When “Clarissa Explains It All” first aired in 1991, it was, in at least one way, the first show of its kind.
It had all the qualities of a sitcom geared to younger viewers: an admirable, if sometimes irreverent, lead, and a moral lesson embedded in each episode. But unlike other shows of its time, “Clarissa” starred a young woman as its quirky, scrunchie-wearing heroine.
The year it debuted, the show was nestled among Nickelodeon’s otherwise dude-centric slate, which included “Doug,” “Rugrats,” “Ren and Stimpy,” “Salute Your Shorts,” and “Hey Dude.”
In a phone interview with The Huffington Post, Melissa Joan Hart, who played Clarissa, explained, “It was very much an industry standard. Women will watch men as a lead. And women will watch women as a lead. But men won’t watch women. So you lost half your audience. And I think ‘Clarissa’ proved them wrong on that.”
Although Clarissa is Hart in the eyes of fans, she said she narrowly landed the part, because the executive producer was opposed to casting a blonde.
“He thought blondes just instantly mean ‘airhead’ and all these other things. I was able to prove him wrong,” Hart said. “He wouldn’t let me audition, and finally he gave in, and fell in love with me.”
It was very much an industry standard. Women will watch men as a lead. And women will watch women as a lead. But men won’t watch women. So you lost half your audience. And I think ‘Clarissa’ proved them wrong on that.
And so did viewers. “I get a lot of men that remember that character, and loved that show,” Hart said, “men who loved watching her as a lead.”
The actress, who’s moved on, for now, to less comedic roles like the Christian drama series “God’s Not Dead,” said, “I love putting on hats, being different people, diving into different personalities. A little of it is playing dress-up, of course.”
She’s not just being figurative about dress-up. Hart keeps a theater closet in her basement full of her favorite outfits from both “Clarissa Explains It All” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
“Anytime there was a Betsy Johnson piece on ‘Clarissa,’ I kept it,” Hart said. “I got rid of all my Dr. Martens, but I recently invested in some new Dr. Martens. Those were my favorite shoes to wear for, like, a decade.”
She’s been revisiting other ‘90s staples, too. Now a mother of three, Hart recently watched an episode of “Sabrina” with her kids.
“A few weeks ago, they were watching a show called ‘The Thundermans’ on Nick. It’s about a superhero family. I decided, hey, you know what, you guys should really watch ‘Sabrina.’ So I put on an episode, and they liked it,” Hart said. “They asked to watch it again. They watched the whole episode, all three of them. It was the first time I’d watched it, maybe ever.”
Hart ― who is currently promoting LiveHealth Online, a health care accessibility site ― also spoke about balancing her career with her role as a mother.
When asked whether she felt comfortable talking about her family life in interviews related to her work as an actress, Hart said, “Oh, I think it’s so important. You have mom-guilt that just runs rampant. If you have children and you’re working, you feel guilty that you’re not home. If you’re home, you feel guilty that you’re not participating in the workforce.”
She continued, “I’m just one of those people, I love to work. And I want to show my kids that work takes priority. It is a priority. My kids come first, but work comes second, and it’s a close second. I think it’s important to instill a good work ethic in our children.”
If that’s not a powerful lesson à la “Clarissa Explains It All,” what is?
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