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Saved By The Bell's Summer at the Malibu Sands Beach Club

Like many other children of the 80s or 90s, I grew up watching Saved by the Bell.  I previously wrote an article about something that has always puzzled some fans of the show, titled "Where Did Jessie and Kelly Go?"  I'm pretty proud of the article, as it's something I always wanted to get to the bottom of, and I hope you'll please CLICK HERE to read it.

When I was growing up, Saved by the Bell frequently ran in syndication, both during mornings before school or in the afternoons afterward.  I'd often get up earlier than needed and catch an episode or two before heading for the school bus.  My Mom bought me the Saved by the Bell board game, and while it was definitely made for girls, my friends and I still enjoyed playing it to the point that I still have it today.

Of all my favorite television shows, I've found that my favorite episodes involve travel, or at the very least, different scenery.  For example, on I Love Lucy, my favorite episodes are the season from Lucy and Ricky's trip to Hollywood.  On Saved by the Bell, my favorites have always been the "beach club" episodes.    

For those unfamiliar with Saved by the Bell, the "beach club" episodes were a six-episode story arc during Season Three, where the gang gets summer jobs working on the beach.  During those episodes, we discover that Lisa Turtle's parents are members of the exclusive Malibu Sands Beach Club and use their membership to get the kids from Bayside jobs for the summer.   

Kelly and Slater spend the summer as lifeguards while Jessie works at the reception desk.  Screech works as a busboy at the club's restaurant, while Zack starts the summer as a waiter but quickly begins to operate as the "social director."  Using his social director title quite liberally, Zack frequently lent a helping hand by applying sun tan lotion to girls on the beach before offering to take them to dinner.  (What a guy!)  Lisa Turtle, whose wealthy parents got everyone jobs, doesn't need to work and spends her summer lounging on the beach or tagging along with the group. 

The "beach club" episodes also introduced us to two fun new characters.  Character actor Ernie Sabella (CLICK HERE TO READ ALL ABOUT HIM) debuts as Mr. Leon Carosi, the owner of The Malibu Sands.  His daughter, Stacey, is a tough-talking loudmouth from "the east coast," quickly becoming a love interest for the show's main character, Zack.  Stacey is portrayed by the great Leah Remini of King of Queens fame.   

Let's continue our YesterYear Summer of '22 with a look back at the Saved by the Bell summer at the Malibu Sands Beach Club! 

I had been waiting months for the announcement of the start date for the final season of Mark-Paul Gosselaar's podcast, Zack to the Future.  Zack to the Future was an episode-by-episode look back on the Saved by the Bell series with Zack Morris himself, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  Last month, the podcast's cohost Dashiell Driscoll announced what many figured was coming.  The show had been canceled, and there would be no more episodes.  I was disappointed, but, given the length of time between seasons, I expected it.

The podcast may have ended without covering the final season of the television series, but I took solace in knowing that they at least covered the "Beach Club" episodes before being canceled.  The podcast provided some great insight and behind-the-scenes information that wasn't previously known to us fans.  Zack to the Future went viral briefly after Leah Remini made a guest appearance to talk about the "real" romance between herself and Mark-Paul.  Mark-Paul applauded Leah for bringing an aggressive "East Coast attitude" to the cast and crew's more laid-back West Coast vibe.  I feel her attitude came across well in the Beach Club episodes and added to the allure of the romantic relationship between Stacey and Zack as she became the "anti-Kelly."  

The Leah Remini interview was my favorite episode of the entire podcast.  I always liked her work on television, but I learned a lot about her as a person.  I really enjoyed her insight into being the "outsider" on a beloved television show with an already established cast, crew, and fan base.  Thirty years after starring together on the beaches of the fictional Malibu Sands, both Mark-Paul and Leah fondly remembered their time together during the summer of 1991.  

"We brought this up through the other five episodes of this beach series.  There is undeniable chemistry between you and I that we have seen, and you'll see it in this episode as well," said Gosselaar during the interview.  "Those are real kisses... there is not a single person Zack comes into contact with, in my opinion that had the chemistry that you and I had.  And, to top it off... the audience is really into us.  They really, really loved seeing Zack and Stacey together."

