We are on the last week of our Teen Scene blog series. We began the month with Melissa Joan Hart in Clarissa Explains It All, and we end with Melissa Joan Hart in Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Clarissa Explains It All went off the air in 1994, and two years later Sabrina hit the airwaves. The show was on ABC from Fall of 1996 until May of 2000 and then moved to The WB network for three seasons, going off the air in April of 2003.
Neil Scovell created the show based on the Sabrina the Teenage Witch character from the Archie comic series. The premise was that on her sixteenth birthday, Sabrina (Hart) learns that she has magical powers. She lives with her aunts who she learns are 600 years old and also witches: Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick) and their cat Salem who is also magical. Salem was voiced by Nick Bakay. The three family members live in Boston.
A lot of the plots are based on spells that don’t go quite right as Sabrina learns her magic skills. Unlike Bewitched, it’s her father’s side of the family that she inherited her powers from. Other plots come from the circumstances that arise as she tries to keep the fact that she is a witch from her friends Jenny (Michelle Beaudoin), Valerie (Lindsay Sloane), her boyfriend Harvey (Nate Richert), and her suspicious principal Willard Kraft (Martin Mull).
Sabrina has an annoying cousin but rather than Hart playing both roles like in Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, her sister Emily portrays cousin Amanda.
There was no live studio audience because of the complex visual effects that were necessary for the filming.
Season one is Sabrina dealing with the fact that she is a witch and that she needs to learn how to deal with her special powers. In season two, she learns she needs to earn her witch’s license or give up her powers. She has to attend witch boot camp before her test.
For season three, she learns before she can use her license, she must discover her family secret. Different family members provide her with clues throughout the year, and eventually, she learns every family member is born with a twin. Harvey learns during season four that Sabrina is a witch. Their relationship is on and off again but he leaves the show at the end of the year.
For season five, Sabrina begins college and moves into a house with other students. She goes to work at a local coffee shop. Her aunts want to stay close to her so Hilda buys the coffee shop and Zelda becomes a professor at the school. Sabrina gets a new boyfriend Josh.
Josh is offered a job abroad and while he is trying to decide, Harvey reenters Sabrina’s life because he is dating her roommate Morgan. Eventually, Josh and Harvey both move away. At the beginning of the last season, Sabrina and her roommates Morgan and Roxie move into her aunt’s house and Sabrina becomes a writer for a magazine. She meets a new guy, Aaron, to whom she eventually becomes engaged. However, in the series finale, Harvey returns on her wedding day and Sabrina leaves with him.
The series was well known for its music and musical guests. During the run of the show, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, N*Sync, Coolio, The Backstreet Boys, Paula Abdul, the Violent Femmes, 10000 Maniacs, and Usher all make appearances.
One of my favorite moments comes during an episode in season 2, “Dante’s Inferno.” In this episode, Aunt Hilda has an illness called pun-itis where everything she says becomes literally true. She says there’s a monkey on her shoulder and voila, it is. However, it’s no ordinary monkey. It’s Monkee member Davey Jones wrapped around her shoulder.
This show was genuinely funny. Sabrina was youthful and optimistic and fun. Her aunts truly loved her and brought a warmth and a kindness to the show. Salem’s dry sense of humor and sarcasm make him a delightful pet. They were a delightful family to spend time with.
We are in the midst of our Teen Scene blog series this month. Today we learn about a true teen genius, Doogie Howser, MD.
This half-hour sitcom was created for the fall of 1989 by Steven Bochco who created Hill Street Blues and LA Law and would go on to develop NYPD Blue. He asked David E. Kelley for help writing the pilot. Kelley, who also wrote for Hill Street Blues, would go on to write for Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public, and Boston Legal. Bochco and Co felt Neil Patrick Harris was the perfect kid to play a teenage doctor. ABC did not like the casting and was not fond of the show in general or the pilot. However, Bochco’s contract required that if the network canceled his project, they had to pay a penalty. They ended up putting the show on the air because test screenings ranked so well. The show ended up being on the air for four seasons, creating 97 episodes. It was one of the first sitcoms not to have a live audience or a laugh track.
While Doogie had to deal with professional medical problems at work, in his personal career, he was still a teenager dealing with the same issues all teenagers do. His best friend Vinnie (Max Casella) had been in his life since kindergarten. Vinnie wanted to pursue film school, but his dad wanted him to join the family business. Doogie’s family business was medicine; his dad, Dr. David Howser (James B. Sikking) had a family practice, and his mother Katherine (Belinda Montgomery) became a patient advocate at the hospital.
Doogie and Vinnie dated best friends. Wanda (Lisa Dean Ryan) was Doogie’s girlfriend but before the end of the show, she left to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and they broke up. Vinnie’s girlfriend Janine (Lucy Boyer) drops out of college to become a department store buyer.
