Saved by the Bell

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Saved By the Bell was a NBC sitcom about high-school (later college) students, fronted by Zack Morris as the Greek Chorus. Archetype of the TV High School. The show run from August, 1989 to May, 1993.

Originally the show was intended as a Hayley Mills vehicle Good Morning Miss Bliss (1988-1989), featuring the lovely Ms. Mills as a teacher in a Junior High School dealing with her quirky students, among them Zack Morris. Though an NBC pilot, the network rejected it and the Disney Channel picked it up instead. It was not a success, but the series found its way back to NBC and was given a drastic Retool. Miss Bliss and several other characters were dropped (only Zack, Screech, Lisa and Mr. Belding made the transition), while focus was shifted to the students rather than teachers. The name of the school also changed from John F. Kennedy Junior High to Bayside High, but this is possibly less of a mystery than the school's unexplained move from Indiana to California.

The new show (now called Saved By the Bell) was led by Zack Morris and it is this version that is the one most viewers will be familiar with.

Powered by the Law of Disproportionate Response: characters won't even bat an eyelash at the big absurdities of their lives (such as the fact that Screech is imprisoned in a locker at least once per episode), but will explode over something trivial. With Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) as The Hero, most episodes surrounded his attempts at holding on to his on-again off-again girlfriend Kelly (Tiffani Theissen). His friend and Rival A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) would also fight with Zack over Kelly, but would later hook up with the independent Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley). Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond) was their resident Smart Guy and resident Extroverted Nerd. He was a genius at invention, but not at common sense. And Lisa (Lark Voorhies) rounded out the cast as a Token Minority (even though Slater is Hispanic) and also as the resident Alpha Bitch, although she was far from being a Rich Bitch to them.

Dennis Haskins, as the Principal Richard Belding, ended up playing the role longer than anyone else.

The show is one of the most charming sitcoms, with a high level of rewatchability, although it certainly had its moments of Narm (although one could argue that this is part of its charm). One of the most memorable scenes of the series involved Elizabeth Berkley having a total mental breakdown as a result of a caffeine pill addiction. It is has become infamous with fans and belongs in the discussion of all-time great television Narm moments.

The series ran for longer than most human beings can comfortably comprehend under four titles:

  • Good Morning, Miss Bliss (a.k.a. Saved by the Bell: The Junior High Years) (13 episodes, 1988–89)
  • Saved By The Bell (87 episodes, 1989–93)
  • Saved By The Bell: The College Years (19 episodes, 1993–94)
  • Saved By The Bell: The New Class (143 episodes, 1993-2000)

After graduating from Bayside, Zack, Slater, Screech and Kelly ended up at California University for the more adult-oriented sitcom Saved By The Bell: The College Years. Unfortunately it failed to attract an audience and ended after one season, though it did lead to a television movie that finally saw High School Sweethearts Zack and Kelly get married. (Aw!)

Launched at the same time as The College Years, The New Class might be classified as more of a Spin-Off than a continuation; with one exception the entire old main cast had left and were replaced with new students. In fact The New Class featured an alarmingly high cast turnover during its run - Mr Belding and (later) Screech were the only constants. Amazingly, despite its lack of memorable characters (at least compared to the original cast) it was the longest-lasting incarnation of the series (mainly because it was the anchor of an entire Saturday morning block of SBTB clones).

