Peter Engel’s probably not interested in your teen athlete sitcom pitch.
That’s because the TV producer learned everything he needs to know about filming actors trying to play sports based off one “Saved By the Bell” beach volleyball game. Why he ever signed on to do high school basketball-based “Hang Time” in the late ’90s is beyond us.
Of course, Engel actually turned down that latter series back when it was still called “Fast Break” — and for good reason.
“The basketball [scenes have] got to be shot separately,” Engel explained of the sizable undertaking. “In addition to doing a regular sitcom, you gotta have coaches — you can’t just say, ‘Go out and play,’ right? You have to have fans, you have to have referees, etc. And that’s a big undertaking.”
Engel knew he’d be in for long days just to get you your Saturday morning basketball comedy.
“We had just shot at the beach club … the [“Saved By the Bell”] volleyball game against Malibu Sands,” Engel remembered in a Friday interview with TheWrap. “We shot the whole day and got a minute and 15-second montage.”
Why? Well, there’s those logistics Engel mentioned, but also — and we hope you’re sitting down for this one — the average actor straight up can’t play ball.
“The guy’s 7-feet-tall we cast, we had to put him on a ladder because he couldn’t spike,” or so Engel said of the ringer Zack Morris’ recruited for the big North Beach game. “Why’d we hire this guy?”
Despite his height (and probably at least half-due to his acting ability) that dude clearly wasn’t welcomed back for Engel’s basketball show. In the end, TNBC did seven episodes of “Hang Time” without Engel, and 97 with him. Perhaps he’s just a glutton for punishment.
“They’d break your heart,” Engel told us of actors who auditioned for “Hang Time” but couldn’t dribble, or those who swore up-and-down they could sing until it was “go” time on his “California Dreams.”
Fortunately, not everyone was as colossal a disappointment as the guy who guested as Gary on that summer break “Bell.” For instance, “Hang Time” lead Daniella Deutscher — who starred as the lone girl on a boys’ varsity team — played college hoops until a back injury regulated her to the fake small-screen kind, Engel told us. So, yeah, she could fill the net.
Plus, “Anthony Anderson was a natural; he was a terrific ballplayer,” Engel concluded the rundown of his show’s real ballers, referring to the current star of “Black-ish.”
A few closing and possibly random facts about “Hang Time,” just because we can:
- When Reggie Theus was Deering coach for exactly half (52) of the series’ episodes, he pulled double-duty as the TV show’s basketball choreographer. After NFL great Dick Butkus replaced the NBA alum, Engel needed to hire someone else to set up the court play. Butkus was quite the athlete, of course, but his sports ball was more of the oblong variety (which made the casting choice peculiar, but we digress).
- That tiny, ridiculous basketball court the team played on? That was the biggest studio Engel could get his hands on. At least the actual flooring was legit — it was the Los Angeles Clippers old wood.
- “Hang Time” faked exactly one basket across all six seasons: Butkus once sank a circus shot from the top of the bleachers. Guess what? That wasn’t real. But every other hoop was, Engel swore to us. He didn’t go into exactly how many in-game takes were good ones.
Get more of Engel’s stories in his book “I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True,” out now.