Sam Bobrick, the creator of NBC’s Saved By The Bell whose writing career stretched back to Captain Kangaroo, The Flintstones, classic episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and included the Broadway play Norman, Is That You?, died Friday, Oct. 11, at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles following a stroke. He was 87.
His death was announced by his daughter Stephanie Bobrick in a Facebook post. “Our dearly beloved Sam Bobrick, extraordinary playwright, husband, father, grandfather, pug father, brother, uncle, friend, mentor, and all around outstanding person passed away peacefully today, October 11, 2019, surrounded by family and friends. He was as hilarious as he was kind and will be missed by all who knew him.”
In a remembrance on the Medium website, Bobrick’s friend, producer and actor Adam Carl, wrote that Bobrick recently suffered a massive stroke.
Bobrick’s death comes less than a month after NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service announced a new version of the 30-year-old series that will include original castmates Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez
The original series ran on NBC from 1989-93, becoming a touchstone for a generation the way The Brady Bunch had some 20 years earlier. A high school-set comedy that occasionally tackled contemporary social issues with an over-the-top seriousness that would later be appreciated as camp, Saved By The Bell starred Lopez, Berkley, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen, Dustin Diamond, and Dennis Haskins as Principal Belding. A spinoff, Saved By the Bell: The College Years, ran one season in 1993-94.
Prior to his creation of that enduring pop culture phenomenon, Bobrick had long established himself as a writer or co-writer of some of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedies of the 1960s. Occasionally audiences and critics agreed: His 19 episodes of beloved The Andy Griffith Show included such 1964 fan favorites as “The Shoplifters”, “A Deal Is A Deal” and “Barney’s Uniform.” Later in the series, Bobrick co-wrote the handful of highly-rated episodes in which Don Knotts returned to the series as a guest star playing his Barney Fife character.
He’d also write for the Griffith show spin-off Gomer Pyle: USMC, the Mel Brooks and Buck Henry-created James Bond send-up Get Smart, and the controversial, influential and, for Bobrick and others on the writing team, Emmy-nominated The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Other TV credits The Flintstones, Bewitched, Hey, Landlord, The Paul Lynde Show (which he helped develop), Dick Van Dyke’s 1988 comeback series The Van Dyke Show, and The Tim Conway Comedy Hour (he was a producer on that one).
In the late 1980s, Bobrick created a Disney Channel series (and wrote the pilot) called Good Morning, Miss Bliss, a comedy built around the actress Hayley Mills, who played a junior high school teacher (the title character). The series lasted only one season (1988-89), but NBC saw something in it – perhaps the young cast that included Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Dustin Diamond and Lark Voorhies.
After it was canceled, the network picked it up – minus Mills – changed the Midwest setting to California and renamed it Saved by the Bell, ensuring a “Created by Sam Bobrick” title card for every episode.
But according to Carl, Bobrick was most proud of his prolific playwriting. Among the 40 plays he wrote or co-wrote, four received Broadway productions (all four were co-written with fellow Smothers Brothers writer Ron Clark). Though their first, 1970’s comedy Norman, Is That You?, dealt openly with homosexuality, it failed to stir up any Boys In The Band-like buzz, and flopped and closed within a few weeks of previewing. It became a movie in 1976 starring Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey.
The writing duo’s other Broadway credits were 1973’s No Hard Feelings; 1979’s Murder at the Howard Johnson’s; and 1981’s Wally’s Cafe. All were notorious flops of the day, with No Hard Feelings, starring Eddie Albert and Stockard Channing, opening and closing on April 8, 1973. (He did, however, work as an uncredited script doctor on 1975’s hit The Wiz).
Bobrick took the Broadway failures in stride, according to his friend, actor and producer Adam Carl. In a tribute essay posted on the Medium website, Carl writes, “He always said, ‘I’m more proud of my worst play than my best TV show.’ It wasn’t just a glib comment. In the early 1990s, Sam made the decision to quit TV for good so he could follow his bliss and write solely for the stage, and he rarely looked back. There have since been thousands of productions of Sam’s many plays in theaters large and small around the world. As recently as 2011, at the age of 79, Sam won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his play The Psychic, which made its premiere at The Falcon. Til the day he died, Sam was trying to piece together why he was so popular in Germany.”
In addition to his daughter Stephanie, Bobrick is survived by wife Julie; daughter Lori; son Joey; their spouses, and two grandchildren.