Essence Atkins’s exit from Saved By The Bell: The College Years remains unclear. No public record exists of anyone involved with the series speaking on her removal. However, IMDB claims Essence Atkins was fired after Tiffani Thiessen, who did not appear in the pilot, decided to reprise her role as Kelly Kapowski for the remainder of the series.
IMDB neglects to cite any source for its claim, and the term fired lacks context in this case. Instead, it insinuates that Atkins instigated her dismissal with poor performance, behavior, or another firable offense. However, it’s evident that her removal came through no fault of her own.
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen Replaced Essence Atkins
Thiessen played the iconic role of Kelly Kapowski in the original series and reprised her role for the remainder of The College Years and the subsequent film, Saved By The Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas.
Why she waited until after the pilot to join the cast remains a mystery. However, we can speculate that contract negotiations and Thiessen’s additional career opportunities, or lack thereof, played a role in her decision. Regardless, her series of actions unfairly impacted Atkins.
Although the three primary male characters from the original series (Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, and Screech Powers) all appear in the entire college series, the other original female characters (Lisa Turtle & Jessie Spanos) do not (though Turtle appears in the final episode).
Why Essence Atkins Should Have Stayed on Saved By The Bell
In retrospect, removing Essence Atkins was a terrible decision as the series was canceled after only one season and 19 episodes. Of course, other factors, like its competitive primetime time slot, and the absence of former cast favorites like Lark Voorhies and Elizabeth Berkley, contributed to the series’ quick demise.
The show’s Executive Producer Peter Angel told The Wrap that he wished he had taken all six kids to college (referencing Voorhies and Berkley’s absences) and that the show lost some of its innocence in The College Years.
Still, the decision to dismiss Atkins, who showed as much or more promise than any of the other newcomers, doesn’t sit well to this day. Atkins’s presence in the series may have allowed for a more distinct narrative separation between the new iteration and its predecessor.
In addition, Kelly’s replacement of Danielle Marks (Atkins’s character) altered the show’s entire plotline. Leslie, Zack’s primary love interest in the pilot, essentially does nothing for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Kelly is involved with all the most exciting storylines (like her affair with a professor) and her romance with high school sweetheart Zack Morris.
While the third roommate, Alex, played by Kiersten Warren, dates A.C Slater (an established character), her function on the show never quite tracks for the audience. For example, her relationship with Slater seems forced, and some of her on-campus antics feel cringe-worthy.
What Happened to Essence Atkins after Saved By The Bell?
Essence Atkins’s first credit after Saved By The Bell: The College Years is Under One Roof, a short-lived series about a widowed police officer. She soon appeared as a recurring character on Malibu Shores in 1996 before securing a lead role on Smart Guy from 1997-1999.
Essence Atkins also auditioned for the role of Angela Moore in Boy Meets World, according to Trina McGee on the Pod Meets World Podcast. McGee eventually landed the role of Angela, who plays the love interest of Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) from Seasons 5-7.
Essence Atkins enjoys an ongoing successful acting career, continuing to appear in TV series and films, including First Wives Club and Family Reunion. Additionally, Atkins is currently filming a movie titled Screenshot to Santa, written and directed by Monica Floyd.