"Saved by the Bell" is known today as a cheesy '90s throwback, a syndicated series defined more by its silly storylines than anything really substantial. But there's one episode that stands out from the others, and fans probably already know which one we're talking about: "Jessie's Song," in which Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) gets addicted to caffeine pills. As ridiculous as that episode's premise was, it initially started out much darker, according to one of the show's producers.
In an excerpt from his forthcoming memoir, "I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True," which was debuted by Vulture, executive producer Peter Engel reflected on that episode, which he co-wrote. According to Engel, it was important to him and the other staff writers to tackle more serious issues that reflected the lives of the show's core teen audience, and Engel came up with the idea to have Jessie become addicted to speed.
Unfortunately, that idea was vetoed by NBC's standards and practices department, who according to Engel said "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," the producer recalled. "But Standards and Practices wasn't budging."
The compromise was to change the drug in question from speed to caffeine pills, and the latter was a more acceptable substitute for the network. Of course, Engel acknowledged, the idea of someone getting hooked on caffeine was inherently silly.
"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," he wrote. "But hey, we had to start somewhere."
As Engel tells it, the show's audience loved the episode, and he still hears about the impact "Jessie's Song" made on viewers. For more from the producer, check out the full excerpt over at Vulture.