Mark-Paul Gosselaar On 'Raising The Bar,' 'NYPD Blue,' & A 'Saved By The Bell' Reunion
Mike: The first question would usually be, "How did you get involved with 'Raising the Bar?'" But obviously, you've worked with Steven Bochco before [on "NYPD Blue"]. Is it that simple?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: No, that's pretty much it. He's been gracious enough over the past few years to keep me employed ... He just came to me and gave me the first offer. Coming from such a prolific producer and someone with so much success it's such a nice -- I wouldn't say a gift -- but it's nice to have someone in your corner.
Mike: Is it better coming into an already established popular show like "NYPD Blue" or is it nice to create something from the ground up like with "Raising the Bar?"
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: It's different pressures. The pressures coming on "NYPD Blue" were pretty obvious: I'm coming to work with a guy who's nominated nine times for an Emmy and I'm playing his partner a 27 years old. There was a lot of anxiety on my part. Dennis [Franz] is one of the best actors on television but also one of the best, just, people; he's just so genuine and so nice. There was only pressure put on myself. On this, it's a challenge. We started from the beginning with something new; the criminal justice show has been done before but not from the perspective of the public defenders and their clients and listening to their stories. There's this uncertainty of if that's going to work ... There's a lot more on everyone's shoulders.
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Mike: I've actually served on a jury in a Manhattan murder trial with a public defender and I really appreciate the use of time-lapse photography during the courtroom scenes because, contrary to popular belief, even in a murder trial, it's not non-stop action.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Yeah. What was the verdict?
Mike: After three weeks: Not guilty.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Not guilty. Wow. I bet that public defender was... that's such a relief for a public defender, not only for their client... Wow, that's cool.
Mike: Your character, Jerry, is interesting. He's usually right but he seems like he could use a little bit of tact.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Definitely. We address that this season starting with the obvious: my hair. My haircut being done in the first episode, that is Jerry becoming more tactful. So much we saw last season of him using his voice and not necessarily his mind. He's one of the smartest attorneys in the room and yet Jerry would say things or do things a more prudent person would keep in. Jerry's always going to be a bit of a rebel, of a rogue. That is the charm. But, you're right, the character needed to become a little bit more tactful and smarter and I think we've accomplished that in the first couple of episodes.
Mike: I love Jane Kaczmarek as Judge Kessler. Every time you kind of think she's making a level headed decision she will immediately follow that with something that makes you still think she's out of her mind a little bit.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Well, It depends on where you stand and how you interpret the law. She very much so interprets the law by the book and it's not always fair... and this is obviously me speaking, not Jerry, but she does things by the book. You can't fault her for doing that. Sometimes her approach with Jerry seems a bit harsh, but, yeah, she's a great character. I don't know if you're aware that we also brought on John Michael Higgins ("Best in Show") to play a judge. [He] plays, sort of, a judge with pretty eccentric rules; he's probably with us for six or seven episodes and, obviously, with his comedy background it really makes for a great dynamic with him and Jerry and the rest of the lawyers.
Mike: He's great, I can't wait to see that. Judge Kessler also shows her human side. In the first season finale when she thanks Jerry's defendant after he was acquitted and forgave her because he was wrongfully convicted the first time. That's a touching scene.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: It was. And if you see how she tries to get off the bench as quick as possible because she doesn't want to have that human moment because it gets in the way of doing your job sometimes.
Mike: You mentioned doing "NYPD Blue" at 27 but, at the time, some people thought you were much younger than that. Do you ever get the sense that people forget how old you are? Because, even while I was doing the prep work for this interview, my first reaction was, "Wow, Mark-Paul Gosselaar was born in 1974, he's 35 years old now." Then my second reaction was "Wait, I was born in 1974, I'm going to be 35 soon."
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: (Laughs) I guess because people grew up watching my show; there's sort of a false kinship everyone has of, "Yeah, we grew up together." (laughs). And I'm still on the air playing that character... Yeah, when I turned 35 this year I looked back and I go, "God, I've been married for 13 years, I have two kids..." Thirty-Five was like an official age, you know? I'm sure you feel the same way.
Mike: Well, it's this Friday. I have a few days left so don't tell me what happens and spoil it for me (laughs).
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: It's a weird thing. Now you're not really in your 30's; you're moving forward to the 40's. It's the real deal. But, yeah, I've been in the business for so long people tend to forget how old I am.
