Available to buy now is 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die, a superb, weighty and superbly weighty book edited by Paul Condon. I contributed 16 of its articles, but also wrote two that didn’t make the final cut. You can exclusively read them below. How exciting!
Saved By The Bell (Sitcom, USA, 1989-1993)
School-based comedy for younger viewers centred on the adventures and relationships of six friends.
Cast: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Dustin Diamond, Mario Lopez, Lark Voorhies, Dennis Haskins
Original broadcaster: NBC
Awards: Various Young Artist Awards for the cast
For fans of: California Dreams, Happy Days
A comedy aimed squarely at the same kind of kids it featured, Saved By the Bell was often loud, brash, broad and raucous, yet could also add pathos and deal with serious issues. It followed a group of six adolescent students – popular Zack, cheerleader Kelly, jock A.C., know-it-all Jessie, gossipy Lisa and nerd Screech – at Bayside High School in California as they tackled weekly problems both trivial and traumatic. The show became the highest-rated series on Saturday-morning television.
It rose from the embers of kids’ sitcom Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which had featured film actress Hayley Mills as the eponymous teacher. When Disney axed the series after just 13 episodes, NBC acquired the rights, dropped Mills, carried over three of the class, added some new kids, and renamed the show. The new format was very often playful, with catchphrases such as head teacher Mr Belding’s “Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here?” De facto lead character Zack broke the fourth wall to discuss the plot with viewers. And Screech was under the remarkable delusion that he was a ladies’ man. But there were also occasional dramatic storylines, such as Zack and Kelly’s romance, and Jessie’s struggles with her separated parents.
Saved By the Bell was popular enough to produce two spin-offs – The College Years, which followed four of the original characters after graduation but only lasted one season, and The New Class, which stayed at Bayside for seven seasons. Dustin Diamond (Screech) was a regular in all four iterations of the franchise. With its infectious theme song, colourful sets and hilarious escapades, the original Saved By the Bell will always have a place in the hearts of anyone who was a child or young teen in the early 1990s.
Classic episode: In Jessie’s Song from the second season, Jessie feels the stress of mounting schoolwork and the demands of being in a new singing group. In an attempt to cope, she turns to caffeine pills. In a dramatic showdown, worried Zack confronts his friend …
Round the Twist (Comedy, Australia, 1989-2001)
Children’s comedy about a family experiencing spooky goings-on in an Australian lighthouse.
Cast: Richard Moir, Sam Vandenberg, Tamsin West, Rodney McLennan, Robyn Gibbes, Bunney Brooke, Esben Storm
Original broadcaster: Seven Network/ABC/Australia Network
Awards: Logie Award for Best Children’s Programme
For fans of: The Famous Five
Known as much for its rounds of recasting as for its strange, surreal sense of humour, Australian comedy-drama Round The Twist charmed children for over a decade. Widower Tony Twist and kids Linda, Pete and Bronson live in a lighthouse. Local businessman Harold Greeble wants them out for his own selfish reasons, but the family stand firm. However, while all that’s going on, there’s also a series of supernatural happenings…
Based initially on the short stories of Paul Jennings, the show featured a different story arc in each of its four 13-episode seasons as well as individual plots-of-the-week. In both years one (1989) and two (1992), the lighthouse was being haunted. Jennings then left the show, so various writers worked on season three (2000), which featured a magical book of Viking poetry that acted as a love spell, and a final batch of episodes (2001) that saw a mysterious knight-in-armour with a strange request to ask of Pete. Given this transmission spread of 12 years, the lead roles were often recast to keep the kids at the required age. Even the grown-up parts were all played by more than one actor. But rather than create confusion, this kept the show alive and helped give each season its own flavour.
The show’s theme song set the scene perfectly. Sung by Tamsin West, the first actress to play Linda, it appropriated lines from nursery rhymes such as Rain Rain Go Away. This was apt, because these were stories of imagination and whimsy taking place on the boundary of fantasy and reality. But that’s not to say the show didn’t tackle serious issues. It did – but always with a knowing smile on its face.
Classic episode: The opening instalment, Skelton on the Dunny, sees the Twists move into their lighthouse – but Bronson gets a shock when he discovers that the outside toilet is haunted!