Children of the '90s were all a-screech on Thursday following news that Lifetime is planning a made-for-TV movie about “Saved by the Bell,” the bubblegum sitcom that chronicled the lives and loves of teenagers at the fictional Bayside High School.
“The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story” is not technically based on the 2009 tell-all book “Behind the Bell” by Dustin Diamond, who played Screech in the popular NBC series, though the book appears to have partially inspired it. Diamond's story paints a less-than-flattering portrait of some of his fellow cast members, and in it Diamond claims to have slept with thousands of women. (This is the same Diamond who, you might recall, released his own sex tape in 2006.) Some of the book’s supposed revelations have been refuted.
For the film, new interviews were conducted independently of Diamond’s book, according to BuzzFeed, which broke the news along with cast photos on Thursday. Either way, the source material is likely to provide yet another boost for Lifetime, a unit of A&E Networks, which has been on a roll in recent years with a series of entertainment-insider telepics. Last summer’s “The Anna Nicole Story” earned 3.3 million viewers and was the most-watched TV movie of 2013, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The movie followed Lifetime’s high-rated “Liz & Dick,” which earned 3.5 million viewers despite the inexplicable casting of Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor. Last June’s “Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret” also topped the 3 million-viewer mark.
The original “Saved by the Bell” ran for only four seasons (1989-1993), and its follow-up series, “Saved by the Bell: The College Years,” was a flop. But as a time capsule for early-1990s nostalgia, the show has proved remarkably resilient. In 2009, “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon launched a campaign to get the entire cast on his show for a reunion (most of them agreed to appear), and last year the series was mined for an off-Broadway musical.
The Lifetime movie will follow in a long tradition of behind-the-scenes docudramas, most of which make up in ratings what they lack in quality. NBC and Fox kicked off the trend in 2000, with competing TV movies chronicling the backstage drama on the 1970s sitcom “The Brady Bunch.” CBS followed up in 2001 with “Surviving Gilligan’s Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History.” The ensuing years saw “unauthorized” stories of “Charlie’s Angels,” “Three’s Company” and “Mork & Mindy.” Admittedly, the trend has fizzled a bit since 2006’s “Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of ‘Diff’rent Strokes.’”
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“The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story,” which is being produced by Front Street Pictures and Ringaling Productions Ltd. for broadcast on Lifetime, is currently filming in Vancouver and will premiere on Sept. 1, according to A+E Networks.