Leah Remini was 21 (compared to Mark-Paul at 17) when the episodes were filmed and admitted during the interview she was "petrified" that the audience wouldn't be receptive to her character because she was a little bossy to Zack and the gang.  "We may not have had a long relationship in real life, but on screen, it definitely seems like there's something there.  We liked each other.  We got along, we laughed, we had a good time... There was never any, like, weirdness between us," said Remini.

Leah also shares the fond memories of being on Saved by the Bell with her fans.  Having long tenures on several successful television shows, she enjoys that it's her six episodes on Saved by the Bell that fans remember most.  "I got Saved by the Bell... and I had done Living Dolls, Cheers, and Friends, and people would say, 'I loved you on Saved by the Bell,' and they still do!  I did 207 episodes of The King of Queens, and people say, 'Yeah, yeah, King of Queens... but Saved by the Bell!" laughed Remini.

Avid fans of the series will remember that the episodes do not run in chronological order.  When the "beach club" episodes initially aired, the network ran two new episodes back-to-back running parallel timelines.  One string of episodes occurred at Bayside High, starting with "The Last Dance," featuring Zack and Kelly's breakup over her new boss Jeff.  This was immediately followed by the second timeline of episodes that took the gang to their summer jobs on Malibu Beach. 

It may seem haphazard, but the podcast revealed that it was mainly because the network didn't think chronology mattered on a children's show.  Since episodes of Saved by the Bell were often written to have standalone storylines and eventually run randomly in syndication, the casual viewer likely wouldn't notice.  However, it was pretty jarring for viewers when it aired back to back.  I'd agree that watching a show before or after school as a "one-off" in syndication that chronology doesn't much matter.  However, it's pretty jarring for the viewer when we binge-watch a series from start to finish or are just used to a world where binge-watching in order is a thing.  

It wasn't just the beach club episodes of Season Three that were aired that way, either.  For instance, episodes one through fourteen in Season One all feature Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater, but then the cast "meets" Slater for the first time in episode fifteen.  Also, more famously, were the final episodes of Season Four when Tiffani Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley didn't re-sign for a handful of extra episodes.  So, the network interspersed new episodes featuring a new character named Tori Scott.

On the Zack to the Future podcast, former producer of the original show and the Peacock reboot, Franco Bario, provided the filming schedule for the Malibu Sands episodes.  Starting July 30, 1991, the cast and crew spent three weeks on location filming all of the exterior scenes for the six beach episodes.  Then, on August 19, production returned to Hollywood and filmed the interior scenes on a sound stage in front of a live studio audience.  The studio audience was shown the prerecorded exterior scenes for their own understanding of the plot while recording them to provide a laugh track for the exterior scenes. 

The beach club episodes wrapped by the end of August.  In September, they continued filming what producers called "adventure episodes," like the murder-mystery weekend, the mall episode, or Jessie's father's wedding in Palm Springs.  Unlike every other "adventure episode," the Palm Springs pair were filmed entirely on location.

The Malibu Sands Beach Club was filmed at the real-life Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, California (not Malibu), just minutes from the famous Santa Monica Pier.  Located at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, the Annenberg still stands today, although through earthquakes and fires has been remodeled beyond recognition from its days in 90s television.  Unlike in Saved by the Bell, the Annenburg Beach House is open to the public and is not an exclusive private resort.  

Through the power of television, many people assume Malibu Beach is a sunny and warm climate, but, in reality, it is often cold, gray, and gloomy.  On his podcast, Mark-Paul Gosselaar reflected upon wearing warming coats and sweat suits in between scenes to stay warm, even though filming took place in July and August.  

On the show, the girls, Kelly, Jessie, and Lisa, spent the summer as roommates at Lisa's beach house at the Beach Club.  It was never quite clear where the boys stayed, perhaps at the Beach Club or drove back and forth from Pacific Palisades (where Bayside High is) in what would be a 25-minute ride without traffic.  Sounds reasonable.  

In the real world, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, still a minor at the time, rented an apartment near the beach with his mother.  Tiffani-Amber Theissen and Mario Lopez, also still teens but had already emancipated themselves from their parents, were living on their own in rented apartments on the beach.  The rest of the cast either commuted or rented nearby with family.

