Saved By The Bell Creator Peter Engel: More Interesting Character Than Any Bayside Tiger

A review of Peter Engel’s life story-turned-memoir. From an advanced review copy.

80 years old on the release of his book, TV producer Peter Engel has embraced having brought the world Saved by the Bell as his legacy. I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True is more about the creator than his creations. Engel had spent his professional career trying to produce the hit TV show.

Yes, something, something, Jessie was originally on speed something, but who could forget Sirota’s Court? How awesome would a talk show hosted by either Bette Davis, John Lennon, or Orson Welles be? Engel pleasantly recalls his failures to be the next Lorne Michaels (SNL) or Normal Lear (All in the Family).

I’ll go into further discussion of Engel’s book and not just fan-gushing over Saved by the Bell. If you want to hear Peter Engel confirm that Jessie was intended not to take caffeine pills, check out my interview with at the 6:57 timestamp.

Before readers get into the Bell years, Engel had finagled his way into being an NBC page, worked with popular 1950s entertainer/variety show host Perry Como, campaigned for John F. Kennedy with little resources, rode with a reckless Army pilot, found and accepted Christ, and befriended carmaker John Delorean. As someone into TV and showbiz history, I find all this stuff fascinating.

But Bell fans looking for intimate backstage gossip will be sorely disappointed. Peter Engel himself told me not only that Jessie was to take Speed, not caffeine pills in the memorable episode, “Jessie’s Song,” the rest of the script was left unchanged. No one can resist any tidbit about Jessie’s addiction. It’s a memorable episode, but my living in a drug-infested environment and knowing that that girl on my TV screen will be fine in the next episode meant “Jessie’s Song” didn’t resonate anything profound for me.

I Was Saved isn’t the sequel to Dustin Diamond’s dirt-dishing Behind the Bell. In fact, Engel’s portrayal of Diamond is that of a silly goof; he spoke fondly of Diamond during my interview with him. From what I’ve learned from interviews and news from the cast and crew, many of whom are still active in Hollywood, I find it hard to believe anyone else on Bell desires to top Behind the Bell in delivering juicy gossip.

Engel’s reminisces about Bell are more discussing the nuts and bolts of TV production than calling out bad behavior. Saved by the Bell is a teen comedy that relied on the cast’s charm and chemistry with each other. It’s not full of intricate plots and explicit darkness that any broadcast network entertaining Alf or Smurf-loving kids would find unacceptable. Maybe we’re wanting for something that isn’t there.

That said, there are a few interesting tidbits such as when Engel recalls when Brandon Tartikoff wanted him to fire Lark Voorhies after two episodes of Saved by the Bell due to poor performances. Despite a lack of contact between Engel and Voorhies, she pulled through satisfactorily when it came time to shoot “Lisa’s Card.” The cast and crew of Bell would become Engel’s extended family and he was a fatherly boss who would enjoy the energy of the studio audience.

Also in the book, there’s an anecdote of how Diamond was almost swept away far into the Pacific Ocean and footage of his being rescued was used in Hawaiian Style.

There are more stories involving his TNBC shows, but Engel goes into detail about his personal life. He talks about his three romances-turned-marriages, his friendship with Pat Robertson, and also his relationship with his daughter and two sons.

Not every moment is filled with rainbows and sunshine:

  • As Engel’s thrice married, he’s thrice divorced. His book details the moments when his relationships are built and broken down. He’s still on good terms with his latter two ex-wives, though.

  • Near the end of the book, Engel shares when he had a very tense argument with his son who was doing humanitarian work in the West Bank. While the argument is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict somewhat, Engel tried to persuade his son to stop out of fear his son might die in a dangerous area.

  • He shares his final moments with network exec-turned-Engel company president Linda Mancuso. He first saw her being playfully flustered seeing Mario Lopez. Sadly, she lacked much of her energy during that last dinner date before her passing due to breast cancer.

  • His final moments with collaborator and friend Leslie Eberhard. Eberhard, who was gay, wondered if Jesus would accept him into heaven. Engel, knowing Eberhard to be a good man, responded that if his friend doesn’t get in, he doesn’t get in either.

  • His break from evangelical Christianity after delivering the blistering speech on how “The Gospel of the Pentagon Is Not My Bible” at the 2006 National Media Prayer Breakfast.

  • Also, a “shrine” of his other son’s prestigious award placed between pictures of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is eerie to me knowing the results and aftermath of the 2016 election.

I highly recommend this book if you like famous people going through professional and personal transformations. During my interview with Peter, I was impressed at his vigor (he runs four miles on his home treadmill) and his willingness to answer my questions to best of his ability in the limited time we had. As a former TNBC fan, the man whose shows were TNBC’s foundation is someone I found to be a pleasant man with an incredible career.

Rating: ***** out of *****

See also: Six Things About Books from Saved by the Bell Alums.

The Miseducation, Mischief, and Misadventures of Trevor Noah

A long book review of Trevor Noah’s 2016 memoir. From an advanced review copy.