Tropes used in Saved by the Bell include:
  • An Aesop
  • Aesop Amnesia: Any aesop the gang learns in one episode is forgotten and/or never referenced again in the ones after.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Screech.
    • Also, by all accounts, the source of a lot of Dustin Diamond's disdain for the rest of the cast.
  • Alpha Bitch: Averted/subverted. Despite displaying typical Alpha Bitch-qualities such as cheerleader (Kelly), overacheiver (Jesse), and fashion queen (Lisa), all three main character girls are genuinely nice people and worthy of their popularity.
  • Ascended Extra: Mr. Tuttle. He never became a series regular, but he appeared sporadically throughout the series (certainly more often than any other teacher at Bayside), becoming a fan favorite guest star. Seemed to teach a wide variety of classes and coach a wide variety of clubs.
    • It's a Two-Teacher School with an incompetent principal. Someone's gotta pick up the slack.
      • Mr. Belding isn't incompetent, if anything he's just overworked. It's even acknowledged in the series itself that he's one of the few people who can actually give Zack a run for his money.
  • Beach Episode: A whole string of them, informally known as "The Beach Episodes". Though they don't really fit the traditional definition, a swimsuit-clad Kelly (and Slater) in all six of these episodes ain't too shabby.
  • The "B" Grade: Happens to Jessie several times. She fainted after receiving a B on a test (which most of the class, with the exception of Screech, bombed) and had fits over scoring lower on the SAT than Zack and losing valedictorian to Screech.
  • Black and Nerdy: Ollie Creekly.
  • Born in an Elevator: Zack Belding. Guess who attended the birth?
  • Bottle Episode: A few, but since production values as a whole were not large, they aren't terribly noticeable.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Zack put a hypnotic suggestion into Kelly's music tape to drop Slater and go with him to a High School Dance, with Screech making one for Lisa. Initially it worked, but then Kelly loaned her tape to various friends and suddenly all three girls wanted to take him. They got revenge.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "My hobbies include dating, guys, and dating guys!"
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Zack would often address the viewers.
  • Breakout Character: Good Morning, Miss Bliss was completely retooled to focus on Zack. If that doesn't give Fonzie a run for his money, nothing else does.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Zack.
  • Building of Adventure
  • California University: Trope Namer: Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie (for a little while), and Screech all attend this university after graduation.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
  • The Cast Showoff: Some episodes let Mario Lopez show off drumming and wrestling skills. Not to mention his dancing skills. And his bod.
  • The Cheerleader: Both lampshaded and subverted. Jessie is reluctant to join the squad because she thinks cheerleading is not for smart girls. Lisa and Kelly are not pleased.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: All the characters from the original Good Morning, Miss Bliss series, with the exception of Zack, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. Belding. Within the main show itself, all characters not a main character or Mr. Tuttle, including but not limited to Jessie's step brother, Kelly's younger sister, and Slater's sister. They're assumed to have been lost in the Saved by the Bell Bermuda triangle.
    • Kelly and Jessie were both Brother Chucked and replaced with Tori (see The Scrappy, below) in the fourth season. Tori herself disappeared in time for Jessie and Kelly to return for graduation.
    • The New Class had several characters outright disappear. Scott (the original lead) may be the most notable example.
  • Comedy Series
  • Compliment Backfire: Screech has made two such mistakes. The first time involves his attempt to compliment Violet's mother by comparing her with a celebrity. His celebrity of choice? Arnold Schwarzenegger. His other such mistake is shown in this exchange when he introduces Mr. Belding to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in an episode of The New Class series:

Screech: This is Mr. Belding, the man who made me what I am today!
Kareem: (turning to Mr. Belding) Mr. Belding, we need to talk.

