I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when TV was at its cheese-tastic best and the Internet was only available in its most nascent, rudimentary form. There was no Google, no way to seek out answers to the mysterious happenings around me, both in my own life and – much more important – on my television screen. But boys and girls, we are living in a glorious age. The questions that have plagued me and so many others for years can finally be answered, or at least speculated upon with total strangers in the dark corners of 90s nostalgia message boards. Today, I present to you some the most perplexing TV mysteries and their possible explanations.
Saved by the Bell
Mystery: As even the most casual SBTB fan will remember, something strange happened near the end of its run. No, I’m not talking about its earliest incarnation (Good Morning, Miss Bliss) that starred Hayley Mills and took place in Indianapolis, featuring soon-to-be-forgotten characters Nikki and Mikey as well. I’m talking about Saved by the Bell in its official, long-running form, the one featuring Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, Samuel “Screech” Powers, Lisa Turtle, Kelly Kapowski, and Jessie Spano… and someone named Tori? Yes, the mystery I want to explore here today is what the effing eff was going on in that final season when Kelly and Jessie mysteriously disappeared, replaced by leather-jacket-wearing new girl Tori Scott. WITH ZERO EXPLANATION OR ACKNOWLEDGMENT. This was seriously the central mystery of my life for many years. Even more confusingly, NBC aired two episodes a night during this period – one Tori episode, one Kelly/Jessie episode. I guess we were supposed to think all the plot lines were occurring simultaneously and Kelly and Jessie were just off screen when Tori was on?
Solution: Turns out, after filming the final season (including the series finale) but before it aired, NBC doubled the number of episodes they wanted. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley refused to sign these new contracts, so a block of episodes was filmed with a new character, Tori. NBC then decided to air the shows simultaneously, as well as the pre-filmed finale which made no mention of Tori. I seriously think they enjoyed messing with our minds because there is no other explanation for these kinds of shenanigans.
Mystery: After Season 4, youngest Winslow daughter, Judy, disappeared from the show entirely. Her absence was never explained. She is last seen going upstairs to her bedroom and she never comes down. Her name is never uttered by her parents, siblings, aunt, or cousin for the remainder of the series.
Solution: Apparently, Judy’s real-life parents were asking for more money and because of her character’s lack of important plot lines as it was, the show decided to nix her. Interestingly, the actress’s life completely derailed from that point forward. Her family went into massive debt and a court ruled that she could use her trust to pay it off. Broke and destitute, she then turned to the world of pornography in order to make ends meet. Detective Carl Winslow would definitely not approve!
Mystery: Roseanne’s oldest daughter, Becky, disappears during the 5th season of the show. At first, her absence is explained by the fact that she got married and moved away. But in the 6th season, a new Becky played by a new actress appears. For the remainder of the series, the two-Becky-phenomenon becomes a running gag as the two girls alternate appearances and the family references the change with winky little jokes.
Solution: Apparently, Lecy Goranson, the original Becky, left the show to attend Vassar College during its 5th season. Sarah Chalke, the new Becky, took over the role but whenever Lecy was available, she was welcomed back. The show referenced this weirdness with a variety of jokes, including the family discussing how annoying it is when TV shows switch actors, a flash-forward where future D.J. has a breakdown because his sister is “the same, but different”, and an incorporation of photos of both girls in the opening credits.
Mystery: In the first season, Uncle Jesse’s last name is Cochran. In later seasons, he’s suddenly Greek with the last name “Katsopolis”.
Solution: Boringly enough, after season 1, the producers took a note from John Stamos who wanted his character to better reflect his (the actor’s) Greek heritage. I was always baffled by this change, though, because Uncle Jesse is supposed to be the brother of the girls’ deceased mother, a blue-eyed blonde. Sure, Greeks can be blonde, but it definitely isn’t common, and it always bothered me that there was no mention of this Greek heritage until suddenly it was, like, the biggest deal ever. For all my Full House conspiracy theorists out there, check out this chart on the mystery behind the girls’ ethnicity (and the resulting paternity questions!).
Step by Step
Mystery: A huge offender in the unexplained mystery department, Step by Step gave us a host of strange happenings over its 7-season run. In Season 1, mom Carol ran a beauty salon out of her home with help from her own mother, Ivy, and her sister, Penny. By Season 2, both mother and sister were gone, never to be seen again. Later, we meet cousin Cody, who’s with us through Season 5, until he disappears as well. Then, Carol has a baby, Lilly, who ages FIVE YEARS over a single summer, and also somehow displaces Carol’s youngest son, Brendan, never to return. What the heck is going on in that house?!
Solution: Apparently, viewers “didn’t connect” with Penny or Ivy, so that explains their dismissal. I guess the house was already full enough given the Brady Brunch-like scenario we’re dealing with here. As for Cody, the actor got into some serious legal trouble (involving accusations of domestic abuse!) and as a result was dropped from the show. Little Lilly was aged so that she could be a speaking character (guess the producers didn’t care that it is ABSOLUTELY INSANE for a child to age that much in a single summer. Truly offensive), and Brendan was ditched because he had become less and less significant. Couldn’t they have not given birth to Lilly and just kept Brendan around for one more season? I feel bad for that chubby little actor. And I hated the new Lilly. SO THERE, Step by Step!
Of course, this list is just a sampling of the many bait-and-switch disappearing unsolved bizarro occurrences so common ten or twenty or thirty years ago (i.e. before producers were accountable to freaks on the Internet). Others will recall the noticeable absence of Boy Meets World‘s beloved nerd, Minkus, after the very first season (only to appear again in cameo-form in the graduation episode, claiming to have been on the other side of the school building all these years). Or what about Gaby on Ghostwriter? After Season 2, they switched the actress, making her younger and more annoying, despite the fact that the original Gaby was actually one of the first to “see” Ghostwriter, therefore one of the most important characters of all. These kinds of mysteries haunted me as a child, and even though we have the answers now, I’ll never stop hoping that one day I’ll turn on my TV and see a show where Mikey, Nikki, Tori, Judy, the original Becky, Jesse Cochran, Penny, Ivy, Cody, baby Lilly, Brendan, and the first Gaby are all sitting around together plotting their revenge.