The twisted saga of Dustin Diamond, the actor who can’t outrun ‘Screech’ of ‘Saved By the Bell’

September 2, 2014

Dustin Diamond, left, stars in the off-Broadway show “Bayside! The Musical!” with Justin Cimino as Screech, at Theatre 80 in New York City. Diamond, who played Screech on TV for a decade, is spending the next few months in the “Saved by the Bell” parody. (AP Photo/Fortune Creative, Matt Greenstein)

This week, the Lifetime Network brings us perhaps the most significant television event since the moon landing.

The program in question: the film “The Unauthorized ‘Saved By the Bell’ Story.”

“Saved By the Bell” was a TV show that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1993 featuring the charming antics of the students of the fictional Bayside High School. Assorted spinoff series and television movies were produced until the end of the 20th century.

While oft forgotten amid legendary shows of that era that got more ink or more Emmys — think “Seinfeld” and “Survivor” — “Saved by the Bell” was, for the tail end of Generation X, a big deal. As the Los Angeles Times explained: “For a significant segment of the population, ‘Saved By the Bell’ is a major cultural touchstone.” One IMDB scribe even dubbed it the second-best high school show of all-time — behind only “Beverly Hills 90210.”

But according to one cast member, there was a lot going on behind the scenes of the PG-rated series, including illicit drug use and intra-cast sex. This cast member not only wrote the tell-all memoir that inspired the Lifetime film, but served as its executive producer.

The cast member: Dustin Diamond, a.k.a. Samuel “Screech” Powers.

In the “Saved By the Bell” universe, it’s not easy being Screech. Screech did not get girls. He did not wear cool clothes. Though beloved by fellow characters, he was “Saved By the Bell’s” heel — its Gilligan, its Ralph Malph, its Urkel. And, even after his voice changed, he was still Screech.

Now it seems Diamond, 37, wants payback. In an interview with the Associated Press, he compared Screech to an opponent in a wrestling match: “This thing is on top of you, trying to pin you down. And you’re wriggling and wriggling, flailing and tossing, to get this thing off of you. But when you do, you don’t walk away from it. You mount it, right? I’m mounting it.”

Since “Saved By the Bell” went dark, Diamond’s tried a number of strategies to get on top.

The first: porn. In 2006, Diamond bared all in the naughty film “Screeched.” Alternate title: “Screech: Saved By the Smell.”

“On one hand, [the porn] helped because it did break that image,” Diamond told the AP. “But in retrospect, I kind of wish I hadn’t gone exactly that route.” (Fact-checkers take note: Diamond later claimed he used a body double.)

After porn, Diamond did a tour of lesser reality TV shows, including VH1′s “Celebrity Fit Club” and “Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling.” He also tried self-referential stand-up comedy.

“After a decade of Screech, I’m not … bitter,” he told an unfriendly audience in this YouTube video posted in 2008. “I’m horny.”

Then, in 2009, came  “Behind the Bell,” his tell-all memoir published by the little-known press Transit. The book contained some of the revelations explored in the Lifetime film — revelations that, curiously, Diamond has tried to walk back while serving as the film’s executive producer.

The Lifetime movie is going to be based on my book in the way that it’s a behind-the-scenes look, but my book was written by a ghost writer, and they tried to milk the negativity,” he told the AP. “It wasn’t supposed to be a dirty tell-all.”

“Behind the Bell” is not available electronically, and The Washington Post did not have a copy at press time. But here’s how the Wrap described Diamond’s effort last year:

What came out was a sloppy book with duplicated paragraphs, photos Diamond didn’t realize would be included were mid-narrative, as well as words and phrases the actor said he’s “never used in my life.”

Diamond claims his words were twisted to reflect “weird sexual” themes with regards to co-stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffani Thiessen often being called to the boss’s office. Diamond was not even given sections of “Behind the Bell” to proofread, he alleged — which could have spared both accuracy, and the actor a ton of public backlash.

Even as the Lifetime film airs and he discusses leaving Screech behind, Diamond remains involved in other “Saved By the Bell”-ish projects. Example: He’s starring in “Bayside!:  The Musical!,” an off-Broadway “Saved By the Bell” parody described as “raunchy.”

With parody, there’s new ground to be found,” Diamond told the AP. “It’s not in the confines of ‘Hey, keep it serious. This is the real deal here.’ Now it’s poking fun at the real deal, so there’s a whole brand new well to dig around in.”

It’s unclear what Diamond’s next attempt to distance himself from “Saved By the Bell” will be.

“The hardest thing about being a child star is giving up your childhood,” Diamond told the Huffington Post in 2013. “You don’t get a childhood, really. You’re a professional and you got to know your lines and rehearse and practice. It was making sure that you were the funniest and the best that you can be because if you weren’t funny, you could be replaced.”

Check out “Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story’: The 7 best Hollywood cliches from the cheesy TV movie” by The Post’s Emily Yahr.

And here’s more from the Wrap:

Justin Moyer is the deputy editor of the Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter: @justinwmmoyer.
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