Trying to tell people about a certain weird corner of Saved by the Bell (SbtB) lore made the experience sound like a fever dream – directionless passion and wishful thinking. Who Shrunk Saturday Morning was real, however. And in a random YouTube rabbit hole, I found revitalization, vindication, and Saturday morning nirvana.
What Is Who Shrunk Saturday Morning?
Years ago, networks would run preview specials, usually to help boost ratings for the fall season. Most featured short ads for new shows, aimed at children and families. They would commonly use a framework story or gimmick-y theme to help sell the special, featuring a cast of celebrities or odd interactions between characters that didn’t normally occupy the same space.
These programs were funny, over-the-top, and made for must-see viewing, as they weren’t often re-aired or able to be sold on home media due to the numerous licensing issues. I enjoyed seeing the Dukes of Hazard characters watch their own cartoons, attending a party in a haunted high school with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and helping ALF solve a mystery, each with a laundry list of guests.
But my favorite was this particular outing featuring the cast of a budding new show, my friends from SbtB. In essence, this was their fledgling adventure, often referred to as a lost episode of sorts, even though there is almost no way it could be considered canon. Either way, it’s huge for the fandom. I rediscovered it a year ago and have been seeking more information about this special since, but the truth is there isn’t much.
Who Shrunk Saturday Morning aired on September 13, 1989 by most accounts, which was a Wednesday, but supposedly it was shown that Friday in some regions. Affiliate stations were often allowed to air these types of one-off programs at different times if they thought it could help the ratings, but most agreed that each area only showed it once. The special aired after SbtB had already shown its first three, or possibly four, episodes, but those were on random test nights if the records are correct. Some of the print ads for the special say that there was a preview of SbtB afterward, which looks like it was episode three, “The Gift,” which had already been shown at least once before this. As best I can tell, it looks like this was originally intended to be broadcast before the rest of the series. When that didn’t happen, the focus shifted to promoting the fact that SbtB would be moving to Saturday mornings.
Some places even call this Tiffani Thiessen’s television debut, showing up here in her iconic role of Kelly Kapowski. But as previously stated, other episodes featuring her had already hit the airways. I think when the special was filmed it was intended to be her first appearance, but much like when the cast runs into John Moschitta Jr. – mostly known for being The Micro Machines Man – they only make references to him being the character of Flash and not Mr. Testaverde. Moschitta appeared as a teacher in the same episode that is said to have been used as a preview after this special. In fact, there are several reasons to believe that these scenes featuring the cast were shot before or at the same time as the first episode.
Is It Worth “Saving” This “Bell”?
As for the show itself? It’s brilliant. (Okay, it was to me in 1989—but it’s still cool.)
Sadly, the intro to the special seems to be lost to time, as every version I’ve found of this is missing it. Trust me, I spent a lot of time trying to hunt the lost part down. We see the familiar classroom in Bayside High as the gang is standing next to a television set (I love this thing, especially with the pop-up top) wondering where Zack and Screech are, concerned that they are going to be late and get in trouble with the truancy officer, Ms. Bagwind.
Ah, right – Ms Windbag. Get it? Not very clever, but this special was how I (and others I’m sure) learned what a truancy officer was. Bagwind was played by Marsha Warfield, mostly known for her roles on Night Court and Empty Nest. This character, with her Bret Hart-like jacket and twin attack dogs, only exists within this special, but she would appear as herself in an episode of SbtB: The College Years later. The groups’ question is answered quickly as they see their two absent friends appear on the television screen, where it turns out that Screech’s shrinking machine backfired on them and now they’re stuck in Television Land.
Yes, for real.
SbtB had a bit of a tone issue in some episodes. There were ridiculous dream sequences, entire episodes that were fantasies, Screech had temporary powers at one point and a robot (some thought they wanted him to mirror Steve Urkel), and Zack Morris could freeze time, but having them go into Television Land here may be the wildest they went. It explains why they didn’t care if this story made much sense, as it was never intended to be taken as a part of the show.
The beginning has a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids vibe. Then it’s a little TRON with the digital world, but by the end, it’s all about reaching the Master Programmer – whose name is usually accompanied by trumpets – and an ending that feels extremely close to The Wizard of Oz. Eventually, Slater and Lisa attempt to go rescue Zack and Screech, but end up being shrunk themselves. The four go through various weird environments meeting celebrities and seeing previews for the new shows while Jessie and Kelly are left to deal with their antagonist.
Can the gang beat the clock and get back before the bell rings? Sure they can — and the Master Programmer (trumpets!) says that’s why the show is called that.
I hate to spoil the surprises, but for those who don’t want to watch the special, the cartoons we see are ALF Tales, The Karate Kid, The Smurfs, Camp Candy, Captain N: The Game Master, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and of course a preview of Saved by the Bell (why did they never get a cartoon?). A few other shows also get vague mentions or pop up as signs on the Saturday Morning Circuit crossroads, like The Love Boat, Cheers, and Unsolved Mysteries.
As for celebrities, we get some of the voice actors from the various shows and, of course, our favorite puppet, ALF. Another note for how early I think some of this was filmed for these shows, as they’d have to probably work around everyone’s schedule, is that the voiceover from Matt Hill during the Captain N segment sounds just a bit off. Either they caught him on an off-day or he hadn’t fully refined the Kevin Keene voice yet, which makes more sense if these video packages were just plugged in much later after the majority of the special was done.
Along with the aforementioned live-action character of Flash, the circuit maker, we also get the two biggest cameos of the night, Sherman Hemsley (Amen, The Jeffersons, Dinosaurs), and John Candy (no introduction needed). Seeing them interact with the SbtB cast is amazing and left me wondering why that couldn’t have been the whole program. This was excellent for all of the right reasons.
I absolutely adored the sets used here. Television Land is so cheaply done and yet magnificent, like a studio hodgepodge, but with visuals I recalled for years and kept trying to explain to others. There was the fog door that led into Smurf village, walls of TVs, a giant NES Advantage controller, ALF’s simplistic dressing room… one has to wonder if the mini-sets for stuff like Camp Candy were built specially for this program. Lastly, there was Screech’s basement, another relic that appears to be something scrapped from the actual show. It looks so interesting.
The version I watched on YouTube came with the commercials still attached. It’s fun to see what aired with this, but there are also some interesting moments, with Alvin from the Chipmunks dancing with Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby having some awkward moments in a Kodak promotion.
In some fun SbtB trivia, as Jessie and Kelly are trying to pretend like they aren’t talking to their tardy friends on the television they grab instruments. These are the same ones they actually play in early episodes of the show. Also, for all my friends out there who were screaming for Zack and Lisa to end up together, around the 7:35 mark they are quickly seen holding hands in a blink-and-you-’ll-miss-it shot. Maybe this was an early sign that the writers were considering it, but more likely that touching was a case of the actors being chummy, as Mark-Paul Gosselaar has said that he dated all three of his female co-stars at different points of the show.
Very few people will get as much out of this program as I did, mostly fans of SbtB, cartoon lovers, or fiends for weird obscure media. But I was genuinely elated when I rediscovered it and feel like I have this small gem of my childhood back, so I’m sharing. May everyone find something that means this much to them from long ago.
Content Source: www.comingsoon.net