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If you were a child of the ’80s, you more than likely spent your Saturday mornings obsessed with the intrigues of Bayside High. Saved by the Bell, which ran on NBC from 1989 to 1993, seemed to transcend screens, fostering a generation of fans who loyally trailed Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Kelly (Tiffani Thiessen), Slater (Mario Lopez), Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley Lauren), Screech (Dustin Diamond) and Lisa (Lark Voorhies) from high school to college, a wacky vacation in Hawaii and that long-awaited wedding in Las Vegas.
One of those Bayside superfans was Emmy-winning 30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield. “I have a crazy amount of fondness and nostalgia for Saved by the Bell, and I know I’m not alone,” she says. “It was a funny and kind of weird, sanitized and cartoony version of what high school is, but it really struck a chord in my generation.”
In reimagining the property for Peacock three decades after its original run, Wigfield knew she could take the loyal followers of the sitcom through the motions of some later-in-life shenanigans of the old gang — she just didn’t want to. “Reboots are obviously not a new idea, and taking a show that people loved and just making more of it didn’t seem like such a novel or, honestly, exciting concept for me,” says Wigfield. “The thing that I had never seen done before, and what seemed really exciting was: Can you take this multicam teen sitcom that we all remember and turn it into a completely different genre of comedy?”
Wigfield’s idea involved getting the original crew on board with poking fun at their iconic characters, a proposition that initially made her nervous. “I have a fifth grader inside of me, who’s in love with Zack Morris and Slater, so for me, it was like, ‘I hope they like me and this weird idea I have,’ ” she says. “There was definitely a fear of, ‘What if none of them have a sense of humor?’ But they all got it right away and were excited to come back and be these characters again.”
At modern-day Bayside High, the hallways look like time stood still, but within those corridors is a whole new world. Edgier, far more self-aware and single-cam, the latest outing at this fictitious school delivers those much-anticipated check-ins — Zack and Kelly are still married! Jessie still can’t touch caffeine! Slater teaches gym and is still in love with Jessie, natch! — but it also introduces viewers to a whole new set of characters who weren’t even alive when posters of their senior castmates lined the walls of tween rooms across the United States.
To really evoke a sense of the original, Wigfield populated Bayside High with characters who suffered from some of the — let’s be honest — tone-deafness of Zack and the gang. “I wanted to make Bayside a real place that existed in 2021, but you still had characters that acted like the characters in the original show, kind of thoughtless, a little privileged. Kids who get into high jinks, but their high school experience really doesn’t go any deeper than pranking their principal and their actions don’t have any real consequences,” says Wigfield.
The real transformation to this beloved property was juxtaposing the Bayside kids with a crop of students, who, thanks to Zack Morris’ poor budgeting and leadership skills as the governor of California, end up attending Bayside High when their own school is shuttered. “What happens if you take kids whose lives do have consequences, whose day-to-day is a little scarier for a bunch of different reasons, and what if they came into this environment and are like, ‘What the fuck is going on?'” Wigfield says. “It’s a comedically fruitful premise, but also, in L.A. right now, schools are very segregated and it felt like it was an interesting conversation to have.”
The biggest challenge, says Wigfield, became nailing the tone of a comedy that not only delivers on the nostalgia front but also tackles social injustice and gets the laughs. “Making sure that everything we were saying, we were saying exactly right and not falling into weird stereotypes was tricky,” says Wigfield. “I think it was hard, even for me, to exactly pinpoint what tone I wanted.”
By the third episode — in which the A-story deals with a student from the underfunded school being accused of stealing electronic equipment, and the B-story tackles two Bayside boys pursuing the same girl without being able to figure out that they like the same person — Wigfield was confident that Saved by the Bell 2.0 had found its footing. “It felt like this is exactly the note we want to hit, with the simplicity of stories on the old show rubbing up against heavier, real high school stories,” she says. “It feels kind of weird, but maybe that’s exactly the weird that the show wants to be.”
Bayside High Gets an Expansion
Production designer Joseph Lucky did not have access to Ken Johnson’s original designs, which meant he had to familiarize himself with the world of the original in order to bring Bayside and hangout The Max into the new millennium.
From the very beginning, production designer Joseph Lucky knew he was performing an upgrade to the school. “That hallway and staircase that you see in every opening scene of the original, and the red lockers and orange classroom doors, I maintained throughout the new design,” he says. “We also kept Belding’s office very much the same for Principal Toddman, with some of the same furniture elements. It felt like it was such an original, nostalgic part of the original series, and funny in he might be [like], ‘Hey, how come I never got upgraded?’
“A lot of the banners I re-created from the original series,” Lucky continues. “They’re all hand-painted on butcher paper because it kind of feels like high schools would do that. We had guys painting those banners for weeks.”
Lucky says that the original series’ design was inconsistent, and so he created a color scheme for the school. “The Bayside logo is sort of that burgundy color, and that became a jumping-off point: We’ll go with red lockers and orange doors, and that brings some of the original look into the new look.”
Lucky was also tasked with adding scope. “I always want them to be able to do multiple scenes and multiple walk-and-talks,” he explains. “You can walk that school forever and never hit a wall. And the sight lines are never-ending. I kind of pride myself on that.” The stairs also go up to another level. “There isn’t much depth beyond there, but there is definitely room for expansion if we wanted to play.”
“My biggest challenge was keeping the entryway, the booths and the proscenium identical, to keep the integrity of the original series, and trying to figure out what the rest of it would look like to blend in,” Lucky says of the iconic hangout spot for Bayside’s students. “The Max is based on a Memphis design from the ’80s, which is based on a postmodern design movement. I pulled inspiration from pop art periods and the art deco age, and I wanted to maintain the bold shapes and colors.”
Diehard fans of the original will no doubt recognize much of The Max in the reboot. “There’s a lot of the little details that make The Max complete: Some of those cutout shapes you see on the walls, the counter that the waitress would work off also has an interesting design,” Lucky says. “The big trusses, throughout The Max, that were in the original, I tried to duplicate. Even the menu boards … I think every part of The Max has a design element to it. That was the most fun about that set.”
Lucky admits he didn’t feel too limited in his design task, which required those nostalgic elements while also making it clear that this Max exists in our present day. “I think things blend into the original design, while still giving it a very fresh, modern and relevant look for the expansion that we created,” he says. “Even though I had to inherit a look, it was just a very small part of what I had to do. I accepted the original designs, knowing that what I was going to do after that was to become much bigger than what there was.”
This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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