A spate of programs targeted towards teens, TNBC’s mission was to instruct as well as entertain. Its sitcom lineup often enlightened viewers about the perils of common teenage problems like underage drinking, chameleon deaths, and accidentally convincing the government that your best friend is an alien.
You know, typical teenage shenanigans.
The Saturday morning live-action block of sitcoms lasted for ten hijinks-laden years before finally being sent to permanent detention in 2002. Did TNBC produce entertaining teen sitcoms, or did the morning comedy block merely survive because the fear of soggy cereal and general Saturday morning lethargy outweighed the daunting task of changing the channel?
Let’s find out by taking a closer look at the TNBC lineup and ranking the shows from worst to best.
Not Long For The TNBC Universe
Television is an inexact science. You can’t just add a dash of Saved by the Bell, a dollop of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, and a sprinkle of Salute Your Shorts, and expect your unholy union of television tomfoolery to flourish. Case in point: the 1993 TNBC comedy Running the Halls.
Created by the mind behind Nickelodeon’s underrated teen series Salute Your Shorts, Running the Halls followed the misadventures of a group of teens attending an east coast boarding school. I’d blindly follow anyone associated with Camp Anawanna to the moon and back, but Running the Halls’ brazen attempt to recreate that one-of-a-kind Mark-Paul Gosselaar magic with its star resulted in a paltry thirteen episodes for Dr. Kahn’s television monster.
I choose to remember Running the Halls not as a colossal error in judgement by NBC, the creative team, production, the actors, and society in general, but as another in a long line of pranks perpetrated by one Bobby Budnick.
Nice Try, Preppy
TNBC wunderkind Mario Lopez co-hosted the Saturday morning reality program Name Your Adventure from 1992 to 1995. The series followed Lopez, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Tatyana Ali, and Jordan Brady as they aided teens by going on adventures that would help make their dreams come true, which was great news for me since my dream was for A.C. Slater to host his own reality series.
Unfortunately, Name Your Adventure ended before viewers had enough information to determine if Mario Lopez was the Dan Cortese of NBC or if Dan Cortese was the Mario Lopez of MTV.
The NBA Inside Stuff Quandary
While never technically a member of the TNBC family, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to recognize the contributions of NBA Inside Stuff in creating the perfect Saturday morning viewing experience.
Hosted by Ahmad Rashad and, depending on the year, Summer Sanders, Willow Bay, or Julie Moran, Inside Stuff was the perfect way to come down from that euphoric TNBC high. It was like you woke up the day after Christmas only to discover a brand new second Christmas — and this one included Phoenix Suns sharpshooter “Thunder” Dan Majerle and a Santa Claus who could perform a flawless 360 windmill jam.
5. Saved by the Bell: The New Class
Attempting to capitalize on the success of the original series, NBC decided to spin-off Saved by the Bell by surrounding Mr. Belding (Richard not Rod) with a brand new cast of rapscallions to reprimand and begrudgingly love. After an abysmal first season, NBC decided to bring back Dustin Diamond as Mr. Belding’s assistant for season two.
No problem has ever been solved by adding more Screech.
NBC’s decision to create SBTB: The New Class was like if your parents attempted to replace your deceased grandparent with a large anthropomorphic Hershey’s candy character. Your nana’s not a giant Kit Kat, and Saved by the Bell: The New Class would never be Saved by the Bell.
The only way the series could have been more of an affront to old school Bell fans is if Jeff Hunter, former Max manager and professional annihilator of true love, would have been named principal of Bayside, married Zack’s mom, and burned The Max to the ground.
To. The. Ground.
While an eternal antipathy for the 99 cent store version of the original Bell will course through my veins with the fervor of a 1,000 Mr. Carosis until the day an errant oil spill takes me from this earth, I respect the resolve of the Bell beta. Despite the revolving door of cast changes SBTB: The New Class managed to run for seven treasonous seasons resulting in 143 episodes.
