Total TV magazine editor Rick Schindler goes Hart-to-Hart with the Teenage Witch--and discovers she's got some new tricks up her sleeve


The original plan was for Melissa Joan Hart to be interviewed by someone a lot closer to her own age of 22 than your Humble Editor, who has a daughter her age. But your Humble Editor happened to be the only one available at the particular time Melissa was able to squeeze into her busy schedule. Fortunately, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch happens to be one of my guilty TV pleasures (I have a thing about Sabrina's cat, Salem), and I'd even seen a little of her old Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All because my kids used to watch it.

Mostly we talked about Melissa's cable special Take a Moment, which is about families and TV. But there's a bunch of Melissa news here we couldn't fit into the magazine: her upcoming Sabrina TV-movie; an audio book she's doing with Madonna and other celebrities; and how she sings backup on the next Blondie album.

If the interview seems a little disjointed, part of the reason is that Melissa talked to me from her car phone and our connection was fading in and out. My favorite part is when Melissa says, "Gosh, I went under a bridge."

Melissa Joan Hart: Hi, this is Melissa Hart.

Total TV: Hi, Melissa.

Hi, I'm calling from my car, I'm sorry, I'm like running around like crazy.

Oh, no, I appreciate you taking the time. And besides, that's the accepted L.A. thing to do, isn't it?

Yes. Exactly.

Do you have a fax in your car?

No, I wish.

I was just looking at some of your web pages, trying to do some quick research. And actually they're very nice. Have you ever seen any of them?

Actually I just--someone just brought over a couple of copies of some not-so-nice ones.

Oh, that's too bad.

Yeah. I just--I'd never seen them before and someone just brought them over to my house and I found them really disturbing. You know, I don't mind so much as I--I just hope that, you know, kids can't get to it.

Yeah, exactly. You've been such a role model. Is it a big responsibility?

It is and it isn't. I don't know, it's something that just comes with the job and it's something that I've always felt anyway. I have a lot of brothers and sisters--I'm the oldest of 8--and my career has always kind of revolved around what I do and don't want them seeing me doing. And so in that way I'm also kind of protecting my audience, I guess.

So tell me a little bit about Tune Into Kids and Family. How did your involvement start?

I used to go to school in Manhattan with a bunch of the City Kids and [co-host] Donald Faison is a good friend of mine from school. So I know a lot of the people involved, and it was just a great thing to do. My mother and I have a production company called Hartbreak and the whole reason Sabrina came about was because we wanted something good for families to watch on TV. So I'm totally--hello?

I'm with you.

I'm totally--oh oh, can you hear me?

Oh, I lost you.

[unclear]

Gosh, I went under a bridge. Sorry.

That's quite all right. I have a confession to make. I don't have any kids under 20 and I watch Sabrina sometimes. I loved the one where you made the talent soda bottles. With the rock band, it was very cute.

That was fun. Because of that now I'm singing background on one of Blondie's songs on her new album.

Oh, a Debbie Harry album?

Yeah.

I love Debbie Harry.

Yeah, me too. I did her song, "One Way Or Another," on the show. So yeah, I'm going to be doing background on that. But basically like Sabrina came about because my mother and I really wanted something that everyone could watch on TV. So Tune in to Kids and Family Week is perfect for me.

There were all different kinds of families there--single fathers, grandparents with their grandkids, big families, small families, all different races. And Donald and I got to ask all these questions about what the problems were in families with communicating, and one was a question about where do you spend most of your family time. And a lot of them said dinnertime and a lot of them said TV time and then some of them disagreed. They said, no, I don't think TV time is good family time cause everyone's sitting watching their own program or glued to the TV.

Yeah. And everybody has their own TV these days

Yeah, exactly. And even if you are watching together, it's not necessarily family time unless you're watching something that everyone enjoys and you can talk about it. I think too often parents use TV as a babysitter, turn it on and leave the kids in front of it just mesmerized. There was a big question as to whether or not different generations have grown up differently. And one woman said, no, you know, I was a teenager too, I went through the same thing. But then some other people said, well these days with the Internet, with all this other access, these kids have so much information they grow up so much faster. At 8 years old they know about sex whereas it used to be 12 years old or whatever. So more kids are growing up faster and in that way it's kind of changed.