Born in the final decade of apartheid, comedian Trevor Noah weaved and blended his way through life in the Johannesburg township of Soweto before gaining fame in his native South Africa, let alone hosting The Daily Show. A straightforward, rise-to-fame biography, Born a Crime isn’t. Noah captures the harshness and humor as a quasi-travelogue noting the various people, places, personal events, and foods he encounters.

In this very wordy review, I examine how Noah tries to make sense of the nonsensical.

Hard Knock Life

Outside of a few movies, reading Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood is a rare occasion for me to read about the sickening depth and breadth of South Africa under apartheid. It was the horrible system where a white minority deploys the worst elements of slavery, divide-and-conquer strategy, and segregation/Jim Crow to force Blacks into becoming second-class citizens. Apartheid eventually withers away, but Nelson Mandela’s democratic election didn’t wipe the residue of apartheid clean overnight.

Race relations and divisions present themselves throughout Noah’s memoir. Apartheid meant everyone was coercively classified into different racial groups. Trevor is a colored (mixed-race) South African, but wasn’t part of the colored community. His mother is black; his father’s white. He had to decide which racial group to socialize with at school. He chose to hang out with the Black kids despite his light skin.

Trevor’s mother, Patricia, had to go through ridiculous measures to hide the proof of her sexual relationship with a white man. On walks through the park, she would enlist a colored woman to pretend to be Trevor’s mom. If there’s no colored woman accompanying them, she dropped little Trevor at the signt of the police and pretend he wasn’t her son.

In the midst of systemic cruelty, Patricia’s actions were necessary. While Trevor’s birth father was distant and his stepfather would later prove to be a monster, I found Patricia to be an admirable mother.

Continue reading “The Miseducation, Mischief, and Misadventures of Trevor Noah”

Book Review: Thanks for the Money by Joel McHale

This so-called memoir needs more genuine charm. Book review written from an advanced review copy.

Actor Joel McHale wants the title of his memoir/self-help book/joke volcano to be a joking gesture of gratitude. With how few laughs this book has, I took the title as a warning.

Thanks For the Money is a deliberately comedic fleecing from the big-ego persona of McHale. Thanks is a tongue-in-cheek journey through a ex-athlete comedian’s life. I would have no problem with the concept of reading the writings of someone playing a self-absorbed version of himself. What I do take issue with is that Money is obviously ghostwritten. McHale’s blatant acknowledging the ghostwriters doesn’t make it funny, either. McHale’s narrative voice spouts a ton of pop-culture references; I suspect McHale’s actual comedic shtick wasn’t formed by watching The Simpsons or absorbing TV and movie trivia. After reading McHale’s biographies, either the facetious one in the book or the real one by piecing together Wikipedia articles and interviews, that smart-aleck guy in the book doesn’t seem plausible. Continue reading “Book Review: Thanks for the Money by Joel McHale”

In His Clarissa Novel, Mitchell Kriegman Explains It All

Clarissa Explains It All creator Mitchell Kriegman manages an admirable, but not completely satisfying, juggling act with romance, nostalgia, and realism with his novel, Things I Can’t Explain. Twenty-something Millennial Clarissa explains all her adulthood, but can’t explain why she’s mired in sitcom hi-jinks. She’s still a Darling, but not quite darling.

Clarence Explains It Some

90s kids remember (the 90s kids who watched too much TV) Clarissa Darling, a girl with maturity a little beyond her years and a distinct bohemian-ish fashion sense. She had the obligatory quirky family, but her best friend is Sam, a dude who entered her room via ladder to her window. Continue reading “In His Clarissa Novel, Mitchell Kriegman Explains It All”

Slimed by Mathew Klickstein

I thank Mathew Klickstein for reconnecting me with an old friend. Klickstein’s Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age shows Nickelodeon was “the first network for kids.” Back then, war was cold and dirty kids equaled good, clean fun. Slimed explores how Nickelodeon was “pro-kid,” gives actors and executives a platform to talk about their joys and struggles, and allows Phil Moore to explain why he was so annoying on Nick Arcade.

Ah, yes. Nick and I were good childhood friends. Nick showed me the many ways kids have fun. I was wowed when Nick decided to do some Saturday night work. Nick’s brought new friends in 1991; Doug, Tommy, and Ren & Stimpy were a good reason for me to watch TV on Sunday mornings. I had so much Nick stuff: magazines, Gak, toy blimps, etc. Eventually, Nick and I changed tastes. The parting was amicable and I still check on Nick from time to time.

Nickelodeon had little competition in the 1980s through the early 1990s. Disney Channel was a pay channel, Cartoon Network started in the early 90s but I didn’t see it until 1995, USA and TBS only had blocks of kids shows. If the reason you stuck with Nick is wild kids entertainment like You Can’t Do That On Television, Clarissa Explains It All, Pete and Pete, and Double Dare then Slimed will be fine reading. Continue reading “Slimed by Mathew Klickstein”