The Kids Are Alright in Season Two of 'Saved by the Bell': An Interview with Showrunner Tracey Wigfield and Executive Producer Franco Bario
'Saved by the Bell' executive producer and showrunner Tracey Wigfield and executive producer Franco Bario share with Script's Editor Sadie Dean about rebooting a 90s classic for the modern audience, implementing important themes into episodes, and what they hope audiences take away from the highly anticipated season two of the beloved comedy.
In Season 2 of Peacock’s hit comedy SAVED BY THE BELL, Bayside High gears up to compete in the Southern California School Spirit Competition. Daisy is determined not to get sidetracked by “Bayside nonsense,” but when a cute new student is elected student council VP, she finds herself in way over her head. Mac sees the competition as a way to finally step out from his father’s shadow. Jamie leans on Lexi in the wake of his parents’ divorce while Lexi struggles to be a more understanding girlfriend; Aisha seeks a new outlet after football is canceled; DeVante finds love with a rich Bayside girl, and Slater and a newly single Jessie grow closer despite their tumultuous romantic past.
Season two of Saved by the Bell is authentically and charismatically secure with its identity as a reboot of a beloved 90s nostalgic comedy. This is due in part to the show's EP and showrunner Tracey Wigfield's intelligent and dry humor, and EP Franco Bario's deep ties to the original show. I had the greatest pleasure speaking with this dynamic duo about rebooting a 90s classic for the modern audience, implementing important themes into episodes, and what they hope audiences take away from the highly anticipated season two of the beloved comedy.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: You have certainly captured the essence of the nostalgia of the original show and then making it for a modern audience, which seems quite a challenging task, and you did it so very well. Starting with you, Tracey, what initially piqued your interest as a storyteller to jump on board with this new iteration of the show, and then becoming the fearless leader of these voices?
Tracey Wigfield: I was a big fan of the original show when I was a kid. Franco and I had worked together on another show, and even back then I used to ask him questions all the time, because he was a producer on the original Saved by the Bell about what was it like, and what's the cast like? When the rights were available, I kind of pitched the idea, it seemed like an exciting opportunity to do something I hadn't seen before, which is, do a reboot of a show, which obviously, you have seen many times before, but do it in a different format, instead of doing a multi-cam, Saturday morning kids show, take this very beloved piece of IP and repackage it as a single-cam comedy for adults, which is closer to what my background is, and what I like writing. And so taking this thing that my generation loved as kids and rework it as a comedy we could genuinely enjoy now as adults, I hadn't seen that done before. And so that seemed like a fun and creative challenge.
I also thought there was a lot of comedy to be mined from poking some fun at the original show, which was sort of squeaky clean. But I also have a great deal of respect and reverence for the show, because I loved it as a kid, and a lot of people loved it as a kid. So, there was a line to walk that I think Franco was very helpful with and I was very aware of that. You don't want to just be, you know, shitting on this thing that everybody loves. I think that was sort of our challenge season one to strike the right tone.
Sadie: It's definitely very hyper-aware of itself. So, Franco, as the producer, can you give me a quick rundown of what you're facilitating for the creative team in making sure that they're able to achieve these quirky ideas and get them on screen?
Franco Bario: Yeah, there are a lot of moving parts in these episodes. And I think, I’m sometimes feeling like I'm the anchor for all the departments, because whether it's a gag, or it's a certain kind of set, or it's the certain look of something from prep all the way through post and delivery, the departments know that there's like a voice that they can come to that sort of pulling all of their interdisciplinary tasks together. And then working with Tracey to make sure we're saying the right thing. It's especially enjoyable on the show, because there are things that we're doing that are direct references to the original, of course, and sometimes I'll talk to Tracey about something that's written and we'll have all these grand ideas, and she'll be like, ‘No, it should look crappy, like the original.’ [laughs] Great! [laughs] But it's true. I mean, if you are sort of poking fun at it, you have to be also accurate with what you're representing from that show, too. So, I think it's helpful for everyone that I was there, 30 years ago, and my brain is mush but you know, I was there.
Sadie: The original show, had a lot of thematic messages while these high school kids lived in this kind of fantasy world, but there were these hidden elements of these messages that weren't so heavy-handed about acceptance, drug use, sexuality, and at the core of it was just this crazy crew of kids that love each other. And you're doing that now in this version of the show, too. And I appreciate that it's not again, heavy-handed, and you're able to ground the fantasy world into reality. When tackling an episode, are you finding messages or themes that you want to incorporate into that episode ahead of time?