  • Compressed Vice: Jessie's caffeine pill addiction. And any tobacco or drug addiction any student from "The New Class" series gets would likely end up as this.
  • Continuity Snarl: The Tori episodes in the fourth season. Not that the show as a whole is exactly known for its continuity.
    • The Good Morning, Miss Bliss thirteen episode season were originally just Canon Discontinuity after the Retool. Only four characters made the transition and all sorts of details changed (aside from the location, Jessie was often referred to Zack's oldest friend despite the fact that she didn't exist in the Miss Bliss episodes). However, with the popularity of the series exploding, Miss Bliss episodes started airing to help pad the rerun count and retroactively were dubbed The Junior High Years (in syndication, they tend to run before "King of the Hill" - the pilot episode). The snarl comes in as with these reruns, new intros with Zack reminiscing about junior high were filmed. Needless to say, less knowledgeable viewers wondered what happened to Jessie and Kelly (among other things), while those coming in cold wonder how things take a drastic turn after these thirteen episodes.
    • Also in the Good Morning, Miss Bliss episodes, Zack's father was divorced, and Zack had a sister who was mentioned but not seen. After the Retool, Zack's parents were together, his father's original actor had been replaced by The Other Darrin, and he was now an only child.
  • Cool Teacher: Miss Bliss.
  • Creator Cameo: The end of "No Hope With Dope" features NBC President Brandon Tartikoff As Himself. Tartikoff broached the initial Good Morning, Miss Bliss premise and supported the series.
  • Delivery Guy: Zack.
  • The Documentary: The dream episode where the Zack Attack becomes rock stars was structured this way.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Screech, to Lisa. Borders on Stalker with a Crush.
    • Also seen in the first season of The New Class as regards Screech expys Weasel's (mostly) unrequited crush on Lisa expys Megan.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Melissa, the girl in the wheelchair during one of the Tori episodes, really hates being treated differently. Zack really doesn't seem to get this, and keeps embarrassing her by saying things like "Could you slouch down? My date's in a wheelchair and she can't see the screen," and "Melissa you were amazing in that game! See, even though she's in a wheelchair she did great!" and other cringe-worthy comments. One honestly can't blame her when she dumps Zack.
  • Dream Sequence: Plenty of 'em.
    • Many of which involve the characters all having the same daydream / dream...
  • Easily Forgiven: Zack, dear God, Zack.
  • Edutainment Show: Really only in technicality, but it has life lessons, so it counts, so some television stations will plug it in a time-slot with an E/I logo in the corner and get credit for it.
  • The Eighties: Started in 1988 as Good Morning, Miss Bliss and after The Retool came back as Saved by the Bell in 1989. Most of it takes place in The Nineties though. Stylistically there are still lots of 80's influences though.
    • Actually that makes sense, as much of the pop cultural trends of The Eighties bled over into The Nineties until roughly 1992 or '93.
  • Eighties Hair: Oh Lord yes. Lisa, Jessie, and Tori poofed up their hair as much as humanly possible, but Kelly only poofed it up in the front, to the point that in retrospect it looks like she has a mullet. And don't get us started on Slater's Jheri curls and Zack's bleaching and feathering.
    • Zack's fantasy self with a... faux punk look will never be surpassed.
      • "...I look like 'Mr. Madonna'! "
  • Embarrassing First Name / Embarrassing Middle Name: Slater's full name was Albert Clifford Slater (hence why he prefers "A.C."). Jessie's middle name was Myrtle. Which was, apparently, also the name of Zack's turtle.
  • Enter Stage Window: Zack and Jessie.
  • Estranged Soap Family: The parents rarely show up, but when the gang graduates, goes to college, gets married, etc., they're never around.
    • Well, Zack's and Kelly's parents DID show up for the Wedding in Las Vegas (and with the original actors too!).
  • Estrogen Brigade Bait: Slater likes wearing gym short-shorts, and incredibly loose muscle shirts.
  • Extroverted Nerd: Screech.
  • Fake Band: Zack Attack.
  • "Falling in Love" Montage
  • Fat Idiot: Mr Tuttle. Although he was a knowledgeable, enthusiastic science teacher, he was shown to be very gullible and easily manipulated by Zack.
  • Feigning Intelligence: Lisa's (in)famous quote: "What is art? Are we art? Is art art?"
