In an episode of Saved by the Bell that strayed from the NBC series’ usual storyline and tone, Zack Morris dreams that he and his friends are members of a world famous band called Zack Attack. Jealousy, rumor-mongering and infighting ultimately tear the group apart at their peak before they ultimately reconcile. In the canon of SBTB, the episode breaks from the “Friends Forever” vibe of the Bayside High, but if the Lifetime movie The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story is to be believed, the “Zack Attack” episode is the realest encapsulation of what the actors’ lives were like when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Based on the memoir Behind the Bell by actor Dustin “Screech” Diamond, Unauthorized showcases the sleazy underbelly behind the cult Saturday morning show’s squeaky-clean image. “They’re teenagers in Hollywood, they’re gonna get in trouble, it’s like an unwritten law,” one NBC exec says in the movie, and he was partly right. As Diamond himself has admitted, much of the juicier content from his book was fabricated, but the movie still showcases the darker side of the beloved sitcom that most fans don’t know about. Here are the 11 times the tell-all biopic had us yelling “Time out!” — and not always in a good way.
Diamond’s Got It Rough
Screech serves as the film’s narrator, and it’s easy to empathize with Dustin Diamond, who portrayed the poster child for hopeless dweebs on TV. The first time his character falls in love, it’s with his best friend in drag. When the script finally calls for Screech to have a girlfriend – a rich honey at that, and the first girl he’s ever kissed – she inexplicably disappears from Bayside without explanation. In Unauthorized, we discover how the weight of playing the show’s resident doofus wore heavily on Diamond. It made him jealous of his better-looking co-stars, and it provoked him to write a tell-all book about them, which in turn was made into this TV movie. At one point in the film, the Dustin Diamond character gets confrontational with a fan: “I am not Screech,” he screams. Unfortunately for the real Diamond, he’s been sentenced to a lifetime of reliving that scene each and every day. No amount of sex tapes can change the public’s perception about him. He is the eternal Screech, but as we learn in the film’s final moments, it’s a role he’s learned to live with.
Revisionist History Class?
In one scene in Unauthorized, we see Screech dressed up as Abraham Lincoln. We’ve watched and rewatched the series countless times since the days of TBS repeating six episodes every morning, we own the DVDs (even The College Years!) — and at no point did that ever happen on the show. Was this a deleted scene? A lost episode? We all remember substitute teacher Mr. Lyman dressing up as Honest Abe during the “Good Morning Miss Bliss” season, but Screech? That never occurred. He did accidentally suit up as his Uncle Sam (not the Uncle Sam) for the Malibu Sands July 4th pageant, but that’s the extent of Screech’s historical cosplay. Fans — as in the key demographic for this show — were bound to notice this, which suggests that the filmmmakers were fine with teetering the line between “Unauthorized” and “Making Stuff Up.”
Bell Fever Was Bigger Than Beatlemania… in Cincinnati
Unauthorized opens up with a scene in Cincinnati that’s meant to show Saved by the Bell‘s burgeoning popularity. Sure, the ratings were good in key demos, and the show’s young stars were on the cover of the usual teen magazines, though it’s not like they were One Direction. But in Cincinnati? To paraphrase John Lennon, Saved by the Bell was bigger than Jesus. At a shopping mall appearance in the Ohio city, Mario Lopez was asked to autograph moms’ belly buttons. Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s clothes were ripped off by a pack of rabid fans. SBTB is no doubt a fan-favorite television show, but the filmmakers may be overstating the show’s impact and popularity in its own time.