Tracey: It depends from story to story. I think with anything, even the stupidest comedy, it needs a reason to exist. And it should have something to say and have some sort of point of view. Above all, it's a comedy show, it's meant to be funny. And so, I think the messaging is kind of secondary, but it depends like in the room. There certainly have been stories last season and in this season that have started with a message a little bit like, one that comes to mind is Aisha, who is Afro-Latina, played by an Afro-Latina actress. A couple of writers, who are LatinX in the room talked about that, when they were in high school, some of the native Spanish kids who spoke Spanish at home, were getting worse grades than the white kids in their Spanish class and would kind of be like, ‘Oh, why is that?’ And it wasn't until they got older, and kind of looked back on it that they realize like, ‘Oh, because it was white teachers teaching sort of weird Spanish, that wasn't what they spoke at home.’ And so that was just an interesting conversation we had in the room. And that led to an episode that two of the writers, Victoria and Marcos, wrote about that experience. And Aisha had a similar experience. So that one specifically started on that's an interesting conversation to have. Is that OK? And who are these classes made for? And is the curriculum always looking out for everyone? Or is it just looking out for the rich kids, the white kids? But it's not always like that a lot of times, sometimes it's this funny set-piece, or an idea that we think is funny, or something we want to make fun of from the old show or something. It depends on what the story is.
Sadie: And with the gender issues or mental health issues, whatever it is, it's fully accepted and explored in that world. And at its core, it's really just about kids trying to get through a school day, in high school.
Tracey: Yeah, right.
Sadie: In terms of the two of you linking, up I'm curious about your collaboration. I know, two worked together on your other show, Great News.
Franco: When we worked together on Great News, it was such fun that we hoped there would be something after. Tracey didn't tell me right away this was next time, she's like, ‘I have something you may be interested in working on.’ We wanted to work together and it would be great. And this just was like, an amazing kind of coming together.
Tracey: It was your destiny. [laughs]
Franco: That's literally what the text said, ‘I have a project, and this may be your destiny.’ [laughs]
Tracey: [laughs] You have to work on this.
Sadie: [laughs] Yeah, you can't say no, that's not an option. And Tracey when dealing with the nostalgia of the old show, and making this new show for the modern audience, and dealing with the current social climate, in terms of setting up your writer’s room, what were you looking for in a writer's voice to round out that worldview for you?
Tracey: I definitely wanted a really diverse room. And it's something that's always been important to me. I think I've gotten it the most right on this show out of the past couple shows that I've staffed and it's a room I'm really proud of. Not just diverse, but it was important too that it contains some people who related to the material in a real way which the premise that these kids get their school shut down and then they go to this fancy school is something that never happened to me so it felt like I was in danger of it feeling inauthentic if I didn't populate the room with people who could authentically identify with that feeling or that experience, as well as like a lot of women and queer writers and, trans writers and just making sure that there were enough people that could speak truthfully to the conversations we want to have.
Sadie: I think you’ve definitely nailed that voice for that world. At the end of the day, what do you hope audiences take away from the second season of the show?
Tracey: I hope it just makes people feel happy. The show is really kind of, yes, it pokes fun at the old show, but the DNA that it shares with the old show is that I think it comes from a place of great joy. And I think the reason I love the old Saved by the Bell was just because it made me feel sort of, everything's OK, kind of happy and hopeful about the world and, ‘Oh, high school doesn't seem as scary as it does on 90210.’ [laughs] ‘It seems like everything's just going to turn out, OK.’ And I think our show digs into the real issues, maybe a little more, but I think it still comes from a place of hope.
Franco: I hope that people take away from season two wanting a season three. [laughs]
Tracey: Not like, ‘I'm so satisfied, I need no more.’ [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] I think that's equally fair. Franco, what got you excited to want to be in the world of TV?
Franco: Oh, wow. Well, literally going to Emerson College. I just sort of landed there and had not aspired to this profession until that and then fell immediately in love. And it literally propelled me to right where I am, just through what I did there, and the people I got to know that helped along the way and got me into Los Angeles. I think I have always loved being behind the scenes of things that a lot of people care about. I was almost going to be a McDonald's manager for the rest of my life. And I did make the transition to something else people care about.
Sadie: What about you, Tracey? What was the thing that made you say, ‘I'm going to be a TV writer’?
Tracey: I was always into comedy as a kid. I used to make videos, like a lot of people do, like funny videos with my best friend and my sister. I loved making people laugh as a kid. And it was something I kind of didn't figure out was a job until I graduated college. I love TV and I wanted to work in TV. One of my first jobs was I was a writer's assistant on 30 Rock. And I was just like, kind of intimidated and impressed by people pitching jokes in a room, and I just really had the feeling of like, ‘Oh, I want to get good at this.’ And so, Tina Fey and other people in the room had an improv background, so I started doing stuff at UCB. And I kind of figured out this is what I want to dedicate my life to.
The highly anticipated second season of Peacock’s hit comedy series SAVED BY THE BELL will be returning on Wednesday, November 24, 2021