I've often felt that there were certain shows aimed at families, more specifically children, that could've been run on Saturday mornings instead of in primetime (I'm looking at you in particular, Meego, and we'll deal with you another time). And, while this notion is nullified by the way cable networks such as Disney Channel program their live-action comedies to be run into the ground, NBC thought they could go in the opposite direction, and move their biggest Saturday property of the 90's into primetime.
Saved by the Bell: The College Years was spun off from the main Bell, which, in order to differentiate, added the sub-title, The New Class, to the Saturday show, which was now in a hour-long block. It gave producer Peter Engel his first taste of primetime, and he'd later have greater success with Last Comic Standing. Unfortunately, College Years wasn't so big a hit as the network and the franchise's fan base had hoped.
For one thing, when the series started, Bell's triad of male leads, Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack), Dustin Diamond (Screech), & Mario Lopez (A. C. Slater), were the only ones moving over from the Saturday show. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (Kelly) would soon join them, probably not as quickly as had been envisioned, but once the first ratings came in, the return of Kelly was necessary in order to advance her storyline with Zack.
The quartet had moved on from Bayside High to California University, not to be confused with the real life University of California, so we can't call them Golden Bears here, though Kelly probably could've managed to wear the mascot's costume and look good. Anyway, real life football hero Bob Golic, who starred at Notre Dame and played in the NFL, was added on in his acting debut. Brother Mike has a better gig these days at ESPN Radio.
Anyway, scope this sample episode:
As I mentioned, the show's early failure to generate ratings forced Engel to accelerate plans, and that led to the series-ending TV movie, Wedding in Las Vegas, in which Zack & Kelly tied the knot. After College Years was cancelled, Dustin Diamond returned to the Saturday show, as Screech returned to Bayside as an assistant to Principal Rich Belding (Dennis Haskins). Actually, he was brought back as comedy relief, but it kept him busy for the next six years. As you all know, the others have found fertile ground in primetime, and Lopez currently anchors Extra. He & Gosselaar would return to the main Bell for a guest appearance, along with Lark Voorhies (Lisa). We covered that over in Saturday Morning Archives a while back, and because reruns of this series aired on TBS, which had rerun rights to Bell for, like, forever, we'll run this over in the Archives as well.