Mike: Well, I thought you brought a very nice stability to "NYPD Blue." Between Jimmy Smits' character being sick and Rick Schroder's character being, kind of, out there; Clark was a nice stable relationship for Sipowicz.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I was named John Clark because that was the executive producer, Bill Clark, [who] was a detective for 25 years in the NYPD and gave me, basically, his brother's name of John Clark Jr. So he wasn't going to make my character too out there. I was closest to 'couldn't do anything wrong.' Smits had such a beloved character, I was nowhere near that in terms of 'couldn't do anything wrong' but I wasn't going to become an alcoholic and I wasn't going to be sleeping with whores. Sipowicz had kind of had it with Danny (Schroder), he was kind of a mentor but Danny was so f---ed up and there were so many issues with Danny. And yeah, when my father died on the show, Sipowicz kind of became my father and I rebelled; I thought it was a nice little relationship for Sipowicz's character as well. That was such a pleasure to be on that show. I wish I was on it for the 12 years it ran.
Mike: Two more things: There's the romance with Bobbi that happened in the first season finale, what can we expect from the second season of "Raising the Bar," other than the new haircut?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Slow, slow, slow; we are into our seventh episode now. With 15 episodes this year we can kind of take our time. Last year went by really quick, so 10 episodes really did not give us a chance to flush out these characters. We had some good stories but in terms of the characters I think they suffered a little bit. This year, with 15, we can take our time having the confidence of having a second season. And we can broaden our angles a little bit, too, with the characters and take them in different directions which is always good for a show.
Mike: Okay, last thing, and I'm going to word this hypothetically...
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Okay.
Mike: Hypothetically, let's say the second season of "Raising the Bar" begins. Instead of New York, all of a sudden it's set in California. And it's just Jerry, Charlie and Bobbi; nobody else. All their families live there now, too. And Judge Kessler lives there. But, there is no explanation for any of these changes. Okay, I've been trying to wrap my head around that same scenario for 21 years only the move was from Indiana to California. Do you have any explanation for this so that I can go to my 35th birthday knowing how this happened?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: (Long pause) Of why? Why would you move, well... Indiana?
Mike: From what we saw happen on "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" to what it became the next season ["Saved By the Bell"], they went from Indiana to California. Three families [The Morrises, the Turtles and the the Powerses] and their principal [Mr. Belding] with no explanation.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Ohhhh, that's right! (pauses, then erupts in long laughter). Oh f---, Mike, that's pretty f---ing good. That totally went over my head. "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" took place in Indiana?
Mike: It did.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: (Still laughing) Holy shit, it did! Why...
Mike: I would try to rationalize it by thinking that maybe the three parents worked for the same company and they all got transferred to California... But why would their old principal be there, too?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: (Laughing) That is so funny. I have to say: You are the very first journalist to ever come up with that shit. Good on you, man.
Mike: Well, thank you. I appreciate that.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: You can go into your 35th birthday with a badge that says, "I asked the question that stumped Mark-Paul." That's the first time I've ever been asked that question. That's awesome. (laughs)
Mike: I was trying to go this whole interview without mentioning the name of that show, that's why I worded it the way I did.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: No, it was perfect. I was thinking, "How does this relate to the fucking show?" (laughs).
Mike: Well, do you have an answer? Any explanation how this could happen?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Oh my God, no. That's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And the funny thing: Why did they pick Haley Mills to do this show in Indiana? Why Indiana? Where are you going to go from Indiana? I didn't even think of that, but now that you brought it up: What the f--- is in Indiana?!
Mike: They could have at least added a throw-away line explaining why they all moved to California... plus the principal. I thought, today, I would finally get an answer.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: (Laughs) No, I'm stumped. Also, I think it's going to happen, but over at Jimmy Fallon, I'm going to do the show on June 8. He's been doing this whole thing with a ["Saved by the Bell"] reunion. I don't know if I'm going to do the reunion but I'm going to do something really fun on his show. For fans of the show "Saved by the Bell," I think it's going to be something they're going to look forward to. [Fallon] seems to be pretty open to some things; I want to have some fun with it and not just shy away from the whole "Saved by the Bell" reunion. We'll have some fun with it.
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit reader questions for celebrites to Mike on Twitter.
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