  • Flanderization: Both Jessie and Slater ended up, by the end of the series, defined mainly by way of Jessie being an ultra-feminist and Slater a proud male chauvinist. Also by that time Screech's "zaniness" had been flanderized into "blatant stupidity," which is about the time viewers just got sick of him.
  • Flash Forward
  • Forced Prize Fight
  • Freudian Excuse: Several episodes imply that Zack's ultra-manipulative personality is the result of his parents being divorced. His father basically ignores him because of work while his mother makes excuses for Zack's delinquent behavior and generally does nothing to punish her son for his actions.
    • That was only when the show was Good Morning Miss Bliss. In Saved by the Bell proper, and The College Years, Zack's parents were still married.
      • One of the earlier episodes of the proper series suggests that Zack is such a poor student because his father is busy working all the time and never around to keep him focused.
  • Future Loser: Slater feared this for one episode, where he imagined his life as an out-of-shape WWF (now WWE) wrestler who was losing one match after another.
  • G-Rated Drug: Jesse's caffeine pills.
  • The Game Never Stopped: Trope Namer, in the murder mystery episode.
  • Gender Flip: Plots from the original series were recycled in The New Class with the gender roles reversed.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: Screech had several one-episode love interests, often played by extremely beautiful actresses (Hillary Danner, Emma Caulfield, Christina Moore, Marnette Patterson). In the "country club" story arc, he had a recurring girlfriend named Alison, played by the lovely Clare Salstrom. Even his "nerdy" girlfriend, Violet, was played by Tori Spelling, although she wore thick glasses and a dorky hairstyle and clothes for the role.
  • Grand Finale: The Wedding in Las Vegas.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The show takes place right at the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet empire was falling apart (there are early references in the show to Mikhail Gorbachev, and at one point Zack describes his skin-clearing cream as "Acne Glasnost"). It actually becomes a plot-point in the 1990 episode "The Prom", where Kelly's dad loses his job at the local defense contractor due to Cold War tensions coming to an end and the Real Life federal budget cuts in defense. In Mr. Kapowski's words, "World peace broke out." Serves as an example where Real Life Writes the Plot.
  • Greek Chorus
  • High School
  • High School Dance: Basically every other episode features one. It seems like the kids of Bayside High believe that a school dance is the solution to every problem.
  • High School Hustler: Zack Morris. He's also the rare example that crosses it with Big Man on Campus.
  • High School Rocks: This is an overall theme of the series. Reinforced in the "school song" episode during senior year, where Zack pens a song all about how Bayside rocks.
  • High School Sweethearts: Zack and Kelly. Their eventual marriage even got lampshaded in one episode.
  • Hollywood Tone Deaf: Kelly in the Beauty Pageant and glee club episodes, though that little factoid is thrown out in the Jessie's Song and Zack Attack episodes. Though in the case of the Zack Attack episode, it was All Just a Dream.
  • Idea Bulb
  • Informed Attractiveness: Kelly was portrayed as the hands down hottest chick at Bayside, yet most would agree she's not any more attractive than Jessie, Lisa, or any other one-off "hot" girl.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Melissa, the girl in the wheelchair. Much to her chagrin.
  • In with the In Crowd
  • Ironic Inversion
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Well, California University For Everyone, anyway. Zack got into Yale, but ends up going to Cal U instead.
  • Karma Houdini: Zack gets away with a lot of sociopathic behavior.
  • Large Ham: Mr. Belding, though he's no Brian Blessed.
    • During the Hawaii movie when Mr. Belding briefly impersonates a professor, his performance can only be described as this. Lampshaded by Kelly when Belding starts bellowing a loud proclamation in native Hawaiian while banging a spear into the ground and the camera zooms in on the look of silent incredulity on Kelly's face. And lampshaded again by Zack when Belding afterward asks "How was I?" and Zack replies that he was "A little hammy here and there."
  • Law of Disproportionate Response
