Lifetime movie goes behind the scenes at ‘Saved by the Bell’

Posted Monday, Sep. 01, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story

• 8 p.m. Monday

• Lifetime

‘Bell’ beauties and beaus: then and now

Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack Morris): Since 2011, has co-starred as attorney Peter Bash in TNT’s Franklin & Bash. Other TV series include NYPD Blue (2001-05) and Raising the Bar (2008-09).

Tiffani Thiessen (Kelly Kapowski): Since 2009, has co-starred as Elizabeth Burke on USA’s White Collar. Other TV series include Beverly Hills, 90210 (1994-98) and Fastlane (2002-03).

Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater): Host of the entertainment news program Extra since 2008. Also co-starred in Pacific Blue (1998-2000) and was runner-up to Emmitt Smith in the 2006 season of Dancing With the Stars.

Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie Spano): Placed sixth in the fall 2013 season of Dancing With the Stars. Also played a recurring character on CSI: Miami (2008-09), but most famous for the 1995 movie Showgirls.

Dustin Diamond (Screech Powers): Continued his role on Saved By the Bell: The New Class (1994-2000). Was one of the housemates on the reality show Big Brother in 2013.

Lark Voorhies (Lisa Turtle): Had a recurring role in In the House (1997-99) and acted in such daytime soaps as Days of Our Lives (1993-94) and The Bold and the Beautiful (2004).

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Dylan Everett, TV’s new Zack Morris, was so naive.

The Canadian actor believed it was a job like any other when he landed a starring role in The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story.

Then legions of lifelong Saved By the Bell fans took him to school.

“I never realized how popular the show was until I booked this movie,” Everett says. “Then I suddenly started meeting people who were like, ‘ Saved By the Bell? I loved that show when I was younger!’

“The other comment I hear a lot, depending on who I’m talking to, is, ‘I was so in love with Zack Morris,’ or ‘I had the biggest crush on Kelly Kapowski.’

“There is such a huge fan base. The show has a special place in their hearts.”

The time-warp TV movie, premiering at 8 p.m. Monday on Lifetime, takes viewers behind the scenes of the amiable 1990s kid-com about life at Bayside High.

If the subject matter seems a tad flimsy for this kind of showcase, then you weren’t one of the millions of kids glued to the set every Saturday morning when Saved By the Bell aired from 1989 to 1993 (or when the show ran endlessly in syndication every weekday afternoon throughout the rest of the decade).

Saved By the Bell was The Brady Bunch of its generation.

Its popularity triggered a seismic shift in programming for young audiences, as networks phased out their emphasis on cartoons in favor of live-action teen sitcoms.

There was a prime-time spinoff starring the original cast, Saved By the Bell: The College Years (1993-94), and a long-running Saturday morning follow-up with a different group, Saved By the Bell: The New Class (1993-2000).

Saved By the Bell is also the show that put actors Mark-Paul Gosselaar (who played Zack, the lovable schemer), Tiffani Thiessen (Kelly, the dream girl), Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater, the jock) and Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie Spano, the class president) on the map.

“I think this movie will bring back a lot of happy memories for a lot of people,” says Robin Lippin, the casting director for the original show as well as the new movie. “There were a lot of closet Saved By the Bell fans back in the day. But now they’re not ashamed to own up to watching it.”

Unseen moments

This being an “unauthorized” version of the Saved By the Bell story, there are many mildly “scandalous” moments involving teen romances and petty feuds.

One scene shows Gosselaar and Thiessen making out in his dressing room, but they’re just practicing for their first onscreen kiss.

There’s also an incident in which hormones and egos turn an all-smiles publicity photo shoot for the six main cast members into a bitter shoving match.

But the revelations in the movie are never as seamy and unpleasant as what appeared on the pages of co-star Dustin Diamond’s 2009 Behind the Bell tell-all, a book he since has distanced himself from, blaming its negative spin on a ghostwriter.

The movie is happier to focus on innocuous details such as Zack’s impossibly perfect blond locks.

“Anybody who has seen Mark-Paul Gosselaar since Saved By the Bell knows that he doesn’t have naturally blond hair,” Everett says. “He dyed his brown hair for six years to play that character. And not only that, when he was younger, he passed it off like it was his natural hair color, which is sort of a funny thing to try to keep under wraps.”

Young actors’ lives

Everett thinks the movie is about something bigger than Saved By the Bell nostalgia.

“What I love about this film is how it shows what it’s like for young actors growing up in the spotlight,” says Everett, a 19-year-old whose TV career began well before he reached his teens. “It’s tough to be a young actor.

“It’s harder than it looks — holding down a high-profile, full-time job and attending school at the same time, being hugely famous and then going home and trying to maintain a normal social life with family and friends. It’s a lot of stuff to balance. It’s overwhelming sometimes. Not everybody can handle it.”

The cast member who had the toughest time dealing with it was Diamond, the actor who played Screech, an awkward class clown and sidekick to Zack’s Mr. Perfect persona.

Diamond’s post- Saved By the Bell showbiz career has been a bumpy ride, whereas the others seem to have steered clear of the pitfalls of teen stardom.

“I’m proud of the fact that they’ve gone on to do well,” Lippin says. “Basically, they’re a pretty centered group. For the most part, you never hear anything bad about them. They’re professionals, they have good careers and that makes me feel really good.”

Everett wouldn’t mind if a little of Gosselaar’s success, as an actor and as a person, rubbed off.

“I didn’t get the chance to talk to him before filming the movie, which is something I would have loved to have done,” Everett says. “I would have loved to have gotten to know Mark-Paul as a person.

“Through my research and watching his interviews, I couldn’t get over how nice a guy he is, even about the making of this movie. He did an interview recently where someone asked him about the film and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard about it. I wasn’t involved, but that’s all well and good.’

“It just went to show what a kind, cool guy he is. And that’s something I’ve tried to get across onscreen in my performance.”

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