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.

AppendSix: Saved by the Bell

Welcome to AppendSix, six literature-related facts and notes about pop culture. In this installment, we look into the cheesy-yet-lovable 80s/90 NBC Saturday morning comedy, Saved by the Bell.

I had the pleasure of speaking with creator Peter Engel about Bell and other topics discussed in his memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell. The first AppendSix item is about him.

Peter Engel, Father of Bell

On 15 November, SbtB fans and TV enthusiasts will be able to read Peter Engel’s memoir, I Was Saved by the Bell. It’s a very good biography on the whole, though Bell fans may be disappointed there’s not enough content about their show.

Listen to the audio interview (MPEG-4 audio format)

Engel’s textual self-portrait is that of personal and professional transformations and triumphs. He, a Jewish New Yorker, sought to make the Great American Sitcom, but became a titan of teen television in sunny Burbank, California. The title and Peter Engel Productions logo on the book will get sales from nostalgic fans, but he’s also saved by Jesus. I ponder whether some Christian bookstores will stock it, but the memoir has adult language and some intense situations.

That mini-review out of the way, I found Peter to be a cool interview subject. Check out my 20+ minute interview where he discusses his showbiz career and some of the TNBC shows, including Bell and its lesser successor, Saved by the Bell: the New Class.

Peter has some amusing anecdotes of star Dustin Diamond in the book and spoke glowingly of him during our interview. Now, here’s an essay of Diamond and Behind the Bell.

Going Behind the Bell

Dustin Diamond Behind the Bell cover

The actor who played Screech Powers is no stranger to being tabloid fodder. At about the same time as I interviewed Engel, a local TV station aired the Dr. Oz interview where Diamond presented himself as remorseful and apologized to his castmates. Peter Engel spoke glowingly of Diamond during our interview. Diamond sure took a very bumpy road to get to that point. Continue reading “AppendSix: Saved by the Bell”

A Brief History of Filmation Ghostbusters Comic Books

1986!

Let me get this out of the way: I’m worn down by people raging over the 2016 Ghostbusters movie (Misogyny? Corporate apologetics? You decide!) that I have little enthusiasm for the movie at its release. The hype inspired to take an “ironic,” rebellious take of siding with the Filmation Ghostbusters and looking up their comic book history.

filmation-ghostbusters-comics

These Ghostbusters were a separate media franchise first established as a live action Saturday morning show about 10 years before Columbia Pictures’ blockbuster. As Columbia had permission to use the Ghostbusters name and had something scorching on their hands, the mega-popular GB franchise soon lauched long-running toy lines and cartoons. Not to be outdone, Filmation also made deals to produce toys and a cartoon.

History bears out that the franchise with a potato-shaped slime specter and a giant marshmallow man was far more popular that the franchise with a humanoid gorilla. Filmation closed down in 1989, eventually sold to Classic Media which itself was sold to Dreamworks becoming Dreamworks Classics.
Continue reading “A Brief History of Filmation Ghostbusters Comic Books”

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”

Crowdfund Corner: This Romance Guide Goes Steady With Kickstarter

What is it?
Sequential Crush Presents How to Go Steady is a book featuring timeless dating advice and artwork from the last major age of romance comic books.

Yes, romance comics: sappy soap operas in print. Ultimately, female readers left and the U.S. comic book industry has been a Boyz’ Superhero Klub since.

This book has a goal of $21,000 with $5,000 being pledged as I write this. Continue reading “Crowdfund Corner: This Romance Guide Goes Steady With Kickstarter”

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”