Marketing machines use pop culture-driven immersive experiences to fuel the hype of studios big-time titles. Warner Bros. has been on top of its game with a frightening IT house as well as an Easter egg-filled maze for Ready Player One. When the cult hit Twin Peaks was revived by Showtime last year, Los Angeles became the home of the Roadhouse, the popular bar in the series. During SXSW, HBO set up a fully operating Westworld complete with a saloon and in-character “hosts” that reset every couple of hours.
But all of these experiences were created with the studios involved. With Saved by the Max, an uncanny, nostalgic replica of the high school hangout in the popular ’90s teen series Saved by the Bell, NBC initially wasn’t involved. It was all done by fans of Zack Morris and the gang.
Derek Berry, who is a partner at Saved by the Max along with Zack Eastman and Steve Harris, is a fan of Saved by the Bell and wanted to make a replica of the show’s restaurant The Max, but he didn’t know how to go about doing so. Some studios aren’t too fond of unauthorized festivals and events using characters, sets, logos and other IP from TV and films. Most recently, Warner Bros. has started cracking down on unauthorized Harry Potterfestivals. On the flipside, Lucasfilm hasn’t batted an eye to the Scum & Villainy Cantina Star Wars pop-up in Los Angeles, which still is going strong.
That said, Berry wanted to make sure he wasn’t overstepping any boundaries.
He met with a lawyer and likened opening Saved by the Max to a cover band and wanted to know how they legally did that. “He tells me that NBC’s a powerhouse and that if they want to shut you down, they’re going to shut you down,” he said.
He took that into consideration and in a low-key rebellious way, he anonymously made a Facebook event page for Saved by the Max in Chicago — this was before he talked to his partners and made any solid plan. “I put the event page up on that Sunday night and was just kinda like, ‘Let me see what happens,'” said Berry.
The event page went viral and eventually made its way to the Today show and Time magazine — and that’s when NBC reached out.
“They were like, ‘All right, this thing looks really far down the road. We’re not here to shut you down. You guys seem pretty credible,'” said Berry. NBC asked him what they have done and how they were going to uphold the Saved by the Bell brand.
“Normally, they just license a deal out and that’s it,” he said. “But this seemed like a bigger thing.”
NBC was surprisingly supportive. Carol Nygren, SVP Worldwide Live Entertainment at Universal Brand Development, told Deadline: “We seek out and work with partners that are equally passionate about the franchise and experience we’re creating. Our goal is to immerse fans into an experience where they literally feel like they walked into the world of their favorite show or film.”
With the success of Saved by the Max in Chicago, Berry uprooted the pop-up and placed it at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. It opened on June 1 and initially was supposed to run six months. The pop-up gained popularity and booking a reservation became impossible — so they extended their stay until September 2019.
Saved by the Max goes beyond being an immersive experience with recognizable hits from Zack Attack and Hot Sundae (those are bands from the show, in case you didn’t know) constantly on repeat and screens playing episodes. In addition to The Max, diners can eat in Mr. Belding’s office — and the menu isn’t just burgers and fries. The menu, created by a Michelin star chef, has themed dishes like “Mac & Screech” and “The Kelly Kapowski” Monte Cristo sandwich. If you want to partake in a cocktail, there are drinks honoring the show including the vodka-infused “I’m So Excited.” Red lockers from Bayside High School line the entrance and the back hallway, while a mini-museum of Saved by the Bell displays nostalgic merchandise and paraphernalia from the show.
For hardcore Saved by the Bell fans, there are plenty of deep cuts placed around the restaurant, including a nod to the “Teen Line” episode on the pay phone as well as a jukebox that has A-12 ready to play — which many will know as “Zack and Kelly’s song.” It’s almost surreal in how the space feels like you are in the Saved by the Bell universe.
Berry said that stars from the classic series have visited the pop-up including Max (Ed Alonzo) and Mr. Belding (Dennis Haskins). Mario Lopez, who played the charming jock AC Slater, invited Berry and his partners to come on Extra.
Nygren from NBC said that it is thrilled to see the fans reactions and said, “Knowing that we have many others shows with an equally passionate fan base, this certainly won’t be the last experience of its kind for us.”
Berry is already one step ahead of the game. He plans on opening another Saved by the Max in another city and has some other things in the works for L..A. With the overwhelming success of Saved by the Max, Berry said that he is looking to do a brand extension like he and his partners did in Chicago.
“Remember the Attic?” he asks. Of course, he’s referring to the nightclub Zack and the gang snuck into in one of the episodes. “In Chicago, we took over a nightclub next door to where we were doing Saved by the Max made it The Attic for one night. When we announced that, it sold out in a day.”
Berry said they plan on doing the same thing in L.A., but a little more long term. “Right now, you gotta strike while the iron’s hot,” he said. “People are really excited about this.”
Zack, Kelly, Slater, Jessie, Lisa, Screech, and yes, even Tori would be proud.