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Dustin Diamond's First Appearance As Screech Isn't What You Think

After the tragic death of actor Dustin Diamond at the age of 44 from carcinoma on February 1, it's no surprise that many fans are looking back to the beginning of his career. What might be unexpected is just where that career started. 

Diamond was best known for his portrayal of the eager geek "Screech" Powers on the classic high school sitcom Saved by the Bell, but the character originated far from the cool California setting where he made his name. Screech was originally conceived not as a Bayside High School student but as an Indianapolis eighth-grader in the classroom of popular teacher Carrie Bliss (Hayley Mills). The series Good Morning, Miss Bliss would also feature future Bayside classmates Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies). 

These characters, Screech included, would be familiar to any Saved by the Bell fan — Zack the lovable schemer, Lisa the popular rich girl, Screech the awkward intellect. Unlike most actors playing characters in school settings, Diamond was actually playing a character older than his real age. He was only 11 when the first episodes of Good Morning, Miss Bliss aired, even though he was playing an eighth grader.

How Good Morning, Miss Bliss became Saved by the Bell

A pilot for Good Morning, Miss Bliss aired on NBC in the summer of 1987, but the show wasn't picked up by the network at that time. Much of the cast was later retooled before the series began its run on the Disney Channel in 1988, including the additions of Diamond, Gosselaar, Voorhees, and Dennis Haskins as principal Mr. Belding. The newcomers replaced the likes of future television staples such as Brian Austin Green and Jaleel White as students in the Bliss classroom, making that original pilot a fascinating "What If" moment in television history.

Good Morning, Miss Bliss only survived for 13 episodes on the Disney Channel –– 14 counting the pilot –– but, as Diamond explained it in an interview with Scott Rogowsky, then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff decided the bones of the show were good and just needed transplanting to a new setting and situation. And so, several of the characters — including Zach, Lisa, Screech, and Mr. Belding — made a simultaneous move from John F. Kennedy Junior High in Indianapolis to Bayside in Southern California, where they joined the rest of the new ensemble that was assembled around them.

Instead of being forgotten to history, much of Good Morning, Miss Bliss survived thanks to the success of its successor in syndication. Those first thirteen episodes with Diamond and the rest were added to the pool of episodes of Saved by the Bell, with an introduction from Zach Morris appearing before them explaining that these episodes were from a little earlier in the timeline.