Easily the most memorable episode of Saved by the Bell to this day is “Jessie’s Song,” the after school special-like episode in which Jessie Spano gets hooked on over-the-counter caffeine pills amid pressure to do well on her midterms and perform in her singing group, resulting in the infamous scene, above, one for which Elizabeth Berkley should clearly have won an Emmy. But even those who watched this episode as a kid must have wondered, “Really? Caffeine pills?”
Yeah, about that. In the following excerpt from his memoir out today called I Was Saved by the Bell: Stories of Life, Love, and Dreams That Do Come True, the show’s executive producer Peter Engel reveals that Jessie’s addiction was supposed to have been much more serious, but the brass NBC shut down these plans.
What fans don’t know is that, when I originally wrote the episode with Tom Tenowich, Jessie was hooked on speed, not caffeine pills. But Standards and Practices, the censorial department of NBC, vetoed it, saying speed was too serious for Saturday mornings. I insisted that we needed to start dealing with more important issues than we had in the past, and that speed was a vehicle not only for exploring drug use but also the pressure that kids put on themselves to achieve. But Standards and Practices wasn’t budging.
“What if she gets hooked on caffeine pills?” someone—I don’t remember who—suggested.
The S & P folks talked it over, and told us caffeine pills would get a green light. So we compromised. We kept the episode virtually the same, but swapped out the speed. I wasn’t pleased about it — after all, the average caffeine pill was the equivalent of a cup of coffee, if that, so we might as well have had Jessie get addicted to Earl Grey, or breaking into the Max to snort coffee grounds. But hey, we had to start somewhere.
And the rest, as we say, is history. You can read the full excerpt here, which also details just how seriously Berkley and costar Mark-Paul Gosselaar committed to the scene.