Inside ‘Saved by the Bell’s’ Emotional Tribute to Dustin Diamond

When Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell” reimagining drops its second season on Nov. 24, it will pay tribute to original cast member Dustin Diamond right from the premiere episode.

Diamond played Samuel “Screech” Powers beginning in “Good Morning, Miss Bliss,” the prequel to “Saved by the Bell” in 1988. He continued the character through the flagship series, short-lived “College Years” spinoff and six years of “The New Class” spinoff, making his time with the character a dozen years in total. Diamond passed away from lung cancer in February of this year. His character was referenced in the first season of the new incarnation of the show, but Diamond was not invited onto it as a guest star.

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Executive producer Franco Bario, who also produced the original series, tells Variety he spoke with Diamond ahead of the Season 1 premiere to “fill him in on the Screech mentions in the first season and how those may lead us to possible stories that would include him in Season 2.”

After Diamond’s passing, Bario and showrunner Tracey Wigfield knew they had to do something substantial to celebrate him as an actor and Screech as a character in the second season instead.

“I didn’t know him and I hadn’t met him,” Wigfield tells Variety. But “just thinking about it as a fan, I knew we wanted to do more than just putting a picture of him up at the end.”

Bario and Wigfield spoke with original cast members Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Mario Lopez, who star on the Peacock series, as well as Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen and Lark Voorhies, who all guest starred in different capacities in Season 1. With the “OG cast members keen to do something,” Wigfield says, they wrote a scene that would see the five reunite at The Max (as seen above) to remember their friend.

“At the beginning of this season, we already were coming into writing Season 2 [where] obviously Dustin was one thing, but we also were like in a pandemic and in general in the first episode, everyone was feeling the same sense of everyone understands how heavy this last year has been,” Wigfield says. “It would have been wrong to not acknowledge that in a real way and to not have our OG characters mourning this character that we’ll never get to see again. That, I wanted to put on the screen, but I just wanted to make sure we were being as sensitive as possible. There was a real guy who had people who loved him. You don’t want to make any jokes or talk about it in any way that might hurt anyone’s feelings.”

The tribute to Diamond also includes clips of him in the original series. The selection of these was very specific and careful, Bario notes, because “a lot of what Screech was is known for was being the butt of a joke or being an outrageous character, and what we were hoping for was using the clips to show how important he was to the show, but also to the other characters in the show.”

The returns of Zack (Gosselaar), Kelly (Thiessen) and Lisa (Voorhies) in the Season 2 premiere are only the tip of the iceberg, as Wigfield previews that “we see them more this season than we did last year.” Zack will play heavily into a storyline about Bayside High School’s Spirit Competition, which his son Mac (Mitchell Hoog) wants to win to finally get out from his father’s shadow in those hallowed halls. While bringing Thiessen and Voorhies back is a chance to “get a bigger sense of who they are as characters now as adults,” Wigfield says.

“That’s the fascinating thing about this show for me,” says Bario. “‘What’s really going on with these characters?’ Because in the old days everything was perfect — it was wonderful and happy and it’s all in those 21 minutes. But it’s more interesting now to just see what really makes them tick.”

The Spirit Competition storyline, which Wigfield shares was pulled from writer Victoria Gonzalez’ real-life high school experience, was an opportunity for the show to get all of the new characters on “the same mission” — but one that felt a bit more akin to the missions of the original series than the heavy fight against “the systemic educational inequality of California” of Season 1.

“We could build in stakes for everyone that because of where their stories are going the season, some of them — Daisy especially — don’t care about this thing, and throughout the season, it becomes important to all of them for sort of different reasons,” Wigfield previews.

That is not to say the new season of this version of “Saved by the Bell” is not still paying attention to real-life issues teenagers are facing, from school programs being shut down to adjusting to being back in a physical classroom after so many months of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The very last line of the first season of “Saved by the Bell” had the kids learning about the virus, so when it came time to break the story for the sophomore season, the writers and producers had to address what came of it in the world of their show.

“High school kids have been hit so hard,” Wigfield acknowledges. “Our show last year was about inequality when it comes to public school for kids who have money versus those who don’t, and that has been put into such stark relief because of COVID. Kids who have to share a computer aren’t able to keep up with peers who have more resources and stuff. And so, it felt like wrong to not address it at all, while at the same time it’s like, ‘Boy did I not want to do a whole season talking about it!'”

“Saved by the Bell” Season 2 premieres Nov. 24 on Peacock.

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