There is perhaps no person on this earth more knowledgeable about Saved By The Bell than Dashiell Driscoll, the comedy writer who turned a childhood obsession with Bayside High into a viral web series, a writing gig on Peacock’s new take on Saved By The Bell, and a podcast, Cadence13's Zack To The Future, with none other than Zack Morris himself, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
According to Driscoll, it was The A.V. Club’s coverage of a Tori-centric Saved By The Bell spec script that actually first connected him with Gosselaar. By that point, however, it’s likely that the actor had already seen some of Funny Or Die’s wildly popular Zack Morris Is Trash videos, which Driscoll penned to pay tribute to the character’s truly monstrous behavior. Now, the pair are regular pals, co-hosting a weekly podcast in which Gosselaar, having gone 30 years without watching the series, is guided through the halls of Bayside by Driscoll. Together, the pair marvel at Zack’s bad behavior, cringe at Casey Kasem jokes, and catch up with everyone from Mario “Slater” Lopez and Elizabeth “Jessie” Berkley to background players. Remember the twins? They have kids in college now.
Peacock’s Saved By The Bell “reimagining” brings Gosselaar, Lopez, and Berkley back in the fold as it ushers a new cast of students into the Palisades. It begins with Zack, now the governor of California, atoning for closing a number of low-income schools by sending their students to the privileged halls of Bayside. As these new students adjust to the upper crust, Zack’s son, Mac, causes trouble in much the same way his dad did. Ahead of its November 25 premiere, Driscoll sat down with us for a chat about the podcast, the origins of Zack Morris Is Trash, and being the resident Saved By The Bell expert in the Saved By The Bell writers’ room.
The A.V. Club: We should probably begin by tracing the beginning of your Saved By The Bell journey. How did you first encounter the show and how did Zack Morris Is Trash come about?
Dashiell Driscoll: My very first encounter with Saved By The Bell would have to go back to Saturday mornings and navigating the cartoon landscape that was on at the time. When I flipped to NBC—which definitely had cartoons in the ’90s, although maybe not the top-shelf stuff Fox was offering—I would start seeing live action [shows] and Saved By The Bell was kind of the first transition between the cartoons and live action shows. And then you had California Dreams and so on. So I would watch Saved By The Bell on Saturday morning and as I got older I just kept watching it on reruns—it never went off the air. In high school I would watch it almost every day. When I came home from school, there’d be a full hour of it and it would just be the correct amount of time to completely procrastinate any responsibilities. And I never really stopped watching the show. It was just one of the things it was on.
And then when I was at Funny Or Die—I’d been there almost, I think, 10 years at this point—someone told me that if you want to graduate to TV writing, you need a spec script. And a great way to a great angle is to find a show you love and write a creative take on it. And I thought, well, I grew up loving Saved By The Bell, and somewhere along the way, I had this idea of, well, what if you did the Seinfeld contest episode but in the halls of Bayside? That could be funny. So I figured I better go back and watch some of these to kind of re-immerse myself in how they talk. The first episode I watched was the episode with the girl in the wheelchair. [In the episode, Zack loses his mind when he finds out the girl he’s been flirting with is in a wheelchair.—Ed.] I was instantly blown away by how aggressively this would not happen today. You would just never let this episode of TV anywhere near the airwaves.
I brought it up to the broader room of creatives at Funny Or Die the next day and almost everyone had this kind of vague recollection of like, “Yea, Zack did some pretty questionable things.” And that got me thinking: Maybe this is an article, maybe this is a podcast series, just not really knowing what I had. I leaned on my strengths at Funny Or Die at the time and wrote it as if it was an article or kind of an exposé on a specific episode. In this case, it was Zack lying about being Jewish to go to a baseball game, and I did it because it was Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah was happening. It instantly took off. It was a very clear hit and there was a quick moment of, “Oh, I better make another one of these.” So, over the course of ten weeks I made nine in a row, which was a pretty aggressive output, but we were really just trying to throw gasoline on this fire.
Having been at Funny Or Die for so long and working in the social department for forever and trying to carve out a thing that was mine, it was very clear this was that. It led to another series called A Very Special Episode. It’s kind of like a sister series of Zack Morris Is Trash. And yeah, it became a real priority for me working there at the time.
AVC: How did you make the leap to writing for Peacock’s Saved By The Bell? And why do you think the producers wanted the Zack Morris Is Trash guy on the writing staff?
DD: That’s a great question. One day, out of the blue, I got a direct message from Tracey Wigfield and she asked if I would be open to having a breakfast meeting with her. And as soon as she started talking and telling me about what this was, the wheels were turning so fast in my head, like I could not believe what I was hearing and that anyone involved with this would want to talk to me. At the very end of it, when she asked, “Do you have a spec script I can read and I can show the studio?” I couldn’t blurt out fast enough that I actually have a Saved By The Bell [script]. I was overjoyed at this idea and still also very certain I would not get the job. Positive. There was no chance and this was the biggest long shot.
