For those of us who grew up in the early ‘90s, high school sitcom Saved by the Bell was the only place to be on a Saturday morning. The adventures of Zack, Kelly and the gang entertained us across four seasons, two movies and a college spin-off. And it turns out that most of the original Bayside High kids have maintained their friendship off-screen, too.
Indeed, in 2019 the likes of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Amber Thiessen and Mario Lopez sent the internet into meltdown with a pic of a 30th anniversary reunion meal. But sadly not every major Saved by the Bell cast member was in attendance. Here’s a look at the story behind the NBC phenomenon and its stars’ continuing closeness.
The origins of Saved by the Bell began in back 1986. Producer Peter Engel was asked to create a new sitcom inspired by NBC President Brandon Tartikoff’s sixth-grade teacher. Following an unsuccessful pilot, Good Morning, Miss Bliss moved to the Disney Channel for a 13-episode run, starring Hayley Mills as the titular lead character. However, the comedy was swiftly canceled after failing to pick up enough of an audience.
But that wasn’t the end for the show. Indeed, Tartikoff was encouraged by the stronger teen elements of the series and pushed for a retooling which would shift focus to the students. Although initially unsure about such a premise, Engel eventually decided to come on board. And the rest is television history.
Of course, there were several other changes to the show, too. It found a new home on NBC, and a new Saturday morning time slot. In addition, the setting was moved from Indianapolis to a fictional Los Angeles area known as The Palisades. Several of the original cast members, meanwhile, were substituted for new ones. And despite Engel’s reservations, the show was renamed Saved by the Bell.
The four main cast members brought over from Good Morning, Miss Bliss included Lark Voorhies and Dustin Diamond. The former played fashion-conscious shopping obsessive Lisa Turtle, while the latter portrayed the impossibly nerdy Screech Powers. Dennis Haskins also reprised his role as Bayside High’s goofy principal, Mr. Belding.
But it was Mark-Paul Gosselaar who was seen as the most vital actor to transfer to the new, improved sitcom. Indeed, although Saved by the Bell was considered an ensemble comedy, it was clear from the outset that Gosselaar’s Zack Morris was the show’s focal point. Engel once described the character as “that incorrigible kid who could lie to your face, letting you know very well that he’s lying and make you love him for it all the same.”
Three new teenagers were brought in to complete the main Bayside High gang. Mario Lopez was cast as jock A.C. Slater, Tiffani Amber Thiessen landed the role of Zack’s love interest Kelly Kapowski and Elizabeth Berkley won the part of the super-smart feminist Jessie Spano. The latter had initially auditioned for the role of Kelly alongside future Beverly Hills, 90210 star Jennie Garth.
Audiences first got to see all the changes in action when “Dancing to the Max,” Saved by the Bell’s first episode, premiered on NBC in August 1989. Unlike its predecessor, the show became an instant hit. As a result, it was not only renewed for a second season, but also a third and a fourth. There was also a 1992 TV movie which transported the gang to the sunny shores of Hawaii.
And the Bayside High crew’s story didn’t end when they graduated at the end of the fourth season, either. Indeed, Kelly, Screech, Slater and Zack all returned to our screens immediately in spin-off Saved by the Bell: The College Years. And this time around, their adventures were screened on prime-time NBC.
Sadly, audiences didn’t follow the characters from Saturday morning to Tuesday evening and Saved By the Bell: The College Years was taken off air after just one season. However, the gang were given one last send-off in 1994 with Wedding in Las Vegas. As its name suggests, the TV movie saw the show’s romantic leads, Zack and Kelly, walk down the aisle together. Aww.
Having wrapped up the original gang’s story, NBC then tried to make lightening strike twice. In 1993 the network put together a brand new cast of students for Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Haskins’s Mr. Belding was originally the only returnee, although Diamond’s Screech later joined him as his assistant. Incredibly, the ever-changing franchise aired for seven seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug in 2000.
