With The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story, Lifetime went behind the scenes of Saved By the Bell and unveiled what (allegedly) happened behind the cameras of one of our favorite childhood sitcoms. But instead of Zack Morris running the show, this time it was all about Screech—and the story from outcast Dustin Diamond's perspective.
Based on Diamond's tell-all memoir, The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story began with the gang—Dylan Everett as Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Sam Kindseth as Diamond, Tiera Skovbye as Elizabeth Berkley, Julian Works as Mario Lopez, Alyssa Lynch as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, and Taylor Russell McKenzie as Lark Voorhies—pulling up to their first mall tour, totally unaware that their lives were about to change. Cut to four months prior when Gosselaar, Voorhies, and Diamond were cast for Good Morning Miss Bliss, a Disney Channel sitcom that was quickly axed. The two-hour movie would take viewers through the revamping of the show all the way until the final day of filming in 1993.
But while I had hoped for more juicy and gossipy tidbits about one of television's most iconic shows, instead we got a sad story of a kid who just wanted to fit in and a cheesy made-for-TV movie that seemed more parody than biopic. And because Diamond has admitted the memoir was mostly made up, who knows how much of The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story was true tales versus wishful thinking.
Still, the movie got some details right, even when others were obviously wrong. (Um, why was Gosselaar, not in character, doing a Zack "Morris time out"?) Here are the eight most interesting things we learned from The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story.
1. The characters changed after casting
When casting began for more kids following the cancellation of Miss Bliss, both Berkley and Thiessen were up for Kelly. NBC liked them both and created Jessie for Berkley. (Jennie Garth, meanwhile, was passed on for the role.) Voorhies was also supposed to be a "Jewish American Princess" and Lopez Italian. No word on why Miss Bliss students Mikey (Max Battimo) and Nikki (Heather Hopper) didn't make the cut over to Bell. Zack was always supposed to be the all-American blonde boy, so a half-Indonesian Gosselaar had to get his hair from a bottle!
2. The series nearly got canned for a second time
First, Disney cancelled Good Morning Miss Bliss. Then, NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff restructured the series to focus on the kids rather than the teacher and move it to a cool California location. The revamped version didn't fare much better and after a terrible review, the NBC sitcom continued to get poor ratings. But overnight word caught on, ratings spiked, and the series was a bonafide hit.
3. Hormones were in the air
It seemed that Voorhies and Gosselaar locked eyes from that first casting call and were an item almost immediately. But the actress' strict religious background kept them from doing much off the set and when Gosselaar's and Thiessen's characters had to kiss (which, of course, required practice), it became more of a love triangle. Diamond, for his part, had his first kiss when his character had to smooch Violet (Tori Spelling) but when Diamond made moves off-camera she just wanted to meet Mark.
4. Diamond was the outcast
It's no secret Diamond wasn't well-liked, but it seemed that it was more of an age issue than anything else. Thiessen didn't appreciate his pranks, he couldn't do as many push-ups as Lopez, kids on the street bullied him. In one of the final scenes he summed it up best by saying to Gosselaar, "We've played best friends for five years and this is maybe the longest conversation we've ever had."
5. The kids wanted more dramatic storylines
After an encounter with a girl who dumped her boyfriend because Kelly did, Thiessen and Berkley asked for more plots with real issues. Berkley got her wish when she scored the famous "I'm so scared" caffeine pill addiction episode and even asked to talk to real life addicts!
6. Diamond began drinking
After meeting an extra who gave him his first swig, Diamond began to drink. It got so out of hand that he got too wasted at an appearance in South Carolina, and was threatened to be cut from the show by creator Peter Engel. His partying — and new best friend — would ultimately come back to bite him when the friend filmed him smoking weed and later blackmailed Diamond for not getting him a bigger part.
7. Diamond and Screech were basically the same person
Art imitated life when Screech was devastated that his best friend Zack was kissing the girl of his dreams. Diamond, it seemed, couldn't get any lovin' like his fellow castmates. And just like Screech, the Dustin of the movie also had bizarre daydreams where he was a hunk.
8. The mystery of their second senior year (and Tori) explained
The reason Jessie and Kelly were replaced by bad girl Tori, only to later return, was due to contract issues. Initially, the series was supposed to go just four seasons, but when NBC wanted a fifth, Thiessen and Berkley exited. They later reunited for the graduation episode (which, by the way, they actually filmed before leaving the series not after like the movie depicted.) And just as an exec would tell Engel on the final day of filming, "This is far from the end of Saved By the Bell." Everyone knows Thiessen did ultimately return for The College Years and Zack and Kelly's Wedding.
What did you think of The Unauthorized Saved By the Bell Story?
AIRED ON 10/7/1994
Season 4 : Episode 31