Melissa Joan Hart first gained notoriety when Clarissa Explains It All became a Nickelodeon hit. She was fifteen when the show began in 1991 and eighteen when it ended in 1994. Hart then began attending New York University, but left in 1996 before receiving a degree to star in the TV movie and series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which ran until 2003.
I remember watching both of these shows as a young boy and then as an early adolescent. Although I was not a fan of Clarissa, and I preferred other Nickelodeon shows, I remember appreciating its understated nature and the way it dealt with the quotidian nature of (adolescent) life (this was not how I described it then, of course, but I’m speculating as to what I must have found appealing). Looking back, there is definitely something special about the fact that Clarissa regularly broke the fourth wall to address her audience, although I did not realize it at the time. Because of the nostalgia for the show and the sense that it remains appealing today to teens, Nickelodeon is going to air reruns again.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch was also a hit with audiences, and clearly is the precursor to shows like Wizards of Waverly Place, which I just learned about because of Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards. I liked Sabrina more; I appreciated the talking cat, and I think there is something appealing about the thought of having magical powers to make life easier/cooler that compelled me to watch the show.
In any case, it seemed like Melissa Joan Hart was a big deal between these two shows. Then while Sabrina was still running she starred in Drive Me Crazy (1999). I can’t remember why I saw this movie or even knew about it at all; perhaps because the adolescent lives it depicted were so unlike my own. It actually wasn’t much of a success; box office reports rank it at #90 for that year. Nonetheless, it was a real Hollywood movie and not made for TV, unlike so many of Hart’s projects. It seemed like perhaps Hart had made the transition from child/teen star into, at least, a successful B-level Hollywood actress.
But then she left my radar. What ever happened to Melissa Joan Heart? A small look into her life is provided with this episode of MTV cribs that aired in 2001. Admittedly, she seems kind of boring. In 2003, the same year Sabrina ended, she married Mark Wilkerson, leader of a band called Course of Nature and a relative nobody compared to Hart. Together they had two children.
Hart’s career in Hollywood has not been fruitful; in 2000 she had a small part in The Specials as “Sunlight Grlll,” where she played an unpopular superhero on her day off. The film was given an “R” rating for language. She also starred in a B-horror movie called Nine Dead in 2009, which had trouble finding a distributor. Most of her career in movies has been limited to TV productions with titles like Dirt Bag and Hollywood in Handcuffs.
After Sabrina, Hart continued to act for television; notable roles include a part in Robot Chicken and Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit, where she played a teacher accused of statutory rape.
In 2009, Hart opened a Candy store in California called Sweet Harts.
As of now, Hart is starring in the ABC Family show Melissa and Joey, which ran its first season last year and is slated to run again this year. In the show, after an unfortunate series of events, Melissa – played by Hart – is forced to hire Joey, a jobless and bankrupt trader, as a male live-in nanny (“manny”) to help take care of her incarcerated sister’s teenage children. It’s a fitting sort of gesture, I suppose, that Hart made a name for herself in