Of course, there have been several attempts to reunite the original gang over the years. In 2006, Adult Swim appeared to confirm that Saved by the Bell would be returning to our screens for a special. However, just seven days later, the mischievous strand of the Cartoon Network admitted that it had all been a prank.
Three years later, Zack Morris himself made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The host had started a campaign for an S.B.T.B reunion and Voorhies, Berkley, Lopez and Haskins all signed on. Gosselaar also agreed while in character and finished his appearance in style. Indeed, Saved by the Bell’s fictional group, Zack Attack, joined the very real house band, The Roots, for a unique rendition of “Friends Forever.”
Of course, two members were notable by their non-reply. Thiessen later explained that she simply didn’t have the time to join her former cast mates in a spoof video uploaded to the Funny or Die website. Diamond, however, had burned his bridges following a tell-all book about his time on the 90s show.
Published in the same year as the Fallon reunion, Behind the Bell saw Diamond make various unfavorable claims about the Saved by the Bell cast and crew. Most were strenuously denied by those involved. And Diamond himself later admitted that his ghostwriter had made up those stories to sell more copies of the book.
Despite Diamond’s admission, Lifetime still decided to produce a movie based on his book in 2014. The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was subsequently slated by critics after its first airing. A “horrendous and unmoving time-waster” was how Entertainment Weekly described it, while TV Guide wrote that the flick “seemed more parody than biopic.”
Diamond’s questionable antics also saw him snubbed at a reunion shoot for People magazine in 2009. And to add insult to injury, the actor was completely removed from a 1989 cast picture in the same issue which showed how each Saved by the Bell actor looked 20 years on. Ouch.
Before Diamond’s salacious memoir had been published, though, he did get the chance to join his former colleagues again. Indeed, the previous year, alongside Gosselaar, Lopez, Voorhies and Haskins, the man formerly known as Screech lent his voice to a third season episode of animated hit Robot Chicken. “Boo Cocky” centered around a parody of horror movie Saw called “Sawed by the Bell.”
A different Saved by the Bell line-up returned to Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show in 2015. Alongside Diamond’s unsurprising no-show, this time around it was Lark Voorhies who was notable by her absence. Berkley’s performance in the much-maligned Showgirls, Lopez’s Dancing with the Stars stint and Thiessen’s pregnancy were all humorously addressed during the episode’s skit.
Many cast members have continued to embrace their Saved by the Bell past in a musical theatre parody of the show which opened in 2013. Indeed, both Dennis Haskins and Dustin Diamond have graced the stage of the production penned by Tobly and Bob McSmith. The brothers had previously worked on a similar spoof of Showgirls, the cult classic starring SBTB alum Elizabeth Berkley.
And in 2019, several original cast members organized a reunion meal to help celebrate three full decades of friendship. Lopez, Berkley, Thiessen and Gosselaar all attended the dinner with their respective partners at Sherman Oaks restaurant Petit Trois in California. And the quartet broke the internet when they uploaded various photos of the gathering on their social media feeds.
Gosselaar posted a pic on Instagram captioned, “This is what 30+ years of friendship looks like.” Berkley, uploaded the same image with numerous hashtags. These included “I’m so excited,” a reference to the Pointer Sisters hit that Jessie famously sings during her caffeine pill-induced breakdown.
Lopez was perhaps the most enthusiastic cast member on Instagram. The actor/presenter uploaded a video clip from the dinner in which he introduced everyone in attendance. He said, “Okay, fun dinner tonight with some old friends. Here is Mrs. Lopez, Elizabeth, her husband Greg — who has the best wig ever — Catriona, Mark-Paul, there’s Brady, there’s Tiffany.”
The curly-haired star then revealed that the group sure made the most of the menu items on offer. He added, “We ate an obscene amount of food, an obscene amount of food. The Lopezes are walking home, coming back and getting the car. Great group here… Now it’s time to play credit card roulette for the bill.”
Lopez didn’t reveal the name of the unlucky individual forced to cough up for the gang’s apparent gluttony. However, Gosselaar seemed to imply that his old Bayside High partner in crime lost the game of credit card roulette. “Thanks for taking care of the bill,” the man best known as Zack Morris posted on his friend’s Instagram page.
