On November 25th, a new version of “Saved by the Bell” debuts on the NBC streaming service Peacock. In this new version, California Governor Zack Morris poorly plans the state budget and is forced to close many low-income high schools. The state begins relocating those students to the highest-performing schools in the state, including Bayside High. Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkley, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Lark Voorhies have signed on to reprise their previous roles. To coincide with the new streaming version’s release, a new podcast titled “Zack to the Future,” with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, debuted. With the new show’s impending debut, one can feel an overall renewed sense of enthusiasm for the original.
The original “Saved by The Bell” itself was a retooled version of a Disney Channel show “Good Morning, Miss Bliss.” The initial run of “Saved by the Bell” was from August of 1989 to May of 1993, where we followed a cast of teenagers living in Pacific Palisades, California, who attended Bayside High School. The show was a lighthearted look at their life, relationships, teenage angst and occasionally touch on serious social issues as the sitcoms of its time were known to do. Drug use, drunk driving, homelessness, divorce and remarriage, death, women’s rights, and more were often lightly touched upon to teach the viewing audience right from wrong.
When the show went off the air in 1993, it created two spin-offs: “The College Years” (93-94) and “The New Class.” (93-00) During the tenure of the original show, they created a ‘Made for TV’ movie “Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style” in 1992, and another in 1994 to cap off “The College Years” with the television movie “Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas.”
Like most kids of the 80s and 90s, I was a huge “Saved by the Bell” fan. I can also clearly say that like most red-blooded American males that age, my first crush was Kelly Kapowski. “Saved by the Bell” was always on channels like TBS in the mornings and after school, but as I’ve come to find out, many people are surprised to learn it was a Saturday morning kid’s show on NBC.
I was always an early riser and found myself getting up earlier than needed to catch an episode or two of the show before school. I’d sing along to the catchy theme song as I ate my cereal or pop tart and follow the drama of Zack and the gang before I gave myself a look and got to the corner just in time to see the bus… pull up. I never missed the bus because I was a good little boy, and there’d be hell to pay for making Mom drive me to school when she was supposed to be going to work.
One morning, while getting ready for school, I noticed a new girl at Bayside that I’d never seen before. She was pretty cute but tough-looking, wearing a leather jacket and carrying a motorcycle helmet. Her name was Tori Scott, and she immediately rubbed the Bayside gang the wrong way. She eventually became part of the group, but then I noticed… where are Jessie and Kelly? I definitely had some questions.
Who is Tori, and why did she show up now, a few weeks before graduation? Why is Zack going on dates with Tori if he and Kelly started to rekindle their romance a few episodes before? Where the heck did Tori go during graduation? She didn’t attend the ceremony, and nobody ever mentioned her again. Nor did anyone mention that Kelly and Jessie disappeared for a few episodes, which was half of the school year?
So where did Kelly and Jessie go?
The truth is actually quite simple. As we’ve learned from the “Zack to the Future” podcast, the producers of “Saved by the Bell” weren’t very concerned about continuity and would often air episodes out of production order. Which, as Mark-Paul Gosselaar is very worried about on the podcast, shows why his hair is either longer, shorter, darker, or blonder than the previous episode.
In recent years, producers have said that the network wasn’t that concerned about the continuity of plot points on a Saturday morning show aimed at kids. Gosselaar also mentions that nobody on the show could have predicted “Saved by the Bell” would become a cherished classic, leading to even less concern about continuity.
As also mentioned on “Zack to the Future,” the sitcom’s future was ALWAYS in doubt with NBC. They filmed a 13 episode final season, including the series finale (S4E26 “Graduation”), where the Bayside gang graduates. However, before all of the episodes aired, the network ordered 11 more.
The problem? Tiffani Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley had already found new jobs. Tiffani had landed a role on “Beverly Hills: 90210” while Elizabeth was off to the silver screen to film “Show Girls.” The rest of the cast signed new contracts for the 11 episodes, but that left the only female cast member as Lark Voorhies as Lisa Turtle. Producers needed another female, quickly. After a brief round of auditions, they chose Leanna Creel to play Tori Scott, the new girl at Bayside.
Born in 1970, Creel is an identical triplet who, along with sisters Monica and Joy, tried their hand at acting at a young age. The trio appeared together in two movies on The Wonderful World of Disney titled “The Parent Trap III” and “Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon.” Joy would eventually marry comic book writer Rob Leifeld in 1995 and not act again until 2017. She appeared with her two sisters in a single episode of “Ned and Stacey.” Monica would work in several guest roles through the years but is most likely best known as Kramer’s girlfriend in the “Yada Yada” episode of “Seinfeld.” I’d argue that while they all have had successful careers, Leanna is hands down the most famous of the three thanks to her role on the iconic “Saved by the Bell.”
Producers jokingly claim that Tori Scott was named after Tori Spelling, the daughter of Hollywood icon Aaron Spelling. Spelling had “stolen away” Tiffani Amber Theisen for his show “Beverly Hills: 90210” for that final season, and the producers threw a friendly jab his way. Tori Spelling once made an appearance on the show in the Season Two episode “Glee Club” as Violet, Screech’s girlfriend.
Leanna Creel first appeared as Tori in episode Four of Season Four, titled “New Girl.” The leather jacket-clad self-described “tough girl” immediately sets off a love-hate relationship with Zack. Early in her tenure on the series, she befriends Lisa and quickly becomes one of the gang. After going on dates with both Zack and Slater (and even Screech!), she entered a serious relationship with Zack for a grand total of two episodes. Then, she just disappeared.
Tori didn’t attend graduation and was never seen or mentioned again. Her final appearance was in S4E24 “School Song.” The cast has reunited several times after the show concluded, both on “The College Years” and “Las Vegas Wedding,” but Tori was nowhere to be found. The network would alternate the “Tori episodes” with the original ones hoping that the disappearing act of two of the show’s biggest stars was less noticeable to the casual viewer.
It may be that simple, but there’s a lot of fan fiction out there about what truly happened to Kelly and Jessie that can often be more exciting.
Some fans believe it was an alternate universe, similar to how some comic book movies aren’t considered to be in the same “universe” as the newer ones. Others think Jesse and Kelly got jealous of Zack and Slater’s rivalry over Tori at the Masquerade Ball and gave them the “silent treatment,” thereby explaining their disappearance. Others fantasize that Tori was just a combination of Kelly and Jessie after Zack found himself attracted to both girls and “visualized them” as one new individual. Crazy, right?
For a little fun, I’ll try my hand at fan fiction. I honestly always thought “Saved by the Bell” was told through the eyes of Zack Morris. So perhaps when he forced himself to get over his breakup with Kelly, towards the end of Season Three during the Palm Springs weekend, he wrote her out of his “story.” Jessie disappeared with her because the two were best friends, and I suppose Zack and Jessie had that little romance during “Snow White and the Seven Dorks.” The two were always there, but Zack didn’t “see them,” so neither did we. That would be when Tori appeared and, after developing romantic interests, we all “saw’ Tori for the first time. After things didn’t work out between them, and Zack and Kelly got back together at the Prom, he wrote Tori “out” of his story and Kelly “reappeared.”
In the years following the original run and after “The College Years,” syndication has given “Saved by the Bell” cult following status. The series has recently been classified as educational and informational and currently airs as such on ME-TV and other networks because of its plot themes designed to teach the younger audience a life lesson.
You can catch the new series on streaming service Peacock starting November 25th.