If you are of a certain age, or perhaps had kids between childhood and adolescence at the time, I imagine you are familiar with NBC Saturday morning live action sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” It aired from 1989 to 1993 and I bet you had a good chuckle, or two, at the family friendly shenanigans set at fictional Bayside High School (which was also the location for “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” from 1993 to 2000).
It was the innocence of the comedy format; a simple and pure depiction of American youth. There were no sex and drugs, and no violence; just comical situations and misunderstandings amongst a rather appealing group of young fresh-faced actors. And it made an indelible impact.
At the time, the broadcast networks were losing their audience of kids and teens on Saturday mornings, and NBC decided a live action comedy set in a high school was the ticket to regaining those pre-adult eyeballs.
“Saved by the Bell” did not invent the concept of comical hijinks in a school locale. Early 1950s primetime entries like “Mister Peepers,” starring Wally Cox and featuring a young Tony Randall, and “Our Miss Brooks” with Eve Arden, were located at fictional high schools. The two paved the way for an endless stream of other worthy sitcoms over the decades in an educational facility (or featuring high school teens) including…deep breath…”Happy Days,” “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “Head of the Class,” “The Facts of Life,” “The Wonder Years,” “Boy Meets World,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “That’70s Show” and, more recently, “Glee.”
Up your nose with a rubber hose!
There was also “Saved by the Bell” in primetime and a Saturday morning clone called “California Dreams.” Then, of course, there is the mountain of entries on cable outlets like Disney Channel, MTV and Nickelodeon (TeenNick, in particular). “Awkward” on MTV, for example, enjoyed a five season run. And digital streamers like Netflix surely recognize the value of the brand with the next generation of school-aged inhabitants courtesy of “Fuller House,” which has been greenlit for a third season.
Decades before any of these series were the old “Our Gang” theatrical featurettes, originally produced by Hal Roach as silent shorts beginning in 1922, which ultimately segued onto the small screen as “The Little Rascals.” Remember the “He-Man Woman Haters Club”?
Naturally, we could continue this nostalgic walk down memory lane, which would only solidify the potential value of this ageless format of comedy storytelling. “This is a genre that has been foolproof since the beginning of television; young, funny, happening kids doing stuff that is truly timeless,” said Robert Russo, President and CEO of RNR Media Consulting. “It is something that people, all ages, can relate to. And it is something that advertisers, in particular, might find great value in given the family-themed nature of the subject matter.”
The latest entry in the category, named one of the Top 10 Series for 2017 by Popstar Magazine, is “This Just In” from Associated Television International and current Saturday morning occupant on cable network Pop. Debuting on Dec. 10, 2016, and currently scheduled in the Saturday morning daypart where similar appeal “Saved By the Bell” once thrived, “This Just In” features Elizabeth Stanton as a socially awkward girl named Liz Sandler who arrives at the fictional Sunnybrook High School and finds a rather eclectic (translation: fun, innocent and lovable) group of friends. Included are Kristos Andrews as Tyler, Ashlee Macropoulos as Cassie, Jennifer Veal as Abby, and Wyntergrace Williams as Becca.
“When Rob Pinkston (“Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide”) wrote the original pilot; we’ve known each other for years; he based the script off of my personality in high school,” said Elizabeth Stanton in an interview with Justine Magazine, who was just cited by Popstar Magazine as one of the Top 10 Actresses of 2017 for “This Just in.” “I really feel like I am Liz Sandler because it was me in high school…the weird kid.”
“I think what people get from this show is there are so many different characters, personality traits, shapes, sizes – everything – and there is so much acceptance,” added Jennifer Veal. “Everyone is friends and everyone is so different. People have to always remember that there is only one you. You can be unique and special in your own way.”
Like “Saved by the Bell” before it, and others that will eventually follow, the simplicity behind “This Just In” is the ticket to its durability. And this is the formula, series featuring tweens seguing into adulthood, that resonates in the growing world of social media.
“With the success of classic teen comedies from the past finding new audiences on Teen Nick recently as well as the renewed popularity for “Saved By the Bell” on Me-TV,” we felt the timing was right to create a new teen sitcom in the classic style of comedy we all love,” said “This Just In” executive producer Laura McKenzie.
Currently airing in the Saturday 10:30 a.m. half-hour, “This Just In” opened 2017 building from the lead-in by a hefty 71 percent in total households on Jan. 7, 2017, according to Nielsen Media Research. Growth demographically was as much as 150 percent in women 18-49 and women 25-54, proving there is more to the audience profile of a comedy of this nature than just kids and tweens audience.
“The appeal of a series like ‘This Just In,’ or really any show stressing the experience of any segment of a particular audience, is the relatability of the subject matter,” noted Bill Carroll, Senior Vice President, Director of Content Strategy, Katz Television Group. “Older viewers nostalgically remember those times, while the younger viewers – tweens and teens in this case – are actually living through them.”
“What it really comes down to is the right place and the right time and some uniqueness of the program, and I think people are just looking for a form of escape at present,” added Russo. “This type of show totally that fits the bill.”
As the broadcasters, at present, remain in search of an audience in this increasingly fractionized landscape where over 500 original scripted series, a new record, will compete for an audience in 2017, the best option is sometimes a familiar entry where you just plain laugh.
“Sometimes you can go home again,” said Carroll, who cites the tremendous response to the “Saved by the Bell”-themed skit by Jimmy Fallon and with the original actors on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in 2015. “I still think there still can be a need for a comedy set in a high school with likeable characters and relatable situations. And it is all about tapping into a formula with characters and situations you can simply just enjoy.”
With nine additional episodes commissioned on top of the initial 13 (bringing the season one total to 22), Sunnybrook High School is ultimately the new Bayside High on “This Just In.”
“We’ve had a blast creating this show about a group of individuals that wouldn’t normally have been friends, but come together through their school’s TV channel,” said Elizabeth Stanton to Justine Magazine. “There really is something for everyone, situations everyone can relate to and laugh at…or laugh with, because high school is a crazy experience!”