Saved by the Bell was, for a brief moment during the 1990s, one of the biggest shows on television.
The success, by its creator’s own admission, was hard to prepare for because the demographic for the show “didn’t exist” at the time, he told Heather McDonald on a recent episode of the Juicy Scoop podcast.
“It was a Saturday morning show,” Peter Engel, creator of Saved by the Bell, reminded, adding that his network felt the show would fail because it didn’t appeal to the audience, which then skewed pre-adolescent.
“But when we started looking at the ratings, 12 to 17,” Engel said, referencing the “new demographic that our show created.”
The successes of Saved by the Bell, from that day forward, were hard to plan for.
Engel said it became apparent to him during a mall tour early in the run when the six key actors — Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mario Lopez, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Lark Voorhies, and Dustin Diamond — walked into a crowd of 10,000 kids.
“We didn’t even have anything to sell at that point,” Engel said.
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Interestingly enough, there was one big part of the show that didn’t even fit into this newfound demographic: Dustin Diamond.
Diamond, who played Samuel “Screech” Powers on the series, was only 11-years-old at the time, younger than any of his cast mates, and the only reason he had a job, Engel said, was because “I didn’t realize he was only 11 until after the fact.”
While these revelations may seem interesting to the passing Saved by the Bell viewer, it wasn’t until McDonald drilled down into the modern day life of Diamond that things got a little tense.
McDonald asked Engel point-blank whether he “felt responsible for what happened to Screech,” referencing the now-adult’s troubled history with both his old cast mates and law enforcement.
Over the years, Diamond has gone to jail for attacking someone with a knife. He has gone after audiences wanting him to do Screech onstage. He has fashioned a reputation as a “bad boy,” and he has even put his name on a since-disavowed tell-all book that had his cast mates sleeping with one another and doing drugs.
Diamond admitted publicly his ghostwriter made the whole thing up, and he simply shared a co-credit.
In short, Dustin is the only one of the original Saved by the Bell cast members who have followed the commonly-tread path of disarray that has claimed so many child stars.
That’s the reason Engel sharply retorted to McDonald’s question, “No, I don’t feel responsible for Screech.”
From there, he said he thinks Diamond is a man, “who is trying for something,” but often in that attempt, “we try things that don’t work.”
For the most part, Engel wanted his former Saved by the Bell actor to succeed, but he also acknowledged that Diamond’s career has missed the mark. That said, he found the television movie based on the book “entertaining,” if not factual.
Further in the episode, McDonald prodded Engel again, asking if he might have felt responsible when Diamond went to jail. At this point, the Saved by the Bell creator seemed to realize McDonald was just trying to get a rise out of him, so he laughed it off and said, “Will you stop trying to blame me for what happened to Screech?”
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Overall, McDonald and Engel left things on friendly and affable terms, but it was clear the author of the new autobiography I Was Saved by the Bell had faced similar questions in the past, and he was beyond sick of answering it.
That said, Engel did have some late-in-the-game advice that may have made a difference in Diamond’s failed career as a stand-up comedian.
“When they would ask him to do Screech, he should have given them a few minutes of it,” he said. Not doing so likely exacerbated the problem and made audiences reject everything else he was trying to do.
What do you think, readers?
Should the early success of Saved by the Bell — and its creators — receive blame for Diamond’s career path, or is that entirely the fault of the actor himself? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by Saved by the Bell/NBC]