PETER ENGEL: The Man Behind The ‘Bell’

PETER ENGEL: The Man Behind The ‘Bell’
Featured in BELLO issue #140

by Catharine Pracownik

For every kid who grew up in the 80s and 90s, hearing the opening ring and guitar riffs of the theme song to NBC’s Saved by the Bell will always bring on a wave of nostalgia. Airing in 85 countries, the sitcom was one of the most popular and unique shows of its time, the highlight of most kids’ Saturday mornings.

23 years later, self-proclaimed storyteller and SBTB executive producer Peter Engel has written a book detailing the immense highs and lows before reaching that dream. On an early Tuesday morning, I caught up with the man who brought Bell to my screen all those years ago while living in a small English town obsessed with everything American (Peter helped me experience California through the show, and without knowing it, inspired my move to L.A. many years later.)

BELLO: How does it feel to know your dreams have come true?

PE: I’m greatly blessed with no regrets. All my dreams have come true, and they’re still coming true. I’m the most blessed guy I know.

BELLO: You talk about self-doubt and the reality of making it in television being a long shot. If you could go back in time and tell yourself something during those moments of self-doubt, what would you say?

PE: I was too naive. I’m glad I didn’t know what I know now. I probably would have given up, way back then.

BELLO: You told your parents you were studying law at NYU instead of Television. What would you say to someone whose parents want them to pursue a different career path to what they want?

PE: If you can make a living doing something that you love, you’re gonna have a good life. Follow it, have a passion for it, don’t let anyone steal your dreams. Just go for it.

BELLO: While working on JFK’s campaign, he told you to have faith. Do you ever reflect on that surreal moment?

PE: A lot of people have asked me that. “You gotta have faith kid.” That was the most significant piece of advice that anyone ever gave me.

BELLO: Amongst the amazing highs and success achieved, you’ve been through just as many dark lows. How do you feel these periods of your life affected you since?

PE: I had my heart broken many times, before and after that, and I think if you don’t have your heart broken, you’re really not in it, and if you never have your heart broken, you’ll never enjoy the victory. There’s nothing like knowing the difference. You’ve gotta have your heart broken, if you don’t have your heart broken you’re really not in it.

BELLO: When you were “born again,” you described yourself as feeling brand new. How did it help you move forward and let go of the anger you had been holding?

PE: I became a new person, and the anger that I had, the rage I had against people and things and failures…I just became a forgiving person and let it all go.

BELLO: You made some courageous moves to get where you are today. What made you lay on the floor of the [network] president’s office to get more episodes of Bell?

PE: I knew this was my last chance for a hit. So I lied down in the president’s office. Everyone said, “Was that your plan B?” I said, “No, I didn’t have a plan B.” I thought he was going to totally agree with me that we wanted more episodes; if I hadn’t done that, we’d have been off the air in seven weeks.

BELLO: When did you first realize how successful Bell was becoming?

PE: We were only on air six or seven weeks. We didn’t have merchandise, all we had was Mark [-Paul Gosselaar] and Tiffani [Theissen] signing autographs and taking pictures. All of a sudden the crowd was 10,000 kids, and they had to come in jeeps to get us out. I knew we had a hit, and I had the best time of my life. Television is meant to be fun.

BELLO: How would you explain the energy of the audience at Bell compared to other shows?

PE: The audience was in a frenzy. We used to have St. Joseph Hospital on speed dial because girls were always fainting. I of course would rev them up, “Are you ready to meet the guys and the girls?” and I’d get them crazier than they were to begin with, and I loved it. I loved every minute of Bell. Friday night, stage 9 at NBC was like one big gigantic party.

BELLO: What’s your favorite memory of working on Bell?

PE: I thought when we went to the beach for six weeks it was like a family going on vacation. That was my favorite moment, driving down to the beach to go to work.

BELLO: At the end of Saved by the Bell, you said “Bell had been my first success. It was the answer to my dream. And, now, it was over.” How does that feeling of realization hit you?

PE: It only hit me for a night. It was a very momentary thing of “Gosh this is over.” What I did do was go, “I gotta get all these people jobs.” There will never be anything like Bell for me. We made history ’cause there’d never been a show like that.

BELLO: Your book is very honest and extremely uplifting. Is that how you wanted your readers to feel at the end?

PE: Yes. Never, ever, ever give up. Never let anyone steal your dreams. And remember, someday today will be a long time ago. Don’t miss one moment of it.

I WAS SAVED BY THE BELL is now available wherever books are sold.

About The Author

Aleksandar Tomovic
Editor in Chief

French photographer (of Serbian Origins) lives and works in Los Angeles. Known for his celebrity fashion editorials and recognized around the world for his european esthetics and american efficiency.

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