Mark-Paul and Lark Were the Original Zack and Kelly
While the heart of Saved by the Bell was the on-again/off-again romance between Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski, it was actually Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Lark Voorhies, who played Lisa Turtle, that had a relationship behind the scenes. The fact that the two actors hooked up is a well known fact among Bell-heads, but Unauthorized gives us a detailed look into their innocent romance, and it adds some poignancy to that one-off subplot where Zack Morris and Lisa Turtle make out while preparing for Lisa’s fashion show. The almost-couple were eventually torn apart by Voorhies’ strict Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, network producers who saw the actors as co-workers and not horny teenagers, and Gosselaar’s flirty friendship with Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar Really Was the Zack Morris of the Group
Even as Dustin Diamond serves as the film’s narrator and outcast, he still portrays Gosselaar in a revered Zack Morris-ian light: Early in rehearsals, as the young actors all worried performing in front of a live audience and “being funnier,” it was Gosselaar who actually brought the group together and instilled a sense of confidence. “We just need to relax while we’re out there,” Gosselaar tells his co-stars. “For this show to work, we have to help each other. If we’re having fun, the audience will too.”
The Cast Manipulated Producers Like They Were Mr. Belding
Like Zack Morris and gang masterminding a prank war, the real SBTB actors also banded together to control the show’s producers and writers. When Elizabeth Berkley, who played Jessie Spano, decides she wants the lighthearted show to tackle more serious issues – “like drunk driving and drug abuse,” Berkley tells her co-stars – the actors push the powers that be to finally give in and let the maturing actors tackle some real teenager problems. This tonal shift led to one of Saved by the Bell‘s most famous moments: Jessie’s caffeine pill meltdown.
Art Imitating Life Imitating Art
While much of Unauthorized was stodgy and unremarkable, the filmmakers did employ some clever techniques when they had real-life incidents mimic certain scenes that happened on Saved by the Bell. For instance, there is the scene where, upon finding out Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski kiss in the script, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen decide to rehearse making out, which was nearly a line-for-line redo of the SBTB scene where Zack and Jessie Spano practice kissing for the Snow White hip-hop musical. There were meta moments like that sprinkled throughout Unauthorized — Dustin Diamond saying “Time out!” and the like – and, for fans of the show, they served as the real highlight of an otherwise lackluster movie.
Screech Got Crunk in South Carolina
In one of the more revelatory (and possibly bullshit) scenes in Unauthorized, we learn that the rebellious Dustin Diamond got so drunk at a fan event in Spartanburg, South Carolina that the local NBC affiliate there threatened to drop Saved by the Bell from their schedule. It was 1992 when the incident occurred and the Internet was still in its pre-AOL infancy – forget about TMZ cameras capturing it – so there’s no record of Diamond’s debauchery. Again, we’re forced to trust Screech’s recollection of these events that may or may not have happened.
A.C. Slater and Screech Hated Each Other in Real Life
Perhaps it’s because Mario Lopez interrupted the bromance that developed between Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Dustin Diamond during the “Good Morning Miss Bliss” season, but Diamond took an immediate dislike to the “muscle-bound meathead.” Over the course of Unauthorized — which paints Lopez as sort of a sex-crazed numbskull – Lopez and Diamond are constantly butting heads and getting into push-up contests. Given the mutual hatred in high school, it’s amazing that Screech and Slater shared a dorm room in their college years.
So Many Unanswered Questions…
One of the bigger surprises is that Unauthorized failed to answer so many of the questions that have lingered amongst Bell fans for years. Why wasn’t Jessie Spano in the episode when the gang sleeps in the shopping mall overnight so they can be first in line for U2 tickets? Why did Mr. Dewey teach practically every school subject? What about the spatial impossibility of Mr. Belding’s office having a window that overlooked the parking lot, even though the room was obviously sandwiched between a row of lockers and a hallway? Questions like these — or how Zack Morris scored an impossible 1502 on his SAT – may never be answered.
…So Few Examples of Truly Tabloid-Worthy Bad Behavior
Finally, for all the scandalous moments Unauthorized promised, it amounted to nothing more than what goes down on a low-key night at Justin Bieber’s mansion. What was advertised as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was instead little more than a feature-length Degrassi High episode. There wasn’t even any drug use, proving that the Saved by the Bell actors adhered to their mantra: There’s no hope with dope.