It was pretty awesome to be a teen in the ’90s. After an evening of pretending to hate-watch TGIF, you could wake up bright and early on Saturday and tune in to a very special lineup of shows made just for you. No, I’m not just talking about Saved by the Bell – although that was certainly part of it. In fact, the popularity of SBTB is what spawned a bunch of apparent lookalikes, each different in their own cheesy way.
Arguably the most famous of the Saved by the Bell wannabes, California Dreams lasted a whopping three seasons and featured a group of attractive, multi-ethnic teenagers starting their own band. Well, originally it was about a family, but nobody seems to remember that. Naturally, the cast members are the ones singing the infamous theme song, “California Dreamin'”, and they even reunited on Jimmy Fallon recently for a repeat performance.
Picture Saved by the Bell but… with basketball! I’m sure that’s how they pitched this silly but long-lived teen sitcom. The original premise featured an Indiana high school boys’ basketball team with one female player. Peppered with visits from real NBA players and, be still my heart, Screech Powers, the actual cast of teens changed almost entirely every single season (and there were six seasons!). By the end, there were only two cast members who had survived the entire run.
Okay, if Hang Time was Saved by the Bell with basketball, City Guys was kinda just Saved by the Bell. Sure, the setting was “urban” and the cast was “diverse” but it was about a bunch of high schoolers dealing with high school stuff in the glossy Peter Engel-ified world we all knew and loved. City Guys did focus on two boys in particular: Jamal and Chris. They both struggled to stay out of trouble while navigating the wacky world of high school. Oh, and it supposedly takes place in Manhattan, where everything seems to have been designed by the same architect who did The Max.
So this show actually didn’t air on the TNBC Saturday Morning lineup; instead, it aired confusingly enough on the USA Network. The name is a coincidence but try telling that to the teen programming conspiracy theorist I was as a 12-year old. The premise for this one is pretty fun: six teens attend school at the fictional American Academy of Paris under the tutelage of a strict and stuffy British headmaster and a sexy Dutch teacher. Fun (?) fact: both Shannon Elizabeth and Mario Lopez guest starred.
Saved by the Bell: The New Class
Impressively one of the worst-reviewed teen shows of all time, Saved by the Bell: The New Class featured a whole new cast of characters (that changed practically every season) roaming the colorful halls of Bayside under the lovingly watchful eye of Mr. Belding. If you see another familiar face in the photo above, that’s because Screech was part of this charade, as well. He joined the cast during Season 2. From what I remember, this show freely recycled plot lines from the original series, right down to a love triangle modeled exactly after Zack-Kelly-Slater. Also, there was a character named Maria Lopez. Is that not incredibly strange given that Slater was played by Mario Lopez??? Add it to the conspiracy list.
Much as I miss being allowed to order off the children’s menu without shame, I long for the days when there was a special block of programming just for people my age. Let’s start a campaign to turn Friday nights or Saturday mornings or weekday afternoons into “Late 20s TV”. I hear Mr. Belding is thinking of turning Bayside into a graduate school after hours.