For those of us who grew up in the early ’90s, Bayside High was practically the only place to be on a Saturday morning. Yes, NBC’s Saved by the Bell was something of a phenomenon, with the adventures of Zack, Kelly and the gang entertaining us across four seasons, two movies and a college spin-off. And, happily, it turns out that most of the original cast have forged friendships off screen, too.
It seems, too, that many of the Saved by the Bell kids remain buddies even decades on, as in 2019 the likes of Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Amber Thiessen and Mario Lopez all joined forces for a 30th anniversary reunion meal – and sent the internet into meltdown as a result. But, sadly, not every major cast member was in attendance. Here’s a look at the story behind the teen series and its stars’ continuing closeness.
The origins of Saved by the Bell began back in 1986, when producer Peter Engel was asked to create a new sitcom inspired by NBC president Brandon Tartikoff’s sixth-grade teacher. And despite an unsuccessful pilot, Good Morning, Miss Bliss – starring Hayley Mills as the titular lead character – ultimately aired a 13-episode run on the Disney Channel. Unfortunately, though, the comedy was swiftly canceled after failing to pick up enough of an audience.
But that wasn’t the end for the show. Instead, Tartikoff was encouraged by the stronger teen elements of the series and pushed for a reworking that would shift focus to the students. Engel eventually decided to come on board, too, although he was initially unsure about the new premise. And the rest is television history.
Of course, several other changes were subsequently made to the series. It found a new home on NBC, for one, as well as a Saturday morning time slot. In addition, the setting was moved from Indianapolis to a fictional Los Angeles area known as the Palisades, while several of the original cast members were also swapped out. And despite Engel’s reservations, the show was renamed Saved by the Bell.
What’s more, those four principal actors brought over from Good Morning, Miss Bliss included Lark Voorhies and Dustin Diamond. Voorhies had played fashion-conscious shopping obsessive Lisa Turtle in the original show, while Diamond had portrayed the impossibly nerdy Screech Powers – with both characters going on to reappear in Saved by the Bell. Dennis Haskins also chose to reprise his role as Bayside High’s goofy principal, Mr. Belding.
But Mark-Paul Gosselaar was arguably the most important star to transfer to the new and improved sitcom. You see, although Saved by the Bell was ostensibly an ensemble comedy, Engel knew that Gosselaar’s Zack Morris was crucial to the series. And in his 2016 memoir I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love and Dreams That Do Come True, the producer described the character whom he had had in mind 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 other actors were also brought in to complete the main Bayside High gang: Mario Lopez as jock A.C. Slater, Tiffani Amber Thiessen as Zack’s crush, Kelly Kapowski, and Elizabeth Berkley, who won the part of super-smart feminist Jessie Spano. Berkley had initially auditioned for the role of Kelly alongside future Beverly Hills, 90210 star Jennie Garth.
And audiences first got to see all the changes in action when Saved by the Bell’s first episode, “Dancing to the Max,” premiered on NBC in August 1989. Unlike its predecessor, the show became an instant hit, too, leading to it being renewed for a further three seasons. There was also a 1992 TV movie that transported the gang to the sunny shores of Hawaii.
Yet the Bayside High crew’s story didn’t end when they graduated at the end of the fourth season. Yes, Kelly, Screech, Slater and Zack all returned to our screens right after that conclusion in spin-off Saved by the Bell: The College Years. And this time around, their adventures were screened on prime-time NBC.
Sadly, though, 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. That said, the characters were given a send-off in 1994 with Wedding in Las Vegas. And, as its name suggests, the TV movie saw the show’s romantic leads, Zack and Kelly, walk down the aisle together. Aww.
Plus, it appears that NBC tried to make lightning strike twice, as in 1993 the network put together a brand new cast of students for Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Haskins’ Mr. Belding was originally the only returnee, although Diamond’s Screech later joined him as his assistant. And the follow-up show ultimately aired for a whole seven seasons before NBC finally pulled the plug in 2000.
Still, even though the classic Saved by the Bell series ended way back in 1994, there have been hints at a reunion in the years that have followed. In 2006, for example, Adult Swim appeared to confirm that the teen show would be returning to our screens for a special. Just seven days later, however, the mischievous strand of the Cartoon Network admitted that the reveal had all been a prank.
Then, three years later, Zack Morris himself made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The host had embarked on a crusade for a Saved by the Bell reunion, and Voorhies, Berkley, Lopez and Haskins all consented to guest on an episode of the late-night show. Gosselaar was present and in character, too, and he finished his time on air in style, as Saved by the Bell’s fictional group, Zack Attack, joined very real house band The Roots for a unique rendition of “Friends Forever.”
