is nowhere to be seen.

If this has baffled you for years, you’re not alone. It turns out that the series finale was filmed before Thiessen and Berkley left the show and before Creel had been cast. When they decided to quit Saved by the Bell, a new finale was not shot.

The cast of Saved by the Bell earned less than you think

Given the enduring popularity of Saved by the Bell, it would be reasonable to assume that its stars would be financially set for life. While the show did indeed serve as a launching point for many of its stars to go on to lucrative careers, they didn’t exactly make a fortune on the show.

As Mark-Paul Gosselaar explained during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, even though Saved by the Bell entered syndication and has also been added to streaming platforms, its cast members didn’t make a cent for their roles after the show wrapped. “We made really bad deals,” he said (via USA Today).

In spite of losing out on what could have been a fortune, Gosselaar didn’t seem upset but instead looked upon the experience as a learning opportunity. “It is what it is,” he said.

Saved by the Bell spawned multiple spin-offs

While Saved by the Bell may have wrapped in 1992, that wasn’t the end of the beloved show. The following year, Saved by the Bell: The New Class premiered, focusing on a new set of Bayside students. Dennis Haskins reprised his role as Principal Belding, while Dustin Diamond joined the cast in Season 2, again playing the character of Samuel “Screech” Powers.

In 1993, some of the Bayside High crew went off to college in Saved by the Bell: The College Years. On the show, Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, and Screech went off to California University where they shared a suite with new characters Leslie Burke (Anne Tremko) and Alex Tabor (Kiersten Warren). Tiffani Thiessen reprised her role as Kelly Kapowski after the pilot, but Lark Voorhies only appeared in one episode as Lisa Turtle. Elizabeth Berkley did not return as Jessie Spano.

Series producer Peter Engel regrets introducing new characters on the spin-off instead of focusing on the same teens. “I should’ve taken all the six kids to college,” he told TheWrap, admitting that he “made a mistake.” Fans seemed to think so too, as the spin-off only lasted one season.

Not all of Saved by the Bell's stars saw success after the show wrapped

Most of the cast of Saved by the Bell went on to stardom. Mark-Paul Gosselaar has acted steadily since, starring on shows like Franklin & BashNYPD Blue, and Mixed-ish. Mario Lopez has also maintained a steady acting career, although he may be even better known for hosting shows like Extra and Access Hollywood. Tiffani Thiessen went on to star in hits like Beverly Hills, 90210, while Elizabeth Berkley has been seen in a number of movies and shows.

Lark Voorhies struggled to maintain her momentum, though, and her acting resume goes blank for years at a time. In 2020, she revealed on The Dr. Oz Show that she has schizoaffective disorder, a mental health condition which, according to Mayo Clinic, “is marked by a combination of schizophrenia symptoms,” as well as “mood disorder symptoms.”

Dustin Diamond kept acting, although true stardom has eluded him. He’s made more headlines for spending time in jail, having an adult tape leaked, and releasing a scathing tell-all about his time on Saved by the Bell, which was filled with unflattering details about his castmates that he later claimed on Extra were “fabricated” by his ghostwriter.

Most of Saved by the Bell's core cast members are still friends

It may have been decades since Saved by the Bell wrapped, but the Bayside High crew is still friends for the most part. In 2019, fans went wild when Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Elizabeth Berkley, Mario Lopez, and Tiffani Thiessen got together along with their spouses and posted a picture of the reunion on Instagram. “This is what 30+ years of friendship looks like,” Gosselaar wrote in the caption (via CNN).

The gang had previously reunited for a 2015 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, although Lark Voorhies and Dustin Diamond were notably absent. Most of the cast also worked together again on the 2020 Saved by the Bell reboot. As noted by People, the only core cast member who didn’t eventually join the reboot was Dustin Diamond, although that might not be too surprising considering the scandalous tell-all he published about his castmates. Ahead of the series premiere, Berkley said on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen that, while she hasn’t had any contact with Diamond since the series wrapped, there’s no bad blood between them and that he could appear on the show at some point in the future.

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