  • Life Embellished: Zack would sometimes use an inexplicable "Time Out" ability - basically, he could freeze time to escape from whatever sticky situation he'd gotten into, and break the fourth wall.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The New Class. In seven seasons a total of nineteen different main characters appeared in the opening credits (though not all at the same time obviously).
  • The Masochism Tango: Slater and Jessie. There's Belligerent Sexual Tension, and then there's dysfunctional couple. The two were the latter.
  • The Movie: Two TV movies - One for going to Hawaii and another with Zack and Kelly getting married in Vegas.
  • The Nineties: Considered one of the trademark shows of both the late 80's and early 90's.
  • No Fourth Wall: Zack's time-out.
    • Zack would also address the audience, usually at the beginning of an episode to provide exposition.
    • During the first season of The New Class, the Zack expy Scott Erickson did the same thing in every episode.
  • Noodle Incident: "Screech, I have a great idea!" "Gee, I dunno, Zack. The last time you had a great idea, I ended up (in an extremely improbable situation)". Examples include "naked in a jar of jellybeans" and "with my tongue stuck to a moving airplane". Scenarios that are never shown, nor discussed again.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: We discover during senior year that Zack has been playing this trope from the beginning (although it had been hinted at throughout the series) when it comes to academics. Despite his self-constructed image as a slacker, he scores extremely high on the SAT and gets into Yale. The representative from one college, the fictional Stansbury University, actually kept showering Zack with attention and courted him to attend their school, much to Jessie's frustration, as the lady kept ignoring her.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mr. Belding often played this role during the Miss Bliss episodes.
  • One Born Every Minute: And Zack is certainly quick to take advantage.
  • Parent Ex Machina
  • Platonic Life Partners: Zack and Jessie, who have been friends since preschool and describe their relationship as being more Like Brother and Sister than anything.
    • Somewhat disturbing given that they make out in one episode, just to see "How much we wouldn't like kissing each other!". And are promptly caught by Slater and Kelly.
  • Plot Hole:
    • The "Tori Paradox". The unexplained disappearance of Jessie and Kelly and the introduction of the new character of Tori Scott, and then her disappearance and Jessie and Kelly's reappearance in time for the graduation episode that is never given any explanation in the course of the show.
    • There never is any real explanation for what happened to all the characters who disappeared in the show's transformation from Miss Bliss to Saved By the Bell.
  • Pretty in Mink: Kelly in a fantasy scene.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Mr. Belding.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Kelly and Jessie who allegedly grew up with Zack, Screech and Lisa.
  • Revolving Door Casting By the time The New Class ended, Belding was the only one to be there from day one. Granted, high school is four years, but many of the characters that left were never stated to be seniors, so they were either Put on a Bus or BrotherChucked.
  • Risky Business Dance: When Zack, Slater and Skreetch have a sleepover (except they're dancing to "Barbara Ann" instead of "Old Time Rock 'n Roll").
  • Screaming Birth: Mrs. Belding gives birth trapped in an elevator with Zack and Tori.
  • Seers: Screech for an episode.
  • Ship Tease: Both the Zack/Jessie and Zack/Lisa pairings each got one episode devoted to teasing the pairing. The former promptly sank it because they realized they had no romantic chemistry. (Though some fans seem to disagree) The latter went all the way and, ironically enough, was never mentioned again despite being the Fan-Preferred Couple.
      • Re: Zack and Lisa, they also teased us with the Zack-in-hospital episode, the Murder Mystery episode, a several other subtle moments.
        • Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Lark Voorhies actually were dating for much of the series, so that certainly explains the undeniable chemistry between Zack and Lisa.
        • As for Zack/Jessie, there were definitely a few episodes in Season 1 that seemed to subtly Ship Tease them, such as the one where Jessie trains Zack to dance so that he can take Kelly to a dance, but Zack ends up asking Jessie herself to be his dance partner (many fans like to think of this as an example of Jessie becoming a Sexy Mentor to Zack), and even in their senior year, the moment after Jessie realizes that Zack has orchestrated a hair-brained scheme to get her into Stansbury University, she and Zack share a sweet moment outside Belding's office.
