She’s so excited! Elizabeth Berkley Lauren is bringing her iconic ‘90s character Jessie Spano back to the television screen — and this time around, the actress is also bringing positive representation in front of and behind the camera as a producer of Saved by the Bell.
Rewind to 1989, when we first met the ambitious teen character who advocated for social justice on the Saturday-morning series — a teen sitcom that would eventually evolve into a pop culture phenomenon. With nostalgia trending hard and reboots helping to satisfy millennials’ cravings for comfort watches, the actress is returning to the role that launched her career — coming back to Bayside High in a reboot alongside original co-stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen and Mario Lopez.
Except this time, they’re not just back as Zack, Kelly, Slater and Jessie. The four original cast members are returning as producers of Saved by the Bell — and they’ve been involved with every detail of production. We chatted with Berkley Lauren about all of it.
Making sure Saved by the Bell representation reflects the diversity in our world
Berkley Lauren was in every casting session with her producer hat on. “I knew how important it was to have a group of actors, like us, who just had magic together — you can’t force that,” says Berkley Lauren. “But I knew by casting really unique individuals — that were also extremely diverse — and our cast is extremely inclusive — that was going to be really important to reflect the diversity that exists in our world.”
This kind of thinking is necessary when it comes to creating a quality series — especially during our current social climate. Of course, the effort to consider diversity behind the scenes also happened for this production.
“For us, across the board — and not just for our cast, but our crew. Our hair and makeup trailer, our amazing writers — across the board, diversity was reflected and essential. It should be the norm,” says Berkley Lauren. “This shouldn’t be a unique thing. It should be how it goes across the industry.”
At the core of the show, there’s exploration of different identities. After all, sitcoms rely on the understanding of characters. For Saved by the Bell, deciding on who would play these characters meant making careful choices in the casting. Berkeley Lauren is pleased with where the series landed.
“Kids watching can really see themselves,” says Berkley Lauren.
From student body president to Bayside’s guidance counselor on Saved by the Bell
Though she’s no longer a dancing, student-leading high school second-wave ’90s feminist rapping out plays on stage (never forget the episode “Snow White and the Seven Dorks”), Jessie’s still on her mission to make Bayside better. Three decades may have passed, and Jessie Spano may have grown and evolved — but some things never change (like The Max). “Jessie still has her same core values,” says Berkley Lauren. In 2020, Jessie is still passionate about advocacy work, but now has her PhD, she’s a New York Times best-selling author of a parenting book, she’s a helicopter parent and the guidance counselor at Bayside.
It’s what we’d always wanted for our favourite literal mama. According to Berkley Lauren, their reunion skit on Jimmy Fallon was the catalyst for the reboot. Throughout the years, the actors behind Zack, Kelly, Slater and Jessie remained friends in real life — connected and familiar with respective spouses and children. “In our case, we grew up together — we were children when we did the show — under the age of 18, all of us — 15, 16, 17 — we got our license[s] together,” says Berkley Lauren.
So, it makes perfect sense that they’d bring the classic teen sitcom back to our flatscreens together too. This being said, the talented actress and producer never thought she’d be stepping back into her iconic character.
“Typically when we finish a job and wrap it, you say goodbye lovingly to a character, especially one that’s done 100 episodes,” says Berkley Lauren. “As reboots were starting to happen and there was this pattern of some working and some not, we decided if it was done in the right way, in the right hands with the right writer and if we could still celebrate nostalgia but make it fresh and relevant — if we could do it right and it was worth doing — and that’s what we found in Tracey Wigfield.”
Speaking of writing, it turns out the art form isn’t foreign to Berkley Lauren.
Berkley Lauren returns to Bayside as a best-selling author on-screen and off
Back in 2011, Berkley Lauren published Ask-Elizabeth, a self-help book for teen girls. The New York Times best-selling diary-style written advice book was years in the making — after all, it took half a decade of workshops for teenaged young women in schools across America, with more than 30,000 participants, to collect the valuable insights for Ask-Elizabeth. Starting in 2007, long before the book, Berkeley Lauren volunteered to lead important conversations and create a sense of sisterhood with students all over the country.
Ask-Elizabeth features some of the most asked questions from her workshops. It turns out dealing with the emotional life of a teenage girl through wisdom, advice and guidance, is a timeless exercise. Berkley Lauren aimed to make the adolescent path more gentle — and in her book, she provides touch points that offer a section for everyone.
“It’s so important that we know we’re not alone,” says Berkley Lauren, as she thinks back to the time she helped girls navigate the complexities of becoming adults. “What I really, really love is the platform that I created. It’s about the collection of incredible voices and lives and heartbeats. That sisterhood is powerful.”
So, Saved by the Bell is back (and we’re excited, so excited — we’re so thirsty for more)
Let’s be honest, the classic ’90s Saturday morning sitcom was famous for its public service announcements — so, of course we asked if audiences could expect any of these pop culture moments in 2020. Never forget: “There’s no hope with dope.”
“In these first 10 episodes we haven’t — but we should,” says Berkley Lauren. But what would the slogan be, we wondered?
“Don’t ask — just wear a mask,” supplied Berkley Lauren quickly.
And in case you’re wondering, we obviously asked her if she’d ever reprise her role as Kelly Wentworth on The L Word: Generation Q. The answer was exactly what we wanted. “If it makes sense, I would love it,” says Berkley Lauren, who is actually close friends with L Word star Jennifer Beals in real life. “If it makes sense for their reboot…I’d be happy to.”