You're right, they're a lot more sophisticated.

Yeah, I used to go out and ride my bike and nowadays my brother sits in and plays Nintendo.

What do you watch on television, by the way?

Oh, I love Seinfeld, I love ER. But I usually watch things later on at night, like Letterman. Because I don't get home till late cause I'm working.

But Sabrina is an example of the sort of thing that you'd like to see more of on television?

Yeah. I think so. Boy Meets World is like a wonderful show but it's still kind of an unrealized show. But kids know about it. My 4-year-old sister just loves that show. And it's a really good show for kids and families. It's a really smart show. I think that 8 o'clock and 8:30 shows should be geared towards families, more than, you know, Friends. Third Rock I think is a pretty good family show. Like starting at 9 o'clock you can start playing with family programming but I think a lot of the problem is that at 8 o'clock there's nothing on for the kids.

Yeah. Friends is not really the right thing.

No it's not. Their topics are too adult. And kids aren't going to understand single life in New York City.

But at least you guys at ABC are putting together a Friday night lineup.

Yeah, but it's falling apart. I hope that they get something good for the fall. They were doing a spin-off episode with my sister and unfortunately at the last minute they pulled it. It was being talked about in the press, it would have been a really good show. And it would have been perfect for what we're talking about. But unfortunately they pulled it.

It's not easy, what you do, making television is hard. And comedy is the hardest thing of all.

Yeah. That's what they say. Thank you.

Did you you read the Sabrina comic book when you were a kid?

No, not when I was a kid, just recently. Within the last like 3 or 4 years. The new ones came out in the '90s and I guess those are the ones I've been reading.

Yeah, it's a generation gap. I sort of remember the cartoons.

The reason why we decided to do Sabrina was it was something that the older generations might remember and the younger generations can find something new. Actually, I've got something new coming out soon. There's going to be a Sabrina movie for Wonderful World of Disney. We just OK'd it yesterday. It just got the OK.

Oh, cool.

Yeah, it's going to be "Sabrina Goes to Rome." So we're going to shoot it in Rome in about a month. And there's this book coming out, it's a thing I did for the Star Bright Foundation. It's an audio book. About The Emperor's New Clothes. This is something that is good for the generations that remember The Emperor's New Clothes and it's a good way to introduce it to the kids. Madonna plays the Empress, I think John Lithgow plays the Emperor, I play the Princess, Jonathan Taylor Thomas plays the Prince and it's just an unbelievable cast. Carrie Fisher, General Schwarzkopf, even Steven Spielberg does a voice. They got a different celebrity to do each different voice and they got a different celebrity illustrator to do each different character. They drew up a picture of each character and then each actor wrote their own part, so I wrote my own part of the book.

Oh, that sounds neat. It's on audio and on paper as well?

Yeah, I think they come together. That will be out in the fall I think. Or in time for Christmas.

What else is ahead for you? You must have other things in mind as you mature.

Oh yeah. Well I hope to do films and I'm working on that right now. I'm going to be doing an independent film at the end of the summer. But right now I'm just kind of going along and doing projects that are interesting to me at the time.

It is hard for you to pick scripts?

No, I'm really picky about it. But I don't think it's difficult. It's difficult when I say no and then I see the movie come out and you know it's a big hit. But, you know, if it's right for me then I'll know.

Do you ever feel pressured to be squeaky clean?

I used to but nowadays, you know, if I'm going to do something a little bit more adult, I'll do it if it's going to be on at a different time slot or if it's going to be something that kids won't be able to get their hands on really. If I'm doing a feature I think there's a little bit more freedom to do something a little bit racier cause it gets a rating, you know.

What do you think about daytime? I think one of the troublesome things is kids come home from school and Jerry Springer is on.

Yeah, that's true. I don't know enough about daytime, I think, to say anything.

Well you can only clean up your own corner of television, you can't do it all by yourself.

Yeah, exactly.