Of course, two key members of the series were notable by their absence. In a spoof video uploaded to the Funny or Die website, Thiessen later explained that she simply didn’t have the time to join her former cast mates. Diamond, on the other hand, had virtually burned his bridges after bringing out 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 of the allegations were strenuously denied by those who were said to have been involved, however, while Diamond himself later admitted that his ghostwriter had made up those stories.
Yet despite Diamond’s attempt to come clean, Lifetime still decided to produce a movie based on his book in 2014. And unfortunately for the network, The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story was slated by critics after its first airing. Entertainment Weekly damned the film as a “horrendous and unmoving time-waster,” for example, 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 that 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. The previous year – and 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 entitled Sawed by the Bell.
Then in 2015 a different Saved by the Bell line-up returned to Jimmy Fallon’s late-night show, as both Voorhies and – unsurprisingly – Diamond declined to show up on set. 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.
And certain stars of the series have continued to embrace their Saved by the Bell past in a musical theatre parody of the show that opened in 2013. Both Haskins and Diamond have graced the stage of the production, which was created by Tobly and Bob McSmith. The brothers had previously worked on a similar spoof of Berkley’s Showgirls.
Finally, in 2019 several original cast members organized a reunion meal to help celebrate three full decades of being buddies. Lopez, Berkley, Thiessen and Gosselaar all attended the dinner with their respective partners at the Sherman Oaks, California, restaurant Petit Trois. And the quartet almost broke the internet when they shared various photos of the gathering to their social media feeds.
Gosselaar, for example, posted a pic on Instagram alongside the caption, “This is what 30+ years of friendship looks like.” Berkley uploaded the same image, too, accompanied by 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.
But Lopez was perhaps the most enthusiastic about the reunion – at least, judging by his coverage of the occasion on social media. In particular, the actor and presenter uploaded a video clip from the dinner in which he introduced everyone in attendance. And there, he says, “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 made the most of the menu items on offer. He adds, “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.”
But while Lopez didn’t reveal the name of the unlucky individual forced to cough up for the gang’s apparent gluttony, Gosselaar seemed to imply that his old Bayside High partner in crime had lost the game of credit card roulette. “Thanks for taking care of the bill,” the Zack Morris actor 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 – also joined the quartet. Greg Lauren, Berkley’s husband, was similarly in attendance, as was Thiessen’s spouse, Brady Smith. As Saved by the Bell fans may have realized by now, though, two principal cast members were absent from the occasion.
Admittedly, it may have been a stretch to assume that Diamond would be posing happily alongside the castmates whom he had previously maligned. Nevertheless, that didn’t explain the omission of Voorhies – although it should be noted that the actress is renowned for living her life away from the public eye.
Still, although the Saved by the Bell reunion didn’t include the full original line-up, many fans were still stoked to see the bulk of the gang back together. One aptly named 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 halfway 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.”
Meanwhile, a week after the dinner, Thiessen discussed the reunion during an interview with USA Today to promote her new children’s book. And in the process, the star revealed that she had been the one 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 meeting between former colleagues, either, as Thiessen told USA Today that she and Gosselaar regularly have meals out together. Perhaps most promisingly, though, the actress also revealed that the most recent reunion dinner certainly wouldn’t be the last.
But the restaurant trip hadn’t marked the first Saved by the Bell cast reunion of 2019. You see, several months earlier, Lopez had visited the set of Gosselaar’s new Fox show The Passage in his capacity as a presenter of Extra. And after the get-together, Gosselaar posted a then-and-now shot of the pair to his Instagram page along with the hashtag #30YearChallenge.
It appears, too, that Lopez and Gosselaar have indulged in a spot of martial arts together. At the very least, Gosselaar took to Instagram in January 2019 to post an photo of the pair with the caption, “This is what it looks like when two #OldSchoolHomies beat (each) other up for an hour and a half. Thanks for the roll @mariolopez.”
In addition, the Zach Morris actor chose to speak about his experience of filming Saved by the Bell during another promo appearance for The Passage. While appearing on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, Gosselaar told the host that the Saved by the Bell cast had made little money from their stints on the sitcom, revealing, “We made really bad deals. Poor deals back then. It is what it is. You move on, you learn. Great experience.”
And when talking to Cohen, Gosselaar also explained how strange it was 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 Saved by the Bell cast get-togethers 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 appeared to be more optimistic about the prospect when he spoke to British newspaper Metro in 2018. After having been asked about plans for a 30th anniversary special of Saved by the Bell, 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 explained, “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 had aired during the Saved by the Bell era and which had 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.”