"Wow, everywhere I turn it's a memory," Dennis Haskins says as he looks around Saved by the Max in complete awe. The actor, who played one of TV’s most famous principals, Mr. Belding, on Saved by the Bell and its various spin-offs for more than a decade, traveled to Chicago to visit the nostalgic pop-up diner, Saved by the Max, for a special event to relaunch the restaurant’s brunch service.
Haskins has done a steady stream of appearances throughout the country since the iconic TV franchise officially ended in 2000, but there was something about him doing so in a spot that looks and feels like the real Saved by the Bell set. We sat down with Haskins at Saved by the Max to find out his thoughts on the pop-up, why he embraces the nostalgia, and which cast mates he still keeps in touch with.
What was your initial reaction when you saw The Max? DENNIS HASKINS: They did a great job of making this exactly like The Max. It's a real homage to the show and to The Max. It's pretty crazy—I'm still taking it all in.
Why do you think Chicago is such a great place for this? DH: I honestly think this is the perfect place to do it. Chicago's a great city—it's a big city, but it's a city that appreciates things. And the fact that it was brought here instead of New York or L.A., I think it meant something to the city of Chicago; to the people of Chicago.
Do you have any fun plans while you're here? DH: I literally fly out tonight. I've got more filming to do on this thing that I started last week. Imagine this: I'm playing the principal of a school!
Another TV show? DH: It's a thing for ABC.com. I really don't know a lot about it yet, [but] I don't think it's your typical high school. I think the principal catches a kid drinking in the hallways—we didn't do that on Saved by the Bell. We had neater, cleaner messages: something was wrong, and by the end of the episode, the kids found a way to make it right. And Mr. Belding kind of guided them on the way.
You seem to really embrace the nostalgia of the show, and the appearances like this one... DH: I get a lot of love from people [so] why not embrace all the love? I mean, it could be a lot worse—I could be a killer on a soap and [people would] hate [me]. But, it's really nice.
What's your favorite thing about getting out, doing appearances, and meeting fans? DH: It's a lot of really nice people, who say some wonderful things, and want to share what the show meant to them. Why would I rain on their joy? It's like a standing ovation every time I meet somebody, so I embrace it. I did this [for] 11 years, so I'm grateful.
Do you keep in touch with other cast members? DH: Mario [Lopez] mostly, but Elizabeth [Berkley] some, Mark-Paul [Gosselaar] occasionally (Zach, he’s got a big beard going now!)—so a little bit. The others, it's kind of harder. Dustin [Diamond is] close to here in Milwaukee, and Lark [Voorhies] has some things going on. It’s [been] 27 [years since the show started], so being in touch with them at all is pretty miraculous. [We were] a cast on a show, but it was our biggest, first thing [we did] and it's what most people remember [us for]. Even though Tiffani [-Amber Thiessen] did Beverly Hills, 90210 and a bunch of series, Mark-Paul's done a bunch of series, and Mario hosts Extra; we all owe a debt of gratitude to Saved by the Bell.
If they ever did a new The New Class, would you be willing to reprise your role? DH: That would be hard. I think we had the ultimate reunion on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. I think it went really well, and I don't see how it could get any better.
Do you think, with all of your years of playing a principal, that you could actually get in a school and take charge? DH: No. I know the difference between having writers write the lines and solve problems for you, and having to solve them on your own. God bless teachers and principals.