Looking to keep the Saved by the Bell gravy train rolling, NBC commissioned the production of not one, but two spin-offs of the popular teen comedy. Half of the original cast would be followed into higher education in Saved by the Bell: The College Years during the week while a new class of Bayside High students would return to Saturday morning in Saved by the Bell: The New Class.
Developed by Bennett Tramer, the show debuted the same week as The College Years, offering viewers a double dose of Bell each week for the 1993-94 season. The New Class aired as part of the TNBC programming block, which featured teen-oriented shows developed as a result of the success of the original Bell. Helping with the transition and serving as an introduction to the new show was a special re-airing of the television movie Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style, which featured bumper segments where the original cast met the new students for a symbolic passing of the torch. Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) and Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhees) would also go on to make appearances in the show together, with Slater getting an additional one alone. Remaining with the show from the original was the lovable goofball principal Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins).
|Zack returns to try and save Bayside from demolition.|
Saved by the Bell: The New Class debuted on Septmeber 11, 1993, with two episodes airing every weekend. It was written by Carl Kurlander, Tony Soltis, Rob Hammersley, Leslie Eberhard, Todd J. Greenwald, Renee Palyo, Perry Dance, Robert Jayson, Tim Meinhart, Jordana Arkin, Paul Dell, Steven Weiss, Lori Marshall, Trish Baker, Alan Eisenstock, Mark Fink, Larry Mintz, Elise Allen, Robert Tarlow, Pamela Pettler and Scott Yaffe. Only Jeffrey J. Sachs, Brett Dewey, Scott Spencer Gorden and Ronald B. Solomon returned from the previous series. Scott Gale and Rich Eames also returned to compose the music.
|Students hanging out in a different hallway, for a change.|
Despite lasting 3 seasons longer than its predecessor, New Class was largely panned by critics and audiences and featured steadily declining ratings during its run. One particular area of criticism was the fact that many episodes recycled plots from the previous series. After its first season, producers tried to shake the stigma of being a poor copy of the original by changing the look of Bayside’s halls and Belding’s office, and The Max, the restaurant where the characters from both shows hung out, was redesigned after a fire. However, the original theme and opening animation were retained for the duration of the show’s run.
|The season 1 cast: Haskins, Angel, Cigliuti, Lawson, Telfer, Lidsky and Russavage.|
The changes the show became most infamous for were to the cast. Contributing to the decreasing ratings was the constant removing and adding of characters without any explanation, keeping audiences from developing any kind of bond with them. In the first season, the students included schemer Scott Erickson (Robert Sutherland Telfer), a transfer student from rival Valley High who broke the fourth wall to speak to the audience much like Zack Morris did before; Tommy D (Jonathan Angel) was the quarterback on the football team and the steady boyfriend of Lindsay Warner (Natalia Cigliuti), the most popular girl in school who was involved with every school organization and also the object of Scott’s desires; Megan Jones (Bianca Lawson) was an over-achiever and not shy about that fact; uber-nerd Barton “Weasel” Wyzell (Isaac Lidsky) had an unrequited crush on Megan and was Scott’s best friend, who often got caught up in Scott’s schemes as a result; and Vicki Needleman (Bonnie Russavage) was Megan’s neurotic best friend and a cheerleader who developed a crush on Scott.
|The season 2 cast joined by Diamond, Lancaster, Oliver and Rodgers.|
The second season saw the first major cast shake-up as Scott, Weasel and Vicki were all written off the show as producers felt that they resembled the original characters of Zack, Screech and Jessie a bit too much. Replacing them was Brian Keller (Christian Oliver), a transfer student from Switzerland; Bobby Wilson (Spankee Rodgers), the cool kid; and Rachel Meyers (Sarah Lancaster), the school’s fashion expert and shopaholic. Rachel had previously appeared in a season 1 episode as a guest star. The second season also mirrored the third season of the original show, with the students taking a summer job at a country club. Also like the original show, the summer episodes were aired between the regular school episodes. However, the summer episodes seemed to have an inexplicably direct bearing on the school episodes as if they were taking place at the same time. It happened again later on when the class was simultaneously on a trip to France and still at Bayside.
|Don't worry, Richie--we feel your pain.|
The most notable change was the return of Dustin Diamond as Screech following the cancellation of The College Years, serving in a work/study program from the fictional California University as Belding’s assistant. Screech would remain until the end of the show, with little to no mention of his college life outside of Bayside. Although older, Screech was still the consummate dork and caused chaos and mishap in his endeavors. Against his better judgement, Belding often entered into various business partnerships with Screech including running a school store and selling low-fat yogurt at the mall. Diamond became the only original cast member to have a starring role in every incarnation of the franchise since its 1988 debut as Good Morning, Miss Bliss.
|Season 3 welcomed Grant, Jackson and Esteban.|
Before season 3 began, Lawson, Oliver and Rodgers left the show. Replacing their characters were Ryan Parker (Richard Lee Jackson), the new schemer; Maria Lopez (named after Mario Lopez, played by Samantha Esteban), a lively and outspoken cheerleader and eventual host of a talk show at Bayside; and fashion-forward R.J. “Hollywood” Collins (Salim Grant). All were transfers from Valley. By the end of the season, the last of the original cast, Cigliuti and Angel, decided to leave the show. Grant was also let go.
|Comparison of the season 3-7 cast as shown on the DVD covers.|
The fourth season brought in Nicky Farina (Ben Gould), Ryan’s stepbrother from New York; Katie Peterson (Lindsey McKeon), a goody-two-shoes; and Eric Little (Anthony Harrell), the star of the football team. Lancaster left at the end of the season and was replaced by Liz Miller (Ashley Lyn Cafagna), star of the school’s swim team who was romantically pursued by both Ryan and Nicky. With season 6, Parker was replaced by new Valley transfer student Tony Dillon (Tom Wade Huntington), a new love interest for Maria.
|The gang reminisce in the burnt-out remains of The Max.|
The show was intended to end after season 6, but NBC decided to prolong it by cutting the season in half and airing the remainder as a separate season. Season 7, as a result, was the only season not to have a single cast change. As the previous series had ended, the finale featured the class graduation from Bayside with everyone going their separate ways: Eric headed to the Chicago School of the Arts to pursue a singing career; Liz headed to Stanford to follow Olympic aspirations; Maria went to UCLA and Tony to SDSU, leading to their relationship ending; Katie was accepted to Columbia University, but due to financial difficulties decided to go to Cal State instead; Nicky was accepted to NYU, putting his future with Katie in question; Mr. Belding was even offered the job of Dean of Students at the University of Tennessee, which he accepted. Although the graduation episode was meant to end the show, “A Repair to Remember” was delayed in its broadcast and was actually the final episode of the series.
|Sing! Sing! For you may not be here next season!|
During the show’s run, several actors from the original series reprised their previous roles including Mark Blankfield as James the actor and former Max waiter; Pamela Kosh as the nearly-deaf Mrs. Simpson; Lew Horn as one of the kids’ old bosses, Mr. Moody; Loren Freeman as Mr. Lazaar; and Louan Gideon as Belding’s wife, Becky. In 1994, Scholastic released Saved by the Bell: Ring out the Old, Ring in the New Scrapbook which featured photos of the original and new cast. Pressman Toy Corp also produced a board game that, while based on this show, featured the characters of Zack and Kelly from the original. Throughout 2005, Image Entertainment (now RLJ Entertainment) released the entire series to DVD in six season sets, combining the last two seasons into one set.