The time has come, Saved by the Bell fans, for all of us to come together as one unified force, and together we will move the heavens with our voices as we scream at the top of our lungs, "I knew it!" Executive producer Peter Engel has revealed the most infamous Very Special episode of the high school comedy, "Jessie's Song," wasn't supposed to be about Jessie taking caffeine pills at all, but something so much darker: Jessie. Taking. Hard. Drugs. (Catches two fainting grandmothers.) Here's how Engel put it.
What fans don't know is that, when I originally wrote the episode with Tom Tenowich, Jessie was hooked on speed, not caffeine pills. But Standards and Practices, the censorial department of NBC, vetoed it, saying speed was too serious for Saturday mornings. I insisted that we needed to start dealing with more important issues than we had in the past, and that speed was a vehicle not only for exploring drug use but also the pressure that kids put on themselves to achieve. But Standards and Practices wasn't budging.
So there you have it. Whenever Jessie is in her room having her breakdown while giving "I'm So Excited" the old trying-to-get-into-college try, she was originally supposed to be all hooked on actual speed at the time, and not a relatively large smattering of caffeine. (I assume that Patrick Bateman's raincoat and axe also came into play.) Truth be told, there are lots of times where it seems like Saved by the Bell characters are on amphetamines and/or everything else in a browsable medicine cabinet, but this was the only real time someone on the creative side actually intended it to look that way. And Peter Engel's intentions were sound and presciently called out the Adderall Revolution.
"Jessie's Song" has long been one of the most revered and ridiculed of Saved by the Bell's many episodes - by Elizabeth Berkeley herself, even - largely because of how dramatic the characters are playing things as juxtaposed to the minimal threat imposed by the pills Jessie is taking. And now that Peter Engel has shared this admission in his just-released book I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True (via Vulture), it makes a lot more sense looking back and realizing everyone was treating it as if Jessie actually was on a rapid dive down into a dark pool of addiction. Here's more from Engel.
We kept the episode virtually the same, but swapped out the speed. I wasn't pleased about it---after all, the average caffeine pill was the equivalent of a cup of coffee, if that, so we might as well have had Jessie get addicted to earl grey, or breaking into the Max to snort coffee grounds. But hey, we had to start somewhere.
What the world really needed at that time was for Jessie to get hooked on crank, to become a truck driver, and to put her own musical spin on the classic trucker hit "Convoy." Or maybe not. In any case, Saved by the Bell did later bring actual drugs into the conversation for the Season 3 episode "No Hope with Dope," in which the gang finds out the person behind the anti-drug commercial being filmed at Bayside is...using the drugs himself! One only wishes the show would have lasted long enough to tackle bath salts.
This has been quite the giving month for Saved by the Bell news and noise. Family Guy recently spoofed the scene we're talking about. We had Mark-Paul Gosselaar amusingly apologizing for a past episode of the show (more on that here), and then we had Dustin Diamond awkwardly apologizing to his former co-stars for his behavior over the years. Maybe by the time Thanksgiving gets here, we'll learn that Mr. Dewey is getting his own A.I. teaching robot, or that Mr. Belding's laugh is a cure for cancer.
Many of the Saved By The Bell co-stars might be pretty chummy when they're seen in public together, but that isn't necessarily the case with Dustin Diamond. In fact, the other cast members were recently so angry at the man who played Screech that he had to publicly apologize. Get the whole crazy story on the next page...
If you've watched the Lifetime original movie looking at the behind-the-scenes antics on the set of Saved by the Bell, you may already know that not all of the cast always got along on set. Dustin Diamond, the actor who played Screech on the series, had trouble adjusting to fame. He later wrote a book about his experiences, alleging his co-stars took drugs and were sleeping with one another during the show's original run. In a recent interview with Dr. Oz Diamond now says it was a ghostwriter that alleged a lot of those things, but that he is very sorry about how things shook out.
I will say, guys, I think you're fantastic, working with you has been just one of the icons of my life and I'm sorry that this has taken advantage of me, the book and other situations I'm sure we'll talk about here. But I'm sure that you've experienced downfalls, as well, in your time and I'm still loving you guys.
It's hard to know what really happened on the set, but all of these behind-the-scenes looks at the once-popular series are starting to give us a better glimpse at what really went on, caffeine pills and all.