Everyone has those shows from their childhood that leave an indelible mark, shaping the years to come. For me Saved by the Bell was absolutely one of them and reading Executive Producer Peter Engel’s new autobiography, I Was Saved by the Bell not only gave me a look into how the show came to be, but more importantly, how the man behind it all came to be.
There are numerous memorable aspects of his life, it’s hard to pick one to lead off with. He created and produced numerous shows besides Saved by the Bell (I was completely unaware he was also behind Last Comic Standing), but without a doubt it was his most successful and Engel admits it is the one that is central to all his success. By the time Bell was over, it was syndicated in dozens and dozens of countries and had fans all over the world.
A throughline for Engel in all of his projects was sending a message about society and the people in it. He was moved by the ills he witnessed all around him and in the news, so he always made it a point to use the medium of television to help fix those problems. He put issues in his scripts that no one else in Hollywood or anywhere else were even touching.
During its run, Bell dealt with eating disorders, interracial dating, drug addiction, and much more. All that inside a kids show! Engel credits those brave stories as a main reason why so many kids connected with the show. It dealt with things they saw in their own lives that no one wanted to admit were there.
Yet, I Was Saved by the Bell doesn’t only talk about that one show. He paints the picture leading up to it and what came after, which was filled with much more turbulence, pitfalls, and heartache than you expect. Through the twists and turns of his road, he always managed to find his way back to his love of television and telling stories that mattered.
To point out one specific moment in the book, Engel delivered a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006 that can only be described as “ballsy.” I already had tremendous respect for him before I read that, but afterwards I found a whole new level I didn’t know was there.
I Was Saved by the Bell is far more than a trip down memory lane to Bayside High. It show you a man who dedicated his life and his talents to making the world a better place and how we are all better people because of it.