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The Untold Truth Of Saved By The Bell

Shows aimed at younger viewers aren't any less complex to make than grown-up fare. In fact, given the fact of a cast mostly made up of adolescents, these shows can actually be more complicated to pull off. More often than not, these productions have a wealth of behind-the-scenes secrets to their name — some of them better-kept than others. Consider Saved by the Bell. This show became one of the most beloved Saturday morning sitcoms ever made, and is considered a generational touchstone. And it wasn't just loved by kids and high schoolers — there were more than a few adults tuning in as well. The world just couldn't get enough of these good-hearted teens and their high school hijinks.

But for all the love this show currently receives from nostalgic grown-ups, there's still a whole lot about Saved by the Bell most fans haven't learned. We're more than happy to spill the beans, so sit back, put on some classic '90s tunes, and get ready to dive into the sordid, strange, and silly history of Saved by the Bell.

Miss Bliss' legacy

You may be surprised to learn that Bell started off as a completely different show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss. The pilot episode aired in 1988, starring Hayley Mills, a British actress, as the titular Miss Bliss. The show lasted for 13 episodes on the Disney Channel before it got canceled.

When Miss Bliss didn't make it in the ratings, executive producer Peter Engel went back to the drawing board. The series was retooled into Saved By the Bell, taking four cast members with it: Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Zachary "Zack" Morris, Dustin Diamond as Samuel "Screech" Powers, Lark Voorhies as Lisa Turtle, and Dennis Haskins as Mr. Belding. Brian Austin Green and Jaleel White, AKA Urkel, also appeared in an early episode of Miss Bliss, but did not make the jump to Saved by the Bell.

Though Miss Bliss takes place in Indianapolis, Engel decided to move the kids to California. He also changed the age range of the show: The kids on Miss Bliss are in the eighth grade, but the protagonists of Saved by the Bell are full blown high-schoolers.

Inspiration from many angles

Saved by the Bell's beloved Zack Morris was inspired by another high school smart aleck: Ferris Bueller. As Gosselaar detailed to Jimmy Fallon, he snagged quite a lot of swagger from that cinematic slacker. Morris' infamous moments of breaking the fourth wall to speak to the audience, for example, are directly inspired by Bueller. 

Similarly, the character of A.C. Slater was inspired by Vinny Barbarino, the character John Travolta made famous on the '70's sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. "Slater was supposed to be Vinny with a leather jacket," Engel recalled. "Italian kid, who was a street kid, an army brat." Mr. Belding was also inspired by someone else, but not in a way the man in question might have liked: The character was named after Richard Belding, a pain-in-the-butt editor Engel had to work with at Universal. Lisa Turtle's name came from a real girl Engel knew, and Slater was named after a friend of Engel's son in kindergarten. By the way, the A.C. in A.C. Slater stands for Albert Clifford.

Settling into the roles

While Gosselaar, Diamond, Haskins, and Voorhies all made the move to Bell, Jennie Garth, who was up to play Kelly Kapowski, didn't get the role. However, she went on to major success on Beverly Hills 90210. Not everyone who did get cast was thrilled about it: Mario Lopez initially didn't want to play Slater, and admits in his autobiography he was more interested in chasing girls than "trekking up to L.A. to read for a part that had barely been sketched out on paper."

Engel reportedly fought to have Tiffani Amber Thiessen on the show, knowing she was "going to be a major star." Elizabeth Berkley was also up to play Kelly, but wound up playing Jessie, a much smarter, more evolved character specifically created for Berkley. As she reflected on Bethenny, she wasn't super into her wardrobe: "Just because you are a feminist, why can't you also dress in things that make you feel girly and empowered?"

Behind-the-scenes romance

As you watch even the most wholesome family sitcom, you just can't help but wonder: Who's hooking up with who behind the scenes? Unsurprisingly, putting a bunch of teenagers together resulted in a whole lot of romance on the Saved by the Bell set. As Gosselaar told People, "All of us dated at one point or another — it was incestuous! Sometimes the girls would gang up on the guys. Tiffani and Elizabeth would hate me, and then they'd hate Lark because Lark was talking to me, and Mario was supposed to side with someone. All that stuff you did in high school, like, 'How could you talk to him?'"

The most serious relationship among the Bell cast was probably Gosselaar and Voorhies, who dated for three years during the series' run. But some of these crushes were a little more low-key. Ed Alonzo, who played Max, told Entertainment Tonight that Gosselaar and Thiessen "liked each other a lot. It was very cute. It was hand-holding and looking over." Awww.

Parties, drama, and nightclubs

While much of went on behind the scenes was innocent, some of it became messy. As Lopez details in his memoir, he dated Thiessen, but did not stay faithful: "I can't say that I was capable at that age of following through on my noble intentions. There was so much beauty everywhere and I had so much affection to share."  In his notorious tell-all book, Beyond the Bell, Dustin Diamond calls Lopez a "man wh*re." Lopez's own book fires right back: He recalls Diamond leaving nude Polaroids of himself for anyone to discover, because "he was one of those dorky kids who thought it was hilarious."

