Part of the reason Saved by the Bell succeeded is because the cast was such a perfect fit for their roles. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing characters like Zack Morris or A.C. Slater. But as it turns out, during the initial casting calls for Saved by the Bell, none other than Stephen Colbert himself auditioned to be Samuel “Screech” Powers — and he was swiftly rejected.
Colbert has been hosting The Late Show from the comfort of his home and having guests video conference in due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the middle of interviewing Ryan Reynolds on April 1st, Colbert experienced an unexpected flashback courtesy of an offhand joke from Reynolds about Saved by the Bell.
“I auditioned for Saved by the Bell!” Colbert remarked. “That was my first professional audition. 1986? They came to Chicago. I was a student at Northwestern University, and I don’t know, somebody had seen me do something, somebody had scouted me at school. I got called down to a casting agent on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I walk in, they hand me the thing, and I was auditioning for the part of — was the character’s name Screech?”
At this point, Reynolds interjected, believing Colbert was pulling his leg as an April Fools Day prank, but the host earnestly set the record straight. “I’m not joking!” Colbert exclaimed. “I auditioned for this part of Screech, and let me tell you how big I was. Imagine how that character ended up in broadcast. I did my audition, and they said to me, ‘There’s a term you’re going to need to know about as a professional. It’s called over the top. You just went over the top. Don’t do that anymore.’ And I saw the subtle interplay of status dynamics that Dustin Diamond brought to that part.”
The parodies Colbert performed on The Colbert Report were more subtle and nuanced than any of the gap-toothed gimmicks Dustin Diamond got up to in the roll of Screech. Looks like the casting agents missed out on a good fit for the role. Then again, it looks like Colbert’s career in television worked out just fine. Watch the whole exchange go down around the 3:00 minute mark below.
Last year was the 25th anniversary of Saved by the Bell. The original cast reunited to celebrate the occasion, and NBC used the window to announce their upcoming reboot featuring a handful of familiar faces. Sadly, it was also the year the show’s creator, Sam Bobrick, passed away at 87 years old.