Melissa Joan Hart Dishes on MELISSA AND JOEY

Melissa Joan Hart

Melissa Joan Hart has been on television most of her life, and she’s now on ABC Family in the sitcom MELISSA AND JOEY. I recently took part in a conference call where she talked about the new show and gave some insights on her career and her best-known roles.

On Clarissa Explains it All

Melissa described her work on Clarissa Explains It All as a lot of fun, even though she had a “humongous workload” between the show and school and she felt tremendous pressure as the lead and with the monologues she had to memorize. She loved the role itself because Clarissa was a smart and sassy tomboy. Melissa called her “the quintessential teen but with a well-calculated, well-educated rebellion,” which she said was very similar to how she had been.

Learning about directing and how to run a light board were high points for Melissa, but she said it was difficult for her to shoot in Orlando as a teen with no family around and no friends her own age. She laughingly told us that whenever a girl her own age was a guest star, she would immediately suggest a slumber party even though at that point being around kids her own age was a little scary for her.

On Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Sabrina was a tough role for Melissa because she was very different than her. While she loved the show’s high concept and shooting with the aunts and Salem the cat, she thought Sabrina was a little whiny and trying too hard to fit in while making herself special with her magic.

Melissa loved how tight-knit the cast and crew were. They bowled together, had book clubs, traveled together to shoot Sabrina movies, and it was a terrific experience for her as a single woman. When Melissa tried to recreate that on the Melissa and Joey set, though, she ran into problems because she’s now married with kids and she needs to go to work and have fun, but then go home and be with her family.

On her relationship with co-star Joey Lawrence

Melissa and Joey have known each other for many years, and they would often show up at the same auditions in their youth. While talking about how strong her relationship with Joey is, Melissa gave much of the credit to their similar backgrounds. They both acted from a young age and had strong mothers helping with their careers. They also now have terrific marriages and kids and share a similar work ethic making it easy for them to gel professionally. Personality-wise, Melissa said they were very similar in one respect and total opposites in another, and that it works for them on-screen and off.

On the comparisons of Melissa and Joey to Who’s the Boss and other 90s’ sitcoms.

This seemed to be a bit of a sore spot. While Melissa said it’s never a bad thing to be compared to a successful show, there were never any plans to resemble Who’s the Boss and the comparison could be frustrating. Everyone involved with Melissa and Joey was simply trying to come up with an original show using the elements ABC Family had already decided upon: a manny (male nanny) and teenagers who were not actual offspring of the two leads.

In creating her character, Mel looked more to The New Adventures of Old Christine, while in terms of chemistry, Melissa and Joey both wanted something like Moonlighting. It wasn’t until after the pilot was shot that Melissa used Who’s the Boss to describe what Melissa and Joey was like and even then, she called it a completely different show because Who’s the Boss was much more about the kids than Melissa and Joey is.

On the show’s title

Melissa and Joey’s original name was Annie’s Manny, but neither Melissa nor Joey liked it, so they suggested going with something like Melissa and Joey, intending that to be a guideline, akin to Will and Grace or Dharma and Greg rather than the actual title, but the network liked it and it tested very well, so it stuck.

On her Mel Burke character

While Melissa isn’t sure why the writers decided Mel should be a local politician, she said that she was much more concerned with personality traits than profession when she helped flesh out the character. She wanted Mel to be a loose cannon: self-centered, dramatic, and domestically-challenged. She wanted Mel to be crazy, fun Aunt Mel, who doesn’t always have to be the one fixing things or the one who has everything all together. She envisioned a silly but likeable character like Phoebe from Friends or Lucille Ball.

Melissa did a pilot for Fox, Dirtbags, where she played a kind of party girl and she really enjoyed it, so she wanted to bring that aspect into Mel. Also, since she had always played the child who was so adult, she loved the idea of playing a childlike adult because that’s in tune with how she sees herself. She said that the older she gets, the more immature she gets and she likes the idea of Mel saying inappropriate things and not knowing the right answers because she can be like that, too.

Mostly Melissa just loves playing a character that makes people laugh. Her favorite thing is when the crew can’t stop giggling during rehearsal because that’s when she knows she’s doing a good job.

On what’s next for Melissa and Joey

Melissa said the show only gets better from here, especially since the pilot and first episode (both of which aired August 17) set up so much background and context. She gushed that while both she and Joey know shows don’t usually click until halfway through the second season, Melissa and Joey already had that feeling at less than halfway through the first season. She thinks the writers have really found the characters’ voices and that the audience will love some of the great guest stars coming up.

We can expect much more physical comedy in the future, especially from Melissa, and Mel’s past will continue to be referenced at least once each episode. In an upcoming episode, both Mel and Lennox will date a bad boy, and Mel will have to try to explain to Lennox why that’s not a good idea, even as she keeps seeing her guy. We can expect to see more plotlines where Mel does inappropriate things because of her past. In fact, Melissa said that she wants to do an episode where Mel takes Lennox to a karaoke bar.

One thing we shouldn’t expect is to learn many lessons. Melissa said that while the network does like to insert what she called little moments of political correctness, she and the rest of the cast and crew just want to make people laugh. They’re not looking to get serious. She did note that Melissa and Joey is a PG-13 show, great for parents and teenagers, but definitely not for young kids.

On her future

Melissa has no idea where her career will be in ten years, but she would like Melissa and Joey to have a good long (five or so seasons) run, and she would like to get more involved in feature films. She would especially like to do an animated feature because of her children. Melissa semi-regrets turning down some horror film roles she was offered while on Sabrina because she thinks it would have made a movie career easier, but she was very definite about not wanting to do them at the time.

For the most part, Melissa is very happy with the way her career has evolved, especially now that she has a schedule that works for her children, but she would really like to have the freedom and respect to be able to pick and choose roles.

Melissa likes to mix up her jobs; she enjoys being a producer as well as an actor. There are more headaches, but she likes having a say in all the decisions made, especially when it comes to surrounding herself on set with people she trusts. She and Joey both want to direct episodes of Melissa and Joey should they be granted a second season. Melissa called directing her creative outlet and she definitely hopes to do more of it in the future.

Melissa and Joey airs on ABC Family Tuesday nights at 8pm/7 central.