When NBC's tween-comedy Saved by the Bell was expelled in 1994, Mark-Paul Gosselaar (then best known as Zack) thought it'd be a snap finding his next big role. Unfortunately, lean times and less-than-stellar projects followed. That is, until producer Steven Bochco rejuvenated Gosselaar's career by annointing him as Dennis Franz's final partner on NYPD Blue. Four years later, the groundbreaking police drama is closing up shop. (ABC airs a one-hour retrospective tonight at 9 pm/ET, followed by the actual finale at 10.) At least this time, the actor's future is less uncertain — he has already been cast in a Fox pilot about a brother and sister who run a Las Vegas wedding chapel. With steady employment on the horizon, Gosselaar's able to relax and fondly reflect on his well-received stint at the 15th Precinct.
TVGuide.com: You wrapped shooting on Blue just a few weeks ago. Was there a moment when you felt the show end for you personally?
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Yeah, actually, it hit me on the last dialogue scene between Dennis and I. I thought to myself, "This may never happen again to me. These are some of the best people, crew and cast, that I've ever worked with." I just wanted to hold on to it for myself because I was so happy the last four years. And then, of course, we still had to get through [that scene] because the actual ending of our show wasn't supposed to be a sad scene. But we were all fighting tears. It was tough.
Gosselaar: I usually played them on my female costars during our nude scenes. It's basically to relieve my nervousness — but I mask it by saying that it's to make things comfortable on the set for them. I'll write something on my bare ass, or one time I went under the sheets and came back up with a full fake beard on. I had tucked [it] in between my legs and when she wasn't looking, I put it on real quick. TVG: Sounds like a fun set to work on.
Gosselaar: One thing about Blue is that you're doing this very serious dialogue, generally, but all of us have great senses of humor. Henry Simmons has one of the best senses of humor and is one of the best mimickers I've ever seen. I've never had bellyaches more than with this guy and Currie Graham. Currie is one of the most genuinely funny individuals. And Gordon Clapp! We had some of the best comedians on that set. It was great. TVG: March 1 is a milestone day for you. The final episode of NYPD Blue airs and it's your 31st birthday.
Gosselaar: Yeah. [Laughs.] Well, one is a milestone. I'm not a big birthday person, so I don't really like to have a big celebration. It just turns out that the show's ending on that day, and my wife [Lisa] invited basically the whole cast and some of the producers over to our house to view it. I hope to god that they don't think it's a dual thing — because it's definitely not. We're just gonna have a great old time. As a cast, we really enjoyed being around each other. TVG: But with everyone there on your birthday, you know you're getting a big cake or something.
Gosselaar: Uh, you know, my wife probably has something up her sleeve. She did that for my 30th last year. I said, "Please don't make a big deal out of it." And, of course, she sent a cake down to the set and the whole crew sang "Happy Birthday" and whatnot. TVG: Looking back, what's the biggest lesson you learned on Blue?
Gosselaar: Well, I used to take things for granted. I've been in this business for 26 years now, and a lot of things came at a very young age for me. [But] I wasn't working in my early twenties, and it made me realize how fortunate I was to be given a chance by Steven Bochco. To be honest, it's not that anybody could look at my past and say, "Oh, I've seen him do that; he can handle this." And then, to work with Dennis every day. Here's a guy who, for 12 years, showed up to the set every day prepared, professional... one of the nicest guys to the crew, cast, anybody who walked onto the set. One ritual he did — that I thought was one of the classiest things anybody has ever done — is each morning, from Day 1, he would greet me, shake my hand and say, "Good morning, partner." Those are the things I'm gonna miss.