Tiffani Thiessen’s status as a ‘90s icon isn’t necessarily celebrated in her household. The actress, author, and host — whose work in shows like Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210 was broadcast on TV screens across the world — admits that her children, daughter Harper, 12, and son Holt, 7, aren’t too interested in her filmography.
“They know what I do for a living, they understand that people will come up ... but my daughter really only heard about Alexa & Katie,” Thiessen, 48, tells Scary Mommy about her role in the 2018 Netflix sitcom. “That show was popular for her age group, so she would always hear, ‘Your mom is Lori! Alexa’s mom!’”
“Not that she didn't hear about Kelly Kapowski, but none of her friends were watching Saved by the Bell — it was our age group. You know what I mean?”
Yes, I knew exactly what she meant. I was one of the millions who watched Kelly and her Bayside High comrades — Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Screech (Dustin Diamond), Lisa (Lark Voorhies), Slater (Mario Lopez), and Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley) — every morning as I got ready for school. The show was a staple in so many teen lives, as it soared in syndication after its original run ended in 1992. Sequels Hawaiian Style (1992), The College Years (1993-94), and Wedding in Las Vegas (1994) added even more staying power to the fandom.
Harper actually just finished watching every episode of Saved by the Bell “all the way until the very end with the movies and [Kelly and Zack] getting married,” Thiessen says.
“It was hilarious because I wasn't sticking around to watch it half the time, but every now and then, I would come in after she watched a couple, and I'd be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that's crazy, I remember that!’ And she’d laugh, like, ‘Mom, this is kind of a dumb show,’” Thiessen explains, chuckling. “I went, ‘You’re right.’ The programming was very different back then. It's not as smart as it is now.”
A very smart, and funny, Saved by the Bell revival recently earned solid reviews for Peacock, but only ran for two seasons. Thiessen, who appeared in the spinoff with a few of the original cast members, said she was “bummed” about its cancellation.
“Tracy [Wigfield] really created something I thought was extremely special,” Thiessen said. “She really did a great job of still giving that essence of the original, but really taking and layering the characters even deeper. And all those new kids were so, so good.”
Thiessen said Harper watched a couple of episodes from the sequel, but “it didn't catch her as well as [the original].”
“I think it's because it feels a little bit older,” she admits, “just, you know, the content of it, the writing of it.”
With her own daughter on the cusp of teenagehood, Thiessen is reassuringly more focused on Harper’s health than her binge-watching habits. The Deliciousness host has teamed up with the campaign It’s About Time to spread awareness about the teenage disease meningococcal meningitis. Alongside the National Meningitis Association (NMA), Thiessen is using her platform to encourage parents to have timely talks with their children and healthcare professionals about the effectiveness of vaccines in protecting adolescents.
During our chat, Thiessen was joined by Leslie Maier, the president of the NMA, who unfortunately lost her son Chris to meningitis when he was a senior in high school.
“My son died less than 24 hours after complaining of a headache,” Maier tells Scary Mommy. “The doctors themselves didn't even know what it was. They didn't recognize the symptoms of meningitis, which are like the flu.”
She continues, “No parent wants to lose a child. That's the last thing you ever want to do. And so we share our stories to say, ‘Hey, this is an example of a vaccine-preventable disease.’ Make sure kids are vaccinated. Vaccines save lives.”
According to the campaign, vaccination is the best defense against meningococcal meningitis, but nearly 1 in 10 pre-teens do not receive their first dose of the MenACWY vaccine and approximately 50% of teens do not receive the crucial second dose at 16 years old, despite recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Thiessen’s daughter recently received her first dose, and she will no doubt go back for a second.
“Sadly, I think vaccination has become political when I don't think it ever should be,” Thiessen says. “I was raised in a family that believed in science and believed in vaccination and taking care of yourself. But I do understand that we're in a situation that we never thought would ever probably happen in our lifetime, with the [coronavirus] pandemic, so it's brought up a lot of questions. I always say go to your healthcare provider, your doctor who you trust, and talk to them about it, and they will tell you the importance of what vaccinations your child should be having.”
Maier adds “there has been more hesitancy than there used to be” in light of COVID-19, but that sharing her loss might help motivate parents to protect their children from the bacterial infection, which spreads quickly through saliva. (Kissing, sharing drinks, etc.)
“Leslie’s story, of course, touched me being a mom. And that's what's important, is getting those stories out there so other parents can understand this can happen to any otherwise healthy child,” Thiessen adds.
Thiessen and her husband, actor and author Brady Smith, try to instill healthy habits in their kids with a focus on finding a good balance — whether that be eating junk food or watching too much TV.
“I always tell them, ‘It's really fun to have great food, and you know Mommy likes a cocktail on the weekends, but it's all about balance.’ It's about making sure you're moving your body and exercising, which also helps your mental health,” Thiessen tells us. “There are so many layers to really raising healthy kids, who are good all around, and keeping ourselves healthy. It’s hard! It's hard work, man. But we really try to just talk through all of it with our kids and have a balance with all of it. You know, like, I don't mind my kids having ice cream and stuff like that, as long as they eat the broccoli, too!”
Thiessen admits it’s been hard the last few years for young kids to have the “normal” childhood experience — with masks and Zoom school and stay-at-home orders — but she’s hopeful Harper and Holt know the importance of human connection.
“Human contact, being outside, being around nature and getting your feet dirty — all those things are so, so important to all of us, our souls, our minds, our bodies. All of it.”