When you think of the 1991-93 Nickelodeon show “Welcome Freshmen” some folks get confused. But that’s okay because if you’re a die hard old school Nick fan you may remember this show and sadly it seems to be forgotten by the current people in charge of Nick today. Teens performing sketches, getting into mishaps, themes centered around teenage problems, and a bumbling principal was what this show was about(try not to think about Saved by the Bell). In this interview I talk with Mike Speller, who played vice principal Mr. Lippmann, to talk about his time on the show and at Nickelodeon Studios where it was filmed at!
1. How did you get the role of Mr. Lippman on Welcome Freshmen?
Regular on-camera auditions via my agency, ending my first year in Orlando. I read a ‘drill sergeant’ type scene (aka Lippman) for the first audition, then overslept on callback day and was a sweaty wheezing mess when I arrived to read the scene again with producers…ie, Got lucky!
2. What was a typical day like at Nick Studios?
As I recall, first two seasons started at 8am on-set–doing the standup routines, of all things– and went until about 4 or 5pm. Later seasons the hours were more reasonable & better shared among the cast. Off-times I either napped in my dressing room (my day-job was 6pm-1am) OR snuck up to the production offices or editing suites to chat with friends…
3. Orlando was a known as Hollywood East during that time. Describe how great it was to have all the tv production going on then.
Right place, right time. There were a lot of commercials being filmed in the area, a few movies, and Disney & Nickelodeon doing their share. My day job paid well but it was nice to have other opportunities & bounce creatively on a consistent basis.
4. Do you remember other shows being filmed where you were at?
Clarissa Explains it All, Nick Arcade, and some other game show (?) in the studios when we started doing the first season. Superboy & Swamp Thing series were just taking off on the Universal lot then as well.
5. You also appeared on the game show Nick Arcade. How much fun was that show?
I’m very competitive & the host Phil (?) loved our group for that. Free video games too! Who could ask for anything more?
6. Do you think there was a similarity btwn Welcome Freshmen and the other show Saved by the Bell? (Students, principal, shenanigans, etc)
Definite similarities but our show did more of a Jekyll-Hyde turnaround from skit-based to character-based scripts. More challenges = We win! Btw, that’s how we always referred to it: “the OTHER show.”
7. Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the show?
I have friends from the day job (Disney) that appeared with me on the show and I still keep in touch with them. The kids were a vastly different age group & I trust they grew up just fine without this vice-principal watching over them.
8. Have you ever been slimed?
I believe so…on an episode of Double Dare…or I have hysterical amnesia and can’t recall accurately.
9. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?
I got to preview Back to the Future (so to speak) but didn’t indulge too much at ‘the competition’.
10. Though you have been performing before you did Welcome Freshmen, do you think it helped inspired your performances today since the show had sketches when it first started?
I had some theater & some improv experience at the time but both the day job (WDW Adventurers Club) and WF gave me license to play, which is a rarity. I’ve written a few one-man shows, done a lot of spoken word stuff more recently because I like having that freedom & control.
11. Was there a reason the show changed to a sitcom during the last season?
Seasons 1-2 were sketches, 3-4 were character-driven. There’s more possibilities (comic or dramatic) in situational writing than gag-writing, in my humble opinion…not sure if that was the motive behind the producers’ decision.
12. You may not be aware but how do you feel knowing that the show and the rest of 90s Nickelodeon made a positive impact on fans and is still loved today?
I’m pleased the show had a following, still amazed I was part of a network effort and–nostalgia or not–glad to be noticed again (YouTube be praised!)
13. Any behind the scenes or fan moments that happened on set at the studio you can recall (studio tour,live audience)?
We got to do a couple promotional things I was proud of–a trip to Washington DC with Linda Ellerbee leading an evening of educational content; and a fan-lottery to a school in Oregon where most of the cast & Hulk Hogan (don’t remember him in the show) got to do interviews, autographs, and slime their principal!
14. I think that Nickelodeon Studios was a special place for kids and adults to interact with actors and TV shows and just have a lot of fun especially somewhere like Orlando. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, the studio tours were a mixed bag. It was novel and exciting to see folks go by when we weren’t performing; it also made me self-conscious when I messed up on tape because–perfectionist that I am–I had to censor myself from time to time. 🙂
15. Would you like to see Nick Studios be re-opened?
I think there’s a need for novel fun programming (that doesn’t involve reality chumps,slobs, or snobs); I think there’s a need for some educational messages to come from whatever product is put on-air. If Nick Studios made those goals priorities, I’d be on-board.