Doogie’s professional colleagues include Dr. Benjamin Canfield (Lawrence Pressman), head of the hospital and friend of Doogie’s father; Dr. Jack McGuire (Mitchell Anderson), a resident who eventually moves overseas to help third-world countries; Mary Margaret Spaulding (Kathryn Layng) a nurse who ironically dates McGuire, Canfield, and Doogie; and Raymond (Markus Redmond), an orderly who Doogie got hired after he left gang life. In seasons 2-4, Barry Livingston (Ernie from My Three Sons), plays Dr. Bob Rickett, a fellow doctor at the hospital.
Doogie’s (Douglas) story is that he was a two-time survivor of early-stage pediatric leukemia which gave him a desire to become a doctor. He was labeled a genius in school and had an eidetic memory and earned a perfect SAT score at the age of six, graduating from high school in only nine weeks at which time he entered Princeton at age 10. By 14, he had finished medical school and was beginning his career. A couple of sources I read said Bochco based the character of Doogie somewhat on his own father who was a violin prodigy.
We meet him at 16 when he is a second-year resident surgeon at Eastman Medical Center in LA. He lives at home with his parents, and he keeps a digital diary which he typically ends the show with, writing as he makes observations about what he has learned during the episode.
The show dealt with some heavier topics including AIDS awareness, racism, homophobia, and gang violence, but most of the shows also involve Doogie’s personal life and his social issues being a teen in an adult world. By the time the show ends, Doogie has moved into his own apartment. Howser then resigns from the hospital to take a trip to Europe. If the show had come back for a fifth season, the creators planned to have Doogie explore a writing career.
While audiences responded enthusiastically to the show, critics were not on board. Marvin Kitman of Newsday rated the first season 40/100 and said sarcastically, “What a wasted childhood my kids have had, I got to thinking while watching this otherwise normal Doogie Howser. It makes you look at your kids differently. What lazy bums they must be still in high school at 16.” Christopher Smith of the Bangor Daily News gave it a C and said, “No classic, this series.”
However, fans continued to tune in, and a review by c l lance on imdb.com, in 2005, said “Doogie Houser [Howser], MD. Just the name brings a smile of remembrance to me. In the tradition of such television classics as L.A. LAW, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, Doogie Houser, MD was wonderfully funny with a touch of life. As a 30-something adult when I first watched Doogie in late-night reruns, I was hooked by its humor and wit while watching this “kid” with an adult mind, yet the hormones and maturity of a teenager, grow into independence. Memorable episodes include his first day, the late-night skinny dip (as mentioned by another viewer), the practical joke he played on other hospital staff only to have it ruthlessly reciprocated, and the apartment with his best friend Vinny. There is some risqué humor but it is nothing when compared to today’s standards. I always enjoyed seeing the relationship he had with his dad and mom. I had the entire series recorded but sacrificed them for NFL games. BIG mistake!! Doogie Houser, MD will long be cherished by this now 40 something dad and his now 20 something daughters. I look forward to seeing Doogie’s journal again.”
A lot of us knew Harris better from his role of Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. During one episode, “The Bracket,” Barney writes in his computerized diary while the theme song for Doogie Howser plays in the background.
On September 19, 2019, USA Today did an interview with Harris on the 30th anniversary of the show and mentioned that upon the death of Steven Bochco, Harris reflected about his time on the show: “I look back on that with fondness. That was a very remarkably wonderful chapter for somebody who had never really been in the entertainment business before.” Doogie might have missed his chance to become an author, but Harris has written a series of kids’ books, The Magic Misfits, as well as an autobiography.
I do remember watching the show during prime time. If I was home, I watched it but it was not a must-see show for me. It was an interesting concept though and seemed realistic enough given the few people who would experience this type of life. I think the bigger issue for me was that the first three years it was on against Night Court, so I probably watched more of the fourth season when it was sandwiched between The Wonder Years and Home Improvement.
As we are in the midst of our Teen Scene blog series, we go back a few decades today to 1965 to take a look at Gidget.
Beginning in September of 1965, Gidget went on the air and was one of the first color programs on ABC. The show was adapted from a novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner, published in 1957. It became a movie in 1959 starring Sandra Dee. Kohner then served as a script consultant for the television show. The book, movie, and tv show each differ somewhat from each other.
The television show features Gidget Lawrence (Sally Field), a typical, boy-crazy 15-year-old teen who lives with her widowed father Russell (Don Porter), a UCLA professor. Gidget’s older sister Anne (Betty Conner) is married to John Cooper (Peter Duel), a fun-loving psychology student. Anne often tries to mother Gidget while John tries to understand her psychologically. Gidget’s best friend Larue (Lynette Winter) is also part of the cast.