With Saved By the Bell being full of teens, it's no surprise they did some partying. Theissen has admitted the first time she sipped alcohol was with Gosselaar in Paris during a press tour. Gosselaar told ABC News he did the time-honored show biz tradition of using his celebrity to get into adult clubs at the age of16. "But I didn't abuse it, and neither did my castmates," he insisted, "I can't stress how good we were."

Hair days, good and bad

Most of us probably have regrets about our high school hair, and the Saved By the Bell gang is no exception. Many fans don't know that Gosselaar is a natural brunette who had to bleach his hair blond every season. "I'm surprised I have hair!," he said years later. "I can't believe I have hair now." Gosselaar's hair style looked different every season because, surprisingly enough, the Bell gang thought every season would be their last. The show ultimately lasted six years, but as Gosselaar explained, "At the end of [every] season, we all left, we said goodbye to each other. And that's why every season my hairstyle was so radically different."

Hair drama spared no one. A.C. Slater sported a mullet, explaining years later that he "wanted to look like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon ... I didn't even know I had a mullet!" Elizabeth Berkley had trouble keeping her wild, curly hair under control, and was subjected to no end of procedures, treatments, and techniques. "They diffused my hair, flipped it, teased it, sprayed it with hair spray," she recalled, "I practically went through a can of hair spray a show."

I'm so excited ... I'm so scared!

One of the most infamous and parodied Saved By the Bell episodes is "Jessie's Song." In it, Jessie gets hooked on caffeine pills, and finally has a breakdown in Zack's arms as she sings the Pointer Sisters hit, "I'm So Excited." This moment is widely derided as cheesy, melodramatic, and unintentionally funny. What few know is that this scene was initially going to be a lot more serious.

As Engel has detailed, Jessie was originally going to be hooked on speed, but NBC's Standards and Practices stepped in and told him to tone the episode down. Still, the point came across: "Today, when I meet fans of the show, 'Jessie's Song' is almost always the episode that comes up first," Engel said. "No one was making programming for kids like that at the time. It made an impact. It helped them grow up. And I'm still, to this day, proud to have my name on that episode."

Terrible contracts

Like so many child stars, the Bell cast got screwed by the deal they signed. At the time, no one suspected that Saved by the Bell would become a huge phenomenon. Being young and naïve, the stars signed iffy contracts, meaning they didn't make anywhere near as much money as you'd think. As Gosselaar confessed, "We made really bad deals. Poor deals back then. It is what it is. You move on, you learn. Great experience." Pretty optimistic, huh? But elsewhere, Gosselaar has put it more bluntly: "It was a Saturday morning show. It was the first of its kind. We didn't get paid d*ck for it." Moreover, the cast do not make money from the show's syndication, nor from its merchandise. Everyone makes mistakes when they're young, but most of us don't have to live with the knowledge that those mistakes are still costing us thousands of dollars every day.

Post-Bell shows, movies, and unintentional cult classics

If you blinked, you probably missed it, but Saved by the Bell attempted to keep a good thing going with Saved by the Bell: The College Years. It came and went after 19 episodes. Many of the show's cast members were able to pick up the pieces and move on to better things. Gosselaar in particular has done well, having starred in shows like NYPD Blue, Franklin & Bash, and Pitch. Today, he stars as Rainbow's dad in Mixed-ish. Lopez has found steady success as a host of reality-based programming like The X Factor and Extra. Thiessen currents hosts a cooking series, Dinner at Tiffani's, in which she spends time in the kitchen with a wide variety of celebrity guests. All in all, these examples are fairly representative of the Bell cast, who mostly got through child stardom intact.

But not everyone was so lucky. Lark Voorhies, for example, has struggled with mental illness. And while Elizabeth Berkley's career is still active, she suffered one of the most embarrassing big screen debuts in history with the notorious Showgirls. Hopefully the film's status as a cult classic is of some comfort.

Screech goes rogue

Dustin Diamond fell on hard times after the show ended. The past few decades have been littered with scandal: He released a sex tape, went to jail for three months after getting into a barroom altercation, and violated the terms of his probation, leading to another arrest.

Most infamously, he wrote a salacious tell-all book, 2009's Behind the Bell. It is absolutely bursting with salacious tales of drug use, hooking-up, and general nastiness. Its veracity is forcefully disputed by his former castmates. To some degree, Diamond seems to agree with their point of view: In recent years, he has claimed that his ghostwriter "fabricated a whole bunch of stuff," and that he was "railroaded."

So that's a bummer. But you know what isn't? Dennis Haskins, who played Mr. Belding, finally graduated college in 2015 at the age of 65, earning a Bachelor of Arts in theater and speech. For his part, Haskins looks back fondly on his time as part of a much-beloved TV classic. "I knew it was something special because the energy was different," he said in 2013. "The kids were a little bit older, the dynamic was great between everybody, and we were having a great time."