On July 11, 1987, a prime-time special entitled Good Morning, Miss Bliss aired on NBC. Soon after, it became a series on the Disney Channel, starring The Parent Trap‘s Hayley Mills as the teacher, Miss Bliss. Among her students were a young Zack, Screech, and Lisa. Their principal was Mr. Belding, who could switch from best pal to stern disciplinarian at a moment’s notice.
The show moved to NBC in 1989, soon to become the network’s first live-action hit since Land of the Lost in 1977. Playing with the big boys now, the show got rid of its title character as well as its title. Now known as Saved by the Bell, the new show featured Zack (the “preppie” stud), Screech (the nerd) and Lisa (aspiring dress designer), as well as their new friends Slater (the handsome jock), Kelly (the boys’ object of desire) and Jessie (the intelligent girl).
When the kids weren’t attending Bayside High in Palisades, California, they were chewing the fat at their local hamburger hangout. Everything from major life decisions to pep rallies took place there, but most plots revolved around some girl-getting scheme by Zack. In the tradition of Jack Benny, Duane Hickman, and Gary Shandling, Zack often addressed the camera directly, confiding in the kids at home how things were really going.
In 1992, the kids went prime-time with the special Saved by the Bell-Hawaiian Style. Later that season, Zack and the gang once again came out at night in the special Saved by the Bell Goes to College. That special segued into a nightly series, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, which, unfortunately, couldn’t be saved by anything.
During this time, the Saturday show was revamped as Saved by the Bell: The New Class. This cast was less successful than the original, so most of the characters, save Tommy, the greaser, and the cute Rachel, were soon dropped. In their place, rival Valley High students Ryan, Maria, and R.J. were transferred to the world’s coolest place to matriculate. But the real belle of the ball was Screech, returning to the show as Mr. Belding’s assistant. With a few more cast changes, Saved By the Bell: The New Class kept its Saturday school open through January 2000, becoming one of the biggest success stories in Saturday morning history.
The girls of the original cast each graduated to women on their next projects. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen went from nice to naughty as Val, on that other legendary teen show, Beverly Hills 90210. Elizabeth Berkley became forever linked to Showgirls after she starred in that silver screen disaster. Lark Voorhies went on to more adult shows such as Days of Our Lives and The Bold and the Beautiful.
Saved by the Bell is notable for its huge and loyal fan base, which followed the show through its multiple seasons and incarnations. The inevitable imitators followed, but none has ever equaled the charm or success of the original show, still beloved by many a former kid who made it a regular part of their Saturday morning viewing schedule. Are you one of them? Share your memories of Saved by the Bell with all of us at Retroland in our comments section.