The franchise returned to The Annenberg during Saved by the Bell:  The New Class in an episode titled "All Play and No Work."  Mr. Belding and Screech got summer jobs as managers of the "Palisades Hills Country Club," but sharp eyes would notice it's the same building and set used for the Malibu Sands.

The "Malibu Sands" as seen on Saved by the Bell

The "Beverly Hills Beach Club" as seen on 90210

Fans of Beverly Hills:  90210 would remember that earlier that same summer, the "Beverly Hills Beach Club" was the setting for several episodes.  Eagle-eyed viewers would notice that those episodes were also filmed at The Annenberg Community Beach Home, and, in a neat coincidence, the cast of 90210 and Saved by the Bell both wore green and white uniforms while working at their respective beach clubs.   

In numerous interviews, the cast of Saved by the Bell frequently mention that these episodes were some of the most fun they've had in their careers.  The cast would swim, surf, or play volleyball with the extras and fans in between takes.  The fun had by the cast is visible to the viewer, and as I mentioned earlier, these episodes are my favorites in the series.  

Although brief, Leah Remini's portrayal of Stacey Carosi was a great addition to the show, and I would have liked to see her character continued in the series in some way.  Her character was briefly mentioned in Season Two of the Peacock reboot of Saved by the Bell.  It was also rumored that the show would have returned to the Malibu Sands if Season Three occurred.  Unfortunately, the reboot was canceled after Season Two, and the gang won't be returning to the beach.  

The Malibu Sands Beach Club was also featured in a Season Four episode titled "Best Summer of My Life."  This clip show featured new scenes featuring Zack, Slater, Lisa, and Screech all ditching school to reminisce about the past summer.  Their reminiscing leads to clips of their time at the beach club and Palm Springs, but you'll notice that Kelly and Jessie are missing, as this was filmed to fill time before the Tori episodes aired.  

Below is a brief recap of each "Beach Club" episode.  Which one of them was your favorite?  Did you like the beach club episodes as much as I did, or did you prefer when they stayed in the classroom?  

Let me know!  

Zack's Birthday - Lisa gets the group summer jobs at the Malibu Sands Beach Club, where her parents are members.  Zack doesn't get along with his new boss, Mr. Carosi (Ernie Sabella), and accidentally calls him a jerk to his daughter, Stacey (Leah Remini).  Meanwhile, the gang is planning a surprise birthday party for Zack at Lisa's parent's beach house, where the girls are staying.  Zack creates a scheme to become a server at the club's restaurant to generate enough tips so he can buy his first car.  Zack fights with Stacey (his new boss) and calls her a spoiled brat, threatening his summer job and potential new car.  Lisa's parents plan their own party at the beach house, so the surprise party is moved to the beach club.  Mr. Carosi finds them using the club after hours, but Stacey covers for them after Zack's insult had made her do a little soul searching.

The Game - Zack wants to buy the '66 Mustang in the Malibu Sands parking lot that's been for sale all week.  As it turns out, Mr. Carosi is selling it for $2000.  At an average sale price today of $50k, $2k is a steal for a 1966 Mustang, even in 1991.  It makes you wonder if the unscrupulous Mr. Carosi is selling a lemon.  Zack only has $1500, but true to form, he hatches a plan.  Seeing that the Malibu Sands rivalry with the North Beach club at the annual volleyball game is taking all of Mr. Carosi's attention, Zack convinces his boss that he can take the Malibu Sands team to victory.  In exchange for success, Mr. Carosi will be forced to treat his employees better at work and sell the Mustang to Zack at a discount.  The Malibu Sands team is not very good until they recruit a random tall guy from the beach to join the team.  Things are looking up until Screech hurts the foot of the new star player.  Stacey, still an outsider with the gang, joins the team after hearing her father has tripled his bet with the owner of North Beach.  The Malibu Sands team wins, and Zack gets his Mustang.  Stacey is welcomed into the group of friends while sparks begin to fly between herself and Zack. 

