Don’t worry, “Saved by the Bell” fans; if you always felt that Jessie Spano’s caffeine-pill freakout in the classic episode “Jessie’s Song” came off as a touch melodramatic, you aren’t wrong.
In an excerpt from his new book “I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love and Dreams That Do Come True,” the Saturday-morning show’s executive producer Peter Engel reveals that Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) was initially supposed to be hooked on something stronger than caffeine, but that network censors put the kibosh on his original idea.
“Today, when I meet fans of the show, ‘Jessie’s Song’ is almost always the episode that comes up first. It made a big impression on them. But it’s sometimes laughed about now, as a lot of people look back and say, wait a minute, caffeine pills? Really?” Engel wrote in the excerpt, published by Vulture. “And to be sure, when you watch the scene where Zack discovers Jessie’s ‘addiction’ and intervenes, a lot of people today will say, as Dustin Diamond did years later, that Jessie was acting more like a heroin addict than someone on NoDoz.”
Engel went onto explain, “What fans don’t know is that, when I originally wrote the episode with Tom Tenowich, Jessie was hooked on speed, not caffeine pills. But Standards and Practices, the censorial department of NBC, vetoed it, saying speed was too serious for Saturday mornings. I insisted that we needed to start dealing with more important issues than we had in the past, and that speed was a vehicle not only for exploring drug use but also the pressure that kids put on themselves to achieve. But Standards and Practices wasn’t budging.”
Eventually, a compromise was reached on Spano’s pick-me-up of choice — but Engel and crew chose not to tone down the impact on Spano.
Engel added that he “wasn’t pleased” with the compromise.
“I wasn’t pleased about it — after all, the average caffeine pill was the equivalent of a cup of coffee, if that, so we might as well have had Jessie get addicted to earl grey, or breaking into the Max to snort coffee grounds. But hey, we had to start somewhere,” Engel wrote.
So … caffeine pills were a “very special episode” gateway topic?
Watch the pivotal freakout scene from “Jessie’s Song” in the video.