  • Shirtless Scene: Mario Lopez has several in both Saved by the Bell and Saved by the Bell: the College Years. In the College Years, on the episode Professor Zack, the girls convince Slater to pose for a shirtless calendar - which he does on-screen. In the original series, he competes in the Miss Bayside contest - going shirtless for the swimsuit portion and flexing.
  • Six-Student Clique: Trope Codifier.
  • Slap Slap Kiss: Jessie and Slater.
  • Stand-In Parents: Zack got a waiter/aspiring actor from the local hangout to pretend to be his father for a parent-principal conference with Mr. Belding. Since that guy was an out-of-work actor he decided to ham it up. But that was for a different reason - he didn't want his real father to find out about his scholastic misdeeds.
  • Studio Audience: And a very excitable one, at that.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: On at least two occasions (both while he was in drag), someone makes a flirtatious comment about Zack's legs.
    • And, even though it wasn't in drag, there's been a few comments on how soft and girly his hands are.
      • Some coming from Slater. Make of it what you will, Zack/Slater-shippers.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The New Class, most blatantly in its first season. Scott for Zack (even breaking the Fourth Wall in the same way), Weasel for Screech, Tommy D for Slater, Lindsay for Kelly, and Megan for Lisa and Jessie (due to her being Weasel's unrequited crush, as well as the smart one in the group). Also Tori for both Kelly and Jessie in the original show.
  • Take That: There's one Take That at Vice President Dan Quayle (like in most of the TV shows from this period) where during Zack's fantasy about becoming an industrialist, Quayle buys one of Zack's Buddy Band bracelets and tries to wear it as a headband, breaking it in the process. According to fantasy!Jessie and fantasy!Zack, this is apparently not the first time this has occurred.
    • In "The Prom", Screech, Lisa, and the rest of the gang are watching a zombie movie and Lisa asks if Matt Dillon is in the movie, to which Screech responds "No, Alan Thicke is the zombie. Everybody knows that!" as a not-so-subtle way of insulting Thicke's acting skills.
  • Thing-O-Meter: There's a Love-o-Meter at the Max. Kelly and Screech also invent one for a science project that leads to hilarity.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: During the Miss Bliss episodes, Nicki played the Tomboy to Lisa's Girly Girl.
  • Totally Radical: Some of the surfer dudes definitely came across this way. That being said, it may actually be Truth in Television for some...
    • And the show does take place on the California coast, where the whole surfer dude culture never really went away.
  • TV Teen
  • The Unseen: A really bizarre and glaring example. In some episodes, Mr. Belding is informed of an incoming visitor to his office by a secretary over the PA system. The door from the hallway leads directly into Mr. Belding's office, with no secretary room in between, so unless the guests to Mr. Belding's office first enter a pocket dimension where a secretary works before re-emerging in Belding's office, this seems impossible.
  • Unspoken Plan
  • Vacation Episode: The Grand Finale, in Las Vegas.
    • An earlier episode has Kelly's grandpa inviting everyone to his hotel in Hawaii for summer vacation.
    • The whole Malibu Sands arc.
    • And Jessie inviting her friends to her dad's hotel to meet her new step-mom.
  • Very Special Episode: Most blatantly "Jessie's Song" and "No Hope With Dope".
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Jessie and Kelly's location during the Tori episodes is never stated due to contractual issues regarding the number of episodes they were signed up to do.
    • More like they were not actually mentioned at all.
  • What Is Going On?: Mr. Belding's Catch Phrase: "Hey, hey, hey! What is going on here?!!"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Zack often gets called out by his friends for his schemes and manipulations yet they continue forgiving him and go along with them over and over again.
  • Wrong Name Outburst: It's what eventually kills Zack and Kelly's relationship. For a while, anyway.
  • You Look Familiar: Minor characters Scud and Ox were played by the same actor.
  • Zany Scheme: This show managed to raise zany schemes to an art form.
    • In a few episodes after Zack's scheme fails, he begins to formulate a new one and the other characters tell him off.