Gidget narrates each episode and directly addresses the audience somewhat like Modern Family. Field said she got to pick out her hairdos and clothing style. Her nickname (her real name is Frances) apparently was given her by her boyfriend, Jeff Matthews who goes by Moondoggie because she is petite and comes from combing “girl midget.” Jeff is going to school at Princeton by the time the show began but Gidget still wears his ring around her neck even though she is dating other boys including a young Martin Milner as Kahuna and a young Daniel J. Travanti as Tom.
Seventy-five girls tried out for the role of Gidget. The plots were very similar to a lot of shows in the sixties and seventies: The kids’ favorite hangout, The Shaggy Dog, is in danger of being closed to build a new museum. Gidget and her dad find themselves on opposite sides of an issue; Gidget gets a job driving a floral delivery truck. There’s just one problem—she doesn’t have a driver’s license; and Gidget falls for surfer legend Kahuna and even convinces her father to invite him over. She soon finds out that Kahuna is, when not on the beach, not that interesting.
The series was filmed at the Columbia/Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank, CA. As with most of the homes at that lot, you will notice that the Lawrence kitchen is the same one Hazel works in and the house next door is the Stephens house from Bewitched.
The theme song is a familiar one to people growing up in the sixties. It was called “Wait Till You See My Gidget” and was written by Howard Greenfield with music composed by Jack Keller. The Four Freshmen sang it in the pilot, but Johnny Tillotson did the vocals for season one.
Gidget faced some tough competition. ABC put it on the schedule Wednesday nights against The Beverly Hillbillies which was a top ten show and The Virginian, a top thirty show. Halfway through the year, the network moved it to Thursdays but it faced Gilligan’s Island which was very popular at the time. ABC canceled the show. When it put it on as a rerun for summer, the ratings increased significantly, but by that time it was too late to bring it back for fall.
The show can be seen on several networks. Antenna TV sometimes airs it for special days. It’s also available on DVD.
It sounds like the cast became fairly close during their year together. When the DVD was released, Field did an interview in which she stated that Don Porter and she had a father/daughter relationship off-screen too. Because she was new to the business, he often mentored her and helped her avoid embarrassing moments. In an interview reflecting on her time on the show, Sally said that she always loved working with Lynette Winter and looked forward to their time on the show together. Field also became friends in real life with Winter.
I do remember watching this show in reruns and I always liked it, but I think it was definitely a product of its time and probably spoke more to people who were teens in the early sixties. If nothing else, we can be thankful for this show because it launched the amazing career of Sally Field.
This month’s blog series is all about the Teen Scene. We are going to start and end the series with Melissa Joan Hart.
Those of you who grew up in the 1990s or, as in my case, had kids growing up in the 1990s, will remember Clarissa Explains It All. My son Shawn loved this show, and I began watching it with him and actually looked forward to tuning in.
Mitchell Kriegman created this show for the Nickelodeon network. From March of 1991 through October of 1994, 65 episodes were produced. As a personal aside, Kriegman also created Bear in the Big Blue House. With kids growing up in the nineties and 2000s, can I say Clarissa Explains It All, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Arthur were a breath of fresh air compared to most of the kids’ programs on television at that time.
Clarissa Darling (Hart) is a teenager who lives with her brother, Ferguson (Jason Zimbler), whom she finds extremely annoying, and her parents, Janet (Elizabeth Hess) and Marshall (Joe O’Connor), whom she likes a lot. She also has a best friend Sam (Sean O’Neal) who happens to be a boy. Clarissa also has a pet alligator named Elvis.
Like George Burns in his 1950s show, Clarissa often addresses the audience directly. The plots had to do with things all teens are sweating out like first crushes, training bras, getting a driver’s license, cheating at school, etc. Another unusual feature of the show was Clarissa explaining the theme by using a fictional video game or a news segment. Clarissa has pretty liberal parents, so sometimes she has to do her own punishments or life lessons. For example, in one show she mistakenly takes a piece of lingerie from a store. Her parents don’t punish her because it was an accident, so she spends the episode trying to fix the situation.
Clarissa’s character makes the show. Although she is a teenager, she is witty, sarcastic, realistic, and a lot of fun to be around. Kriegman says the role of Clarissa was between two actresses, Melissa and another girl. He thought the other girl really seemed to be “Clarissa,” but he said Hart “was so charming and she just lit up the screen. Because she did that, I could load her up—make her really quirky and different. She could make it play.”