It turned out [that] Mark-Paul was the one who had talked to Tracey and said, “Hey, you should really check out the Zack Morris Is Trash guy.” His endorsement is what got me in the door with Tracey, and that spec script showed both her and NBC that I was capable of writing jokes in a format that people could say. It was a truly head-spinning moment where kind of everything clicked and came together very quickly over breakfast.
AVC: How did you first get on Mark-Paul’s radar?
DD: When you guys tweeted out the article, I quote-tweeted it with the script and then he retweeted me and said we should do a table read of this. That was the first interaction I ever had with him. And there was no table read. Nothing came of that. I was not surprised by that detail. The second time I interacted with Mark-Paul was in the writers’ room maybe 17 weeks into the job. He showed up and said hi to everyone and said, “Hi, Dashiell,” like we’d known each other for a while. In some ways we had, just not in person. Interaction number three came when I first got a message from him [earlier this year]. He told me about this idea for a podcast and that he had kind of essentially sold a podcast in the room with a host like me being his co-host. He asked if I would be available to be the “host like me” and my answer was a resounding, no-questions-about-anything yes.
AVC: Did you ever feel like, “I’ve been preparing my whole life for this”?
DD: Yeah, I mean, there’s there’s definitely a part of this is where preparation meets opportunity. I’ve just come off of Saved By The Bell as a staff writer, finished up a run of Zack Morris Is Trash videos I owed Funny Or Die, and now I’m doing a Saved By The Bell podcast so, yes, it’s like I’ve been training for this. I’ve started to feel a bit like I’m trapped in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining except it’s the wonderful halls of Bayside. And I’m wondering if the simulation had a hiccup or when this particular train changes tracks. But I’m very happy to have these opportunities.
AVC: Are there any episodes you can’t wait to discuss? The wheelchair episode, perhaps?
DD: Oh, man, yeah. What I learned very quickly in doing Zack Morris Is Trash and mapping out 10 episodes at the time is that I needed to cherry-pick from the later seasons because that’s when it really got ramped up with the antics and lack of consequence. Yeah, the wheelchair one is probably going to be [wild] for Mark-Paul, who is regularly shocked not just by the plot lines, but individual jokes. In this week’s episode there’s a a joke about Roseanne Barr’s weight and we both noted how a joke like that would never happen today on a kid’s show on Saturday morning. But, for my money, [the wheelchair episode] is right up there with the charity auction and the swimsuit calendar one with the creep trying to take Kelly to Paris who winds up being the voice of reason.
AVC: Do you have any white whales in terms of guests that you’re trying to get?
DD: Leah Remini. [Laughs] In my head I just heard Stacey Carosi. We’ve talked about doing, in a world where we were not currently bound by a pandemic, some kind of road show—record some episodes, talk to super fans, talk to celebrities, create a richer tapestry of an experience. To discuss the Beach Club episodes by the beach in Malibu with some of the original players would be an absolute dream come true.
AVC: Let’s talk a little bit more about the Peacock revival. There’s been a lot of the old show’s DNA in a lot of the early footage. In what ways would you say this new Saved By The Bell dovetails with the one we grew up on?
DD: In the latest trailer you saw both Zack and Kelly, but you also see Mr. Dewey. So there are nods to the key players but also some of the lesser-known figures. And there are certainly plenty of references to the original series throughout the show. Part of my function in this writers’ room would be Saved By The Bell trivia. Any time something would come up where it would be like, did these people date? Or did this ever happen? Was there a Bayside newspaper? If [the other writers] asked that kind of thing, I very quickly had the answer. Even though I was still kind of cutting my teeth, learning how to make a TV show beyond just a loony spec script, I felt like I could contribute a fan’s perspective of what was happening at Bayside.
I believe Tracey used the term “reimagining.” It’s not a reboot, it’s a reimagining, and I think that’s a very accurate assessment. Sometimes I would make the joke that that new fans will be confused and old fans will be angry, but I don’t think that’s the case. There’s a whole lot of totally understandable skepticism any time you reboot a property, but, and I’m saying this through the most clear, non-rose-colored glasses, we made a really special show. I really believe that. I’m not going to say I’m so excited, but I’m very thrilled for people to see it.
AVC: The new show follows Zack Morris’ son, Mac Morris. Is he also trash?
DD: You know, that’s going to be one where I’m just going to have to say you’ll just have to tune in to Saved By The Bell on Peacock and decide for yourself. But if anyone else wants to make internet videos about this particular show, you have my blessing to go ahead. I don’t think I’m contractually able to this time around.