Fourth of July - Celebrating the Fourth of July at Malibu Sands, Mr. Carosi plans the annual celebration that features games, fireworks, and a Miss Liberty pageant with a $500 prize.  Zack, the "social director," is tasked with boosting participation in the Pageant and convinces Stacey to participate.  With Stacey's entrance into the contest, Mr. Carosi drops out as one of the judges and names Zack as his replacement.  Mr. Carosi tries to coerce Zack into voting for his daughter so she would be guaranteed to win.  Meanwhile, Stacey and Zack almost kiss in the break room before being interrupted but make plans to meet up during the fireworks later that night.  Everyone has a good time on the beach until Zack's tie-breaking vote goes to Kelly, not Stacey.  Thinking Zack only voted for Kelly to win her back, Stacey gets mad and cancels their date later that night.  Mr. Carosi fires Zack for not obeying orders.  Kelly talks to Stacey and convinces her that there is nothing between her and Zack.  When Stacey learns her Dad fired Zack for not listening to his demands to vote for her, she gets Zack his job back.  The two share a romantic kiss on the beach during the fireworks display to close the episode.  

My Boyfriend's Back - Zack and Stacey's romantic relationship advances to the point that Zack intends to tell Stacey he loves her.  Finally getting the courage, he plans to do it the next day during the very romantic charity ATV race.  Lisa's wealthy parents sponsor Zack in the race, while Mr. Carosi supports a college-aged guy named Craig, who has just shown up at the Malibu Sands.  It turns out he's Stacey's old boyfriend from back East.  Zack's jealousy turns to heartbreak when Mr. Carosi and Craig surprise Stacey with Craig's fraternity pin during an elaborate surprise ceremony.  Apparently, this is the precursor to a wedding engagement on Saved by the Bell.  Stacey is clearly uncomfortable having both Craig and Zack in the same room but awkwardly accepts his pin.  Later, Craig, an all-around jerk, cheats to win the race and, in the process, causes Jessie to drive her ATV uncontrollably into the Pacific Ocean.  Craig wins the race but loses Stacey when she breaks up with him immediately after.  Later that night, Stacey finds Zack on the beach and tells him she sent Craig home.  The two say "I love you" and make out on the beach.  

Boss Lady - Mr. Carosi leaves Stacey in charge while he's away on business.  The only problem is that before leaving, Mr. Carosi double-booked the Thornhill's 50th Anniversary party and Jenni Richter's Sweet Sixteen.  Zack temporarily solves the issue when he tricks Jenni and her parents into moving the party outside on the beach.  The kitchen staff goes on strike over a wage dispute, and Slater almost smooths things over with them until Stacey accidentally makes things worse.  Meanwhile, Screech and the guests of the Beach Club have dug up the beach in search of gold after Screech found one small coin with his metal detector.  The dug-up sand leaves the beach unusable for Jenni's birthday party, and the gang is forced to hold both parties indoors.  They must rush the Thornhill family out early and delay the Sweet Sixteen, except the Richter family arrives early before the crew can clear the room.  The two parties collide for a few tense moments before the guests begin dancing with Zack, Stacey, Kelly, and Slater.  The rest of the guests start mingling, and the two parties turn into one big hit. 

The Last Weekend - The summer season is coming to a close, and Mr. Carosi is preparing for his annual end-of-season Luau party, featuring an on-the-beach luau feast.  Zack and Stacey's time together is drawing to a close, although neither wants to discuss it.  Mr. Carosi finally discovers that his daughter is dating Zack, creating tension between himself and Stacey.  Slater finds out he has a secret admirer, and Kelly keeps getting hit on by a little boy named Billy, while Jessie plans to build the biggest sand castle in club history to win the contest.  Meanwhile, Stacey and Zack's final date is interrupted because she's distracted by being upset with her Dad.  During the staff photo, Zack and the gang force Stacey and her Dad to reconcile.  Slater's secret admirer pretends to drown just to get his attention, and it turns out she's a cute girl named Cynthia (played by Denise Richards).  Kelly is forced to let down little Billy gently at the luau, and she promises to go on a date when he turns 18.  Mr. Carosi invites everyone back next summer but singles out Zack with a special offer to return to the Club.  Stacey says goodbye to Zack as she heads back east for college in the morning.  She promises to write Zack every day and promises to return as soon as she can.  Zack stays alone on the beach until the sun comes up, and the gang arrives to console him as their summer of fun comes to an end.