4. City Guys
If you ever wondered what middle-aged television producers on the west coast thought New York City was like in the ’90s, well friend, do I have a show for you!
If you judge this series solely on the pilot episode you would never see (I-T-) why City Guys lasted for over 100 episodes. Even by the admittedly lax standards of ’90s teen sitcoms, the first episode accomplishes the rare television feat of being so bad that it’s actually good… but then bad again.
The series vastly improved with age and would eventually become a Saturday morning TNBC staple.
3. California Dreams
Much like surf dudes with attitudes, California Dreams was a kinda groovy sitcom that lasted for five seasons on TNBC.
California Dreams was not cool. It’s not like you were ashamed of the fact that you watched this sitcom about a ragtag group of high school musicians, but you only revealed that sensitive information to someone you could trust. I often listen to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” on repeat while running because I believe it does indeed make me “Stronger,” but I don’t lead with that on a first date. First dates are for finding out where a person is from, what they do, and, if it’s going well, their favorite Ninja Turtle.
Donatello? Check please.
In high school parlance, California Dreams wasn’t the show you’d ask to prom; it was the sitcom you’d ask to study with because you knew it took detailed notes and had flawless penmanship. You liked it, but you didn’t like like it. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you wouldn’t make out with the television show California Dreams if it were a person.
Also, I cannot get over the fact that a real human being watched the following video and was like, “Yep. Nailed it. This is something we’re going to put on television and broadcast to actual people.”
2. Hang Time
Hang Time gallantly told the tale about one of the greatest feminists of all time: Julie Connor, a girl who dared to play high school basketball on a boys team. Julie was basically the Susan B. Anthony of TNBC, only with an indefensible jump shot.
Hang Time meandered through a humdrum first season before television savior Peter Engel took a metaphorical sledgehammer and a literal pen to the sitcom’s mediocrity and elevated Hang Time to the elusive TNBC ranks of slightly above average.
I imagine Engel strutted into the Hang Time offices like the teen television gunslinger he is and immediately fired whoever was responsible for that abhorrent first season theme song.
“Catchy, high energy theme songs are TNBC 101, rooks,” Engel probably said right before he probably made out with a babe before probably cruising off on a motorcycle sans helmet without a care in the world.
After six seasons and over 100 episodes, Julie Connor would go on to become the second most important Julie in fictional sports history behind teen hockey sensation and true American patriot Julie “The Cat” Gaffney.
1. Saved by the Bell
Bayside aficionados may scoff at Saved by the Bell earning the number one spot considering it wasn’t an official member of the TNBC family. The original Bell rang for the last time in high school sitcom form in 1992, while NBC adopted the TNBC moniker in 1993. But allow me to make one point abundantly clear:
There would be no TNBC without Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell was TNBC before TNBC even existed.
The early ’90s success of Saved by the Bell led to NBC shelving their animated Saturday morning programming in favor of a block of teen-centric live action sitcoms. Zack Morris, with an assist from Miss Bliss, basically killed cartoons.
While Zack may receive most of the acclaim for the success of TNBC, the real hero is Engel, who executive produced all five sitcoms on this list and essentially taught a nation how to love, or at the very least deal with nerds and teen angst. It’s no coincidence that his last name is only one letter different from the word angel.
Saved by the Bell provided all the wish fulfillment of a PG version of Entourage. Zack Morris, when he wasn’t unlawfully snapping photos of the swim team and illegally selling said pics in calendar form like a stone cold sociopath, was the epitome of cool. We all wanted to date Kelly Kapowski, repeatedly bamboozle our principal, and defy the unflinchingly rigid laws of physics.
Although, Tori was definitely Zack’s Medellín, all good things must come to an end. In September of 2002, TNBC was replaced by the Discovery Kids block of educational programming, because if there’s one thing kids love after five days of school it’s an early morning science lesson!
Discovery Kids inheriting NBC’s Saturday morning television oasis is a black eye from which the science community has never fully recovered.