Tiffani Thiessen thankful she missed paparazzi era

Tiffani Thiessen is probably best known for her role as Kelly Kapowski on "Saved by the Bell," but the actress says she had no idea at that time how popular the teenage sitcom was.

"I mean, I was so young. I was 15 when I started that show," Thiessen, now 39, said in a recent interview.

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"I remember Mark-Paul (Gosselaar) and I touring the (United) States and going overseas. ... That was the first time that I realized what an impact that show had when 5,000, 6,000, 10,000 kids were showing up to these malls and these places where we would sit there for hours and do autograph signings and pictures and stuff," she said.

"That's when I was really like, 'Where am I? What is this?' Kids wanted my empty cup of water and, you know, things like that. It was strange. I had to constantly remind myself that what I was doing was a job and I enjoyed my job and I was going back to school and do homework like all these other kids who were sitting here."

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    "Saved by the Bell," which also starred Mario Lopez and Dustin Diamond, aired from 1989 to 1993.

    The show now airs in syndication and remains a part of the pop culture zeitgeist. Jimmy Fallon tried — unsuccessfully — to rally the cast for a reunion in 2009. (They did pose for a People magazine cover.) Justin Bieber wore a T-shirt with the likeness of Kelly Kapowski to the MuchMusic Awards in 2011.

    Thiessen is grateful that she grew up in the limelight before TMZ and other 24-hour media outlets and gossip blogs came along on the Internet.

    "Thank God I missed that. The photographers that would follow us were like for Teen Beat and Bop (magazines)," she said.

    She said the limelight got a little more intense with her next big role as Valerie Malone on the '90s romance drama "Beverly Hills, 90210." But it was "nothing like (what) the kids are going through now."

    Thiessen credits Aaron Spelling, who was an executive producer of "90210," with giving her an interesting perspective on fame.

    "Aaron Spelling said something to me a long time ago that was really interesting," she said. "He said ... movie stars are in big screens and you have to go see them in the theater. TV stars are in people's homes and they feel much more of a connection because you're watching them in your home, and I thought that was really interesting because it was kind of true. A lot of people you know would stop me on the street thinking they went to high school with me."

    Thiessen divides her time between Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and daughter, and New York City, where she films the USA series "White Collar," which aired its season four series finale this week.

    Matt Bomer plays former con man Neal Caffrey, who is working with the FBI to catch white-collar criminals. Her character is married to agent Peter Burke, who supervises Caffrey.

    "If I wasn't an actor, I probably would be an event planner, which is why my character, Elizabeth, on 'White Collar' is an event planner. It was kind of my idea. Presentation is huge for me. I love throwin' a good party. Absolutely. Like my daughter's birthday last year. I did all the catering, all the food, all the decor and I loved every minute of it. Of course, my husband's like, 'Do we have to do this much?' I just love doing it."