Mario Lopez in the early '90s (left) and now
Everett; Scott Kirkland/INF
It's a reunion 20 years in the making ... and a story that took over a year in planning.
When the cast of Saved by the Bell assembled for this week's PEOPLE photo shoot and cover story, everyone breathed a sigh of relief-including Mario Lopez, who nearly missed the whole thing.
"Everybody knew the 20-year anniversary was coming up," says Lopez. "This PEOPLE story has been in the works for over a year, long before [late night host] Jimmy Fallon started talking about it. We were all excited about it."
But Lopez's work ethic almost prevented the reunion from coming to fruition. "I'm so busy. I was concerned about my schedule," says Lopez, who in the past year alone has danced on Broadway in A Chorus Line, become the new host of TV's Extra and written a fitness book, Mario Lopez's Knockout Fitness. The night before the PEOPLE shoot in Los Angeles he was making a public appearance in Canada, across the country, and arrived on set straight from the airport after a seven-hour flight.
And now? Fans are clamoring for the next step: a reunion show. "Everybody is fired up," he says. "People keep coming up to me saying 'When are you guys going to do a show?'"
An actual reunion episode will have to wait, as Lopez is hardly taking time off. First up, he's returning as host for the fourth season of America's Best Dance Crew, which debuts this Sunday on MTV. "Expect another hot season," Lopez promises – just don't expect the Dancing with the Stars runner-up to hit the dance floor as well. "I wouldn't make it past the first round!" he swears. "These kids are extremely talented and athletic."
Lopez's next project will be promoting his new children's book, Mud Tacos. "It's stories about my sister Marisa and me growing up. My grandmother was always cooking, and she never let us in the house. So in the backyard, we made taco shells out of leaves and meat out of mud," he says. "The book encourages kids to use their imagination ... plus you learn a little Spanish. I think kids are going to dig it."