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Friday, September 06, 2013

Good Morning, Miss Bliss

I've decided to keep the school theme going on for this week. I guess part of the reason why I'm happy to talk about school is because there's a part of me that actually misses the idea of going back to school. In fact, I miss being out of school so much that I want to make plans to go back to college to improve myself. It's too late to apply for school this year, but there's always the February semester. It's something I should have done a long time ago, and now that I have some funds saved up, I could potentially make the jump back into campus life sometime in 2014.

Why am I telling all of you this? Well, now that I have it written in print, there is no excuse now for me to make the decision. The last thing I want is for all of the readers of this blog to log on next year to call me a liar!

I guess it's true what someone said to me. I have been procrastinating for far too long now, and if I don't do something about it, I face a future in which I work retail the rest of my life. And that is something that I really don't want to do.

Obviously, I will have more to say about this in the near future. My ultimate goal after going through school is A) to pass all my courses, and B) have the best possible chance to get a job within my field. So, needless to say, I will not be wasting my money on classes that will not help me achieve my goals. I need to make some positive changes in my professional life, which will hopefully allow me to make some positive changes in my personal life as well. And, I'm thinking that I have to do this for myself. I always lived my life for other people. I need to start living it for myself.

Okay, so anyway. Today's blog topic is all about school! And today, we're going to be taking a look at a program in which the main setting was a school.

And here's the funny part about this particular show. The pilot of the show debuted a little over a year before the rest of the series aired. And this particular series only lated one season, but was the inspiration behind another series which lasted twelve years!

The television serial was meant to be a starring vehicle for former Disney sweetheart Hayley Mills. I'm sure that most of you who were old enough to remember watching her as a budding young child actress will recall that she could have been considered one of Disney's real-life princesses. No, she didn't appear at Disneyland greeting people at the entrance dressed as Cinderella, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty. But she did appear in a series of films, which included 1960s “Pollyanna”, 1961's “The Parent Trap”, and 1965's “That Darn Cat”. Hayley Mills stayed with Disney for a six-year-contract, and also dabbled in a little bit of a music career when she recorded the single below, which peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts.
Hayley Mills' popularity at the peak of her career was so great that she was once voted Britain's Most Popular Film Actress in 1962 – when Mills was just sixteen years old.

TRIVIA: Did you know that Hayley Mills was actually considered to play the title role in Stanley Kubrick's 1962 film “Lolita”. Needless to say, Disney put their foot down and made their opinion clear. They did not want Mills to take the role as they felt that it would not be up to their wholesome image.

(Because we've all seen how well Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus have done since leaving Disney, haven't we?)

But you know something, to the credit of Hayley Mills, she never descended down that same path. Sure, she took a bit of a break from acting in the mid-1970s, but experienced a bit of a renaissance period in the early 1980s when she took on a starring role in the 1981 UK mini-series “The Flame Trees of Thika”, and that spawned a renewed interest in Mills, who by this time was in her mid-thirties. She relocated to America and subsequently landed some guest spots on the television series “The Love Boat”, as well as renewing her contract with Disney and filming three more sequels to “The Parent Trap”.

And, then there was the one time in which she was offered a starring role in her very own sitcom, which would see Hayley Mills take on the role of a school teacher as well as the struggles that come with trying to balance her home life from her professional life. Often at times, she found herself trying to maintain her sanity because her co-workers could be flaky and her students would challenge her in more ways than one. Still, she was great at her job, and when I was watching the series, I always wanted to have a teacher just like her.

I wanted to be one of those kids in the classroom saying “Good Morning, Miss Bliss”.

Wow. What a coincidence. That happens to be the name of today's show that we're putting in today's spotlight.

Here's the thing about “Good Morning, Miss Bliss”. The show didn't last too long on the airwaves. In fact, many people will claim that only thirteen episodes of the show exist.

But did you know that there was actually a secret fourteenth episode? And that this fourteenth episode served as the official pilot of the show which aired over a full year before the rest of the series started to air?

I guess I should explain this a little further. Hayley Mills was offered the series by NBC as then head of programming Brandon Tartikoff had the idea to create a television series about a teacher who inspired her students to not only learn about math and history, but a little bit about themselves as well. The pilot aired on July 11, 1987 in the time slot normally occupied by “The Facts of Life”. And if you watch the video below, you can watch a portion of it as it aired the summer of 1987.

Now, there's some interesting things to note about this pilot. For one, you could tell that a lot of effort was put into the show. The sets were quite elaborately done, and it appeared as though a lot of effort was put into filming the pilot show. If you look at Miss Bliss' class, you might recognize some familiar faces. Jaleel White from “Family Matters”, Brian Austin Green from “Beverly Hills 90210”, and Jonathan Brandis from “seaQuest DSV” all had roles in the pilot. And did you happen to catch the name of the school principal? Gerald Belding? Hmmm...Belding. I KNOW I've heard that name before.

Anyway, despite a heartwarming story about the newlywed Miss Bliss helping a student cope with the fact that his older brother was dying (as well as proving to us all that there once was a time in which teachers could hug their students and not face charges), the pilot was not picked up for the 1987/1988 season on NBC, and the project sat idle for almost an entire year.

That is until The Disney Channel feigned interest in the show. After contacting series producer and creator Sam Bobrick and convincing Hayley Mills to stick with the project, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” was brought back from the television pilot graveyard, with thirteen new episodes being filmed – the first of which aired on November 30, 1988.