Gosselaar and Lopez’s wives, Catriona McGinn and Courtney Laine Mazza, the latter of whom was pregnant at the time, joined the quartet. Greg Lauren, Berkley’s husband, was also in attendance, as was Thiessen’s spouse, Brady Smith. Of course, two other individuals were notable by their absence.
Admittedly, no one really expected to see Dustin Diamond posing happily alongside the four cast mates he once leveled various accusations at. But the omission of Lark Voorhies, A.K.A. the object of Screech’s affections, Lisa Turtle, was more glaring. However, the actress is renowned for living her life away from the public eye.
But although the Saved by the Bell reunion didn’t include the full original line-up, most fans were still stoked to see most of the gang back together. One aptly-titled Instagram user, baysidehigh, posted, “Are y’all immortal? You all look even better now. Thanks for posting this, it made my day!”
Then there was the particularly excitable fan who commented, “This dinner group just made my year and we are not even half way through it. I would have loved to have waited on this table.” Another replied, “What a blessing to see you all together, happy and healthy! It warms my heart so much.”
A week later, Thiessen discussed the reunion during an interview with U.S.A. Today to promote her new children’s book. And the actor revealed that she was responsible for organizing it all. “I put it together and we finally had a date on the calendar and we had a really great time,” she said.
And it’ll please longtime Saved by the Bell fans to know that this wasn’t a one-off, either. In fact, Thiessen told U.S.A. Today that she and former co-star Gosselaar regularly have meals out together. And she also stated that the most recent reunion dinner certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Of course, this wasn’t the first Saved by the Bell cast reunion of 2019. Indeed, several months earlier, Lopez visited the set of Gosselaar’s new Fox show, The Passage, as the presenter of Extra. The latter posted a then and now photo of the pair on his Instagram page with the hashtag #30YearChallenge.
In fact, Lopez and Gosselaar regularly meet up to engage in a spot of martial arts. The latter once posted an Instagram photo of the pair captioned, “This is what it looks like when two #OldSchoolHomies beat (each) other up for an hour and a half. Thanks for the roll @mariolopez.”
Gosselaar also spoke about his experiences filming Saved by the Bell during another promo appearance for his new show. Appearing on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, the actor told the host that the cast made little money from their stints on the sitcom. He said, “We made really bad deals. Poor deals, back then. It is what it is. You move on, you learn. Great experience.”
The Saved by the Bell star also discussed how strange is it to see reruns of the show now that he’s in his 40s. He said, “When I watch the episodes, it’s like a new experience for me. I don’t remember, I wasn’t sentimental, I didn’t take anything from the set. My [children] are watching it. They’re kind of like, ‘Eh…’ They’re unimpressed. But they’re unimpressed about everything.”
So could all the new-found interest surrounding Saved by the Bell inspire another reunion on screen? Well, there seems to be a mixed response from the Bayside High gang. When asked about the possibility of a proper reboot, Thiessen told USA Today that she doesn’t believe it’s likely to happen.
However, Gosselaar was more optimistic when he spoke to British newspaper Metro in 2018. When asked about plans for a 30th anniversary special, he said, “No, we haven’t discussed anything. I think the last time we did something for the 25th was with Jimmy Fallon, so possibly he might have something up his sleeve which would be great. I think we’d all gladly take up the offer if it was there to reprise that role with them.”
And Berkley seemed even more open to the idea of a reunion in a 2017 Us Weekly interview. She said, “If something else presented itself that was as intelligent as the way Jimmy did it, I’m not saying we wouldn’t consider, but we did what felt great for us at this moment. We’re actually fortunate that most of our cast consistently works and have been working actors since we were kids… We stay in touch. We love each other.”
Berkley then referred to another show that aired during the Saved by the Bell era which recently found a new lease of life. She added, “Especially in light of the recent Full House success, same generation… There seems to be a resurgence or an appetite for a little more innocence again in a climate and culture that is not.”