For an hour and a half yesterday, students were able to return
to the Saturday mornings of their youth while listening to
“Saved by the Bell” creator Peter Engel.
Engel, an Emmy Award nominated producer who has worked for more
than 30 years in Hollywood, spoke about the creation and success of
the high-school comedy show at Davidson Hall last night.
The talk was sponsored by the Michigan Student Assembly. MSA
President Jason Mironov, a self-professed “Saved by the
Bell” fan, said the assembly chose Engel “because of
the impact he has had on college students. I haven’t met
someone who hasn’t watched ‘Saved by the Bell.’
Engel called the start of his show “an accident.” He
initially refused to do the show because no producer had made a
live-action comedy show for Saturday mornings, but his wife
reminded him of his desire to make a show for their own kids to
grow up with.
After making the difficult decision to start the show, the next
choice was the title. Engel struck down some dubious options such
as “When the Whistle Blows,” saying it sounded
“too much like construction.” Eventually another
accident — caused by an errant writer this time — led
to the name “Saved by the Bell.”
The long, uncertain process of casting followed. Although he had
to sort through hundreds of actors vying for the show’s main
parts, Engel said the effort paid off. After the final cast was
set, “I knew we had lightning in the bottle,” he
At first, the show was lambasted by critics. But after a few
months on the air, 50 percent of teenage girls watching television
in America were glued to “Saved by the Bell,” Engel
In the process, Engel and his show tapped into a market that he
said had never before been exploited: “tweens.” Tweens
are part of a demographic — highly coveted by advertisers
— that includes 9- to 12-year-olds. “Saved by the
Bell” was most popular with this group, and one of the first
to actively target it. “We invented the word
‘tween,’ ” Engel said.
The show’s success was repeated overseas, as “Saved
by the Bell” has been shown in 85 countries throughout the
world, Engel said.
“The only thing the Middle East has ever agreed on
is=‘Saved by the Bell,’ ” he joked, referring to
the show’s popularity in Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Brigid Schmidt, a sophomore in the LSA Film and Video Program,
said she was excited to see someone who has succeeded in her
“I thought he was wonderful. I’m a film major who
wanted to see how it was (in the industry), and he really inspired
me to keep going,” she said. Schmidt was an avid fan but
especially liked the episodes of the show that took place on the
As for Mironov, the episode “Jesse’s Song”
— in which the title character gets addicted to caffeine
pills — was his favorite.