As far as similarities went, there weren't many. The show still took place at an Indiana school, and Miss Bliss was still a very good teacher. However, there were several differences.

The show changed the setting from an elementary school to a junior high school. Miss Bliss taught eighth grade instead of sixth grade. Miss Bliss had one of the shortest marriages in history as the new show had her new husband killed off, making her a widow! The role of Miss Paladrino, which was originally played by Maria O'Brien was now played by Joan Ryan. T.K. Carter, who was best known for his role as Punky Brewster's teacher was added to the cast as Mylo. And while Mr. Belding did make the transition to the new version, he was recast by Dennis Haskins and renamed Principal Richard Belding.

(I know you see where this is going here, but just bear with me.)

And, of course, with the show sitting idle for so long, it was nearly impossible to recreate the original class that was featured in the pilot as many of those child actors moved on to other projects. As a result, five child actors were added to the cast as part of Miss Bliss' class. The five students were, in alphabetical order...

Nikki Coleman (Heather Hopper) – A tomboyish character who never backed down on any stance...even if it meant freeing all of the frogs in the biology lab to take a stand against animal dissection.

Mikey Gonzalez (Max Battimo) – An all-around good student who usually performs well under pressure. However, he has a tendency to get into trouble when he gets caught up in the schemes of his friends.

Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) – The class clown of Miss Bliss' class, he is notorious for putting forth the least amount of effort in his class assignments, and putting forth the most effort on money-making schemes which usually end up failing miserably.

Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond) – The biggest nerd in Miss Bliss' class, and perhaps the entire school. He is also perhaps the most honest student, and is considered to be the best student academically in Miss Bliss' class.

Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) – Obsessed with fashion and cosmetics, Lisa is the dream girl of any boy in the school. Just a shame that the one who has the most affection towards her happens to be Screech.

Hmmm...Zack, Screech, and Lisa. Interesting.

As the show's thirteen episode run progressed, the message of the show became very clear. Miss Bliss is the only sane adult in the entire school. She is the closest confidante to her peers – even letting Miss Paladrino move into her home after her boyfriend kicks her out. And as far as her students go, she probably taught them more lessons outside of the classroom than within.

Would you like some examples? I'm sure you do.

When Zack alienated the rest of his friends by joining a ninth grade club, Miss Bliss ended up showing him the value of true friendship. And although Zack had to swallow a huge slice of humble pie when the club duped him, he took Miss Bliss' words to heart and got his friends back.

Miss Bliss is also there to support Nikki when she objects to the idea of dissecting frogs in biology class. But when Nikki goes too far and sets the frogs free, Miss Bliss is forced to show her a little tough love.

And when Miss Bliss learns that the man that she is dating happens to be the father of one of her students, she is especially conflicted – especially when that students acts out more than usual in silent protest. She is forced to make a decision and worries that the wrong one could cause some irreparable damage.

However, one thing you couldn't deny was the fact that Miss Bliss was a wonderful teacher. Her students loved and respected her. In fact, in one episode, they respected her so much that when they discovered that Miss Bliss was nominated for the “Teacher of the Year” award, they arranged for the judging panel to come in to witness Miss Bliss teach in action in hopes that it will improve her chances. And, you know, I thought that was great. For an entire class of students to pull together to help their teacher get the recognition she deserved...that was wonderful to see. I think too often, the really great teachers in the world get overlooked because the teachers who are not quite as good have louder voices and make outlandish demands, so it was a really good episode to watch.

You know what? I like this episode so much, I'm posting a link to the show right HERE. Seriously, of all the episodes of “Good Morning, Miss Bliss”, this was my favourite.

Unfortunately, the last episode of “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” aired in March 1989, and it appeared as though the project had failed.

But then Brandon Tartikoff had a change of heart about the project after seeing the episodes airing on The Disney Channel, and he arranged to buy the rights to the show through NBC. Collaborating with executive producer Peter Engel, the show was revamped and retooled to create the new series “Saved by the Bell”, which debuted on August 20, 1989, and ultimately ran until January 8, 2000 (taking into account the College Years and New Class spinoffs).

Unfortunately, not all of the characters from “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” made it to “Saved by the Bell”. Yes, Zack, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. Belding were a part of the new show. But Hayley Mills was let go, and Miss Bliss disappeared from the canvas, as Peter Engel wanted the action to focus more on the students, rather than the faculty.

Now, to me, this was a mistake. I mean, yeah...Mr. Belding became an institution at Bayside High, but there was no reason why Miss Bliss couldn't have been. Miss Bliss could have had as much a place at Bayside High as Miss Simpson, Ms. Wentworth, Mr. Dewey, or Mr. Tuttle. It was a missed opportunity that the show never took. But then again, it's not as if Hayley Mills struggled for work after “Good Morning, Miss Bliss”. She recently wrapped up a five-year-role as Caroline in the British television series “Wild at Heart”, which she played from 2007-2012.

Still, it would have been nice for Miss Bliss to give Slater advice on how to balance his skills in baking with his wrestling moves. It would have been cool to have Miss Bliss inform Jessie that getting a “B” was not the end of the world. And, wouldn't you have just died of laughter if Miss Bliss asked Tori where her two identical-looking sisters were?

Well, okay...I suppose you'd have to watch Parent Trap III to get the hidden humour behind that last statement.

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