Clarissa also has a creative fashion look. Her unique style was created by Lisa Lederer who came from the magazine industry. Lederer didn’t want Clarissa to look like a tomboy or a weird girl: she wanted her to be able to express herself. She said, “It felt like what we were doing was creating this girl in a more real way, to represent the way that girls—that people—normally dress.” Her clothes were all about expression. She did influence people. Girls’ clothing at the time was pretty matchy-matchy, but an ABC executive told Kriegman that his daughter came downstairs in mismatched items and leggings. He asked her what that was all about and she said “I’m dressing like Clarissa.”
Her brother Ferguson is a mischievous guy who is always trying to spy on her. He loves money and is often trying to come up with schemes to get some. Like Alex on FamilyTies, he considers himself a loyal Republican. The show emphasized that sibling rivalry was just part of the family’s life, nothing to make a moral of. Kriegman said writers got extra points if they came up with a good sibling rivalry story.
Sam is very bright and loves skateboarding. His parents are divorced. He lives with his dad, a sports journalist because his mother “ran away” to the Roller Derby. Sam is often seen climbing a ladder to her room introduced by the same guitar chord. Kriegman explained that this was a way to get him into the house to interact with her quicker and there was never any connotation that they were in a relationship.
That bedroom set was the most complex one on the show. On the wall there is a They Might Be Giants poster. In Kriegman’s stylebook for the show, he said there was a science experiment in one corner regarding watering plants with club soda, Perrier, and Evian. There was also a dollhouse made by Marshall for Clarissa, as well as a collection of hats, and hubcaps. Kriegman said that he had a specific idea for the look of the room. The designer wanted it to be a girly room and insisted on painting it pink. So, after it was painted, Kriegman informed the designer that now they were using black car paint to paint checkers all over the wall.
As a funny aside, Kriegman made a rule that no purple could be used on the set. No, he was not anti-Minnesota Vikings. The explanation was odder than that. He said he didn’t mind purple, but he had advice from someone in the business who told him to make an executive rule and stick to it, so that was his executive rule. He said it became a bit of a challenge for set and clothing designers to sneak in purple when they could.
Clarissa’s mom is often sought out by Clarissa for life advice. She works at a children’s museum and is an environmentalist and a proponent of vegan and organic food. Her meals were often mentioned in the episodes. Her dad was an architect who often designs very unusual buildings with creative shapes, often tourist attractions. Like the Keatons on Family Ties, Marshall and Janet were hippies in their earlier life. He typically refers to Clarissa as “Sport” and his advice is not as sage as his wife’s.
Part of the fun that surrounds the show came from Kriegman’s background. He was a short story writer and had worked on a variety of shows including Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. He wanted the audience to be able to get into a 13-year-old’s mind to understand the events she was experiencing. One of the writers on the show was Suzanne Collins who went on to write The Hunger Games. Some other writers include Michael Borkow who wrote for Roseanne, Malcolm in the Middle; and Friends, Becky Hartman Edwards who wrote for The Larry Sanders Show; Glen Eichler who wrote for the Colbert Report; Peter Gaffney who wrote for The Simpsons; and Alexa Junge who wrote for Friends and The West Wing.
Rachel Sweet sang the theme song which was a melody singing “na na na na na na” with snippets of “Way cool” or “Just do it,” or “All right! All right!” Perhaps she was a fan of Matthew McConaughey. Kriegman said Sweet was a friend of his and he did not give her any direction for the song.
The show was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1994 for Outstanding Children’s Program. It was beat out by Kids Killing Kids/Kids Saving Kids. Avonlea was also nominated that year, and I would emphasize that neither Clarissa or Avonlea was really a children’s program; it was great viewing for everyone. Also, Hart, O’Neal, and Zimbler all received Young Artist Award nominations; Hart won three Young Artist Awards during the run of the show.
The show continued to have great ratings, but the network canceled the show because they felt Clarissa was getting too old. The cast didn’t have any warning that things were coming to an end. They spent about 70 hours on each episode, so they spent a lot of time together and were very close. Some of the crew helped Melissa with her school projects, and the cast threw a high school graduation party for her. Kriegman said that “adults and kids got together Friday nights after the show was done and had the best party. Everybody was so happy to be with each other.”
I have great memories watching this show with my kids and repeating one-liners from the show. It had realistic but humorous plots, fun and memorable characters, and interesting dialogue. It appealed to both kids and adults and to boys and girls. Kriegman said that “The idea that you do something 20 years ago, and everybody still remembers it–not just remembers it fondly, but passionately, and cares about it—I just love it. It’s the most satisfying thing in my career.”
The show was refreshing and witty. Clarissa once said, “Maturity is a boring state of mind.” If that’s true, no cast members or television viewers were very mature during an episode of Clarissa Explains It All.