NEW YORK -- The rank of mega-stars who are known simply by one name includes, of course, Madonna, Cher, Beyonce and Bono. Oh, and one more, surely -- that man-boy known as Screech.
Samuel "Screech" Powers of the 1990s TV show "Saved by the Bell" has become almost an icon -- for gross ineptitude. He was adorkable before there was such a thing. He even had a catchphrase: "Zoinks!"
Dustin Diamond, the man behind Screech, is 37 now. His hair is cut close to his skull and he wears a beard, both flecked with gray. He’s married, works as a stand-up comedian, and lives near Milwaukee.
For Diamond, Screech has been a curse and a career. He played the character for a decade and then tried to run away from Bayside High as fast as he could: Diamond was a jerk in a season of "Celebrity Fit Club" that he said was scripted. He released a sex tape, which he said was faked. And he revealed sordid details in a tell-all book, "Behind the Bell," which he said was embellished by a ghost writer.
Diamond is back this Labor Day weekend mining familiar territory: Lifetime TV is airing "The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story" on Monday, which Diamond executive produced. And he’s stepped into the off-Broadway "Bayside! The Musical!" playing -- you guessed it -- Dustin Diamond, a man who never left high school.
The Associated Press sat down with Diamond to discuss the show, his missteps and killing Screech.
AP: Your relationship to the show is sort of love-hate, isn’t it?
D: Everybody of any magnitude that I can possibly think of has gone through love-hate relationships with something that becomes so big. The bigger it is, the more you go through it. Think of ‘Star Trek’ or any band -- ‘Hey, play "Free Bird!" ‘ Great song, I’m proud of the song but I’m sick of playing it. Give me some time away and, after there’s some space created, then you can come back and give big hugs to the thing that brought you there.
AP: You’ve tried to wriggle free with ‘Celebrity Fit Club,’ porn and the book. How did that go?
D: That was really the one-two-three punch of being the bad boy, not the squeaky-clean Screech you remember, which, on one hand, helped because it did break that image. But in retrospect, I kind of wish I hadn’t gone exactly that route. But there’s no instruction book for any this. You don’t know what’s going to work. You have to take a gamble. I wanted to rattle the cage, but I didn’t think that it would rattle it so much.
AP: Why did that show seize the culture so powerfully?
D: We never knew. I think looking back, the look and style of everything really sits well with nostalgic feelings of being young and being in school. The color palates that we chose, the outfits we were wearing, it kind of spoke to that generation.
AP: Have you kept in touch with some of your ‘Saved by the Bell’ co-stars like Mark-Paul Gosselaar or Tiffani Thiessen?
D: They can’t say they really know me. The last time I saw Mark-Paul and Tiffany, I was 16. That was 21 years ago. That’s a hefty amount of time to traverse in growth. I’ve done a lot of stuff since I was 16. I made a lot of growth changes.
AP: What can we expect from the TV movie?
D: The Lifetime movie is going to be based on my book in the way that it’s a behind-the-scenes look, but my book was written by a ghost writer, and they tried to milk the negativity. It wasn’t supposed to be a dirty tell-all.
AP: So the movie will set some of that right?
D: Yes. The overall vibe, the overall feel, should be pretty surprising. I think people who are warm to the show are going to watch it and really enjoy it. And the people who are skeptical are going to watch it and say, ‘Wow, OK. This wasn’t what I thought it was going to be at all.’
AP: The musical has been rewritten to accommodate you. Are you having fun?
D: Oh, yes. With parody, there’s new ground to be found. It’s not in the confines of ‘Hey, keep it serious. This is the real deal here.’ Now it’s poking fun at the real deal, so there’s a whole brand new well to dig around in. Now if I did this for the next 10 years, I might become sick of it, too.
AP: In both these projects, you’re exorcising demons by going to the very heart of Screech.
D: Think of it like a wrestling match: You’d never leave the ring because then you’d lose the match. This thing is on top of you, trying to pin you down. And you’re wriggling and wriggling, flailing and tossing, to get this thing off of you. But when you do, you don’t walk away from it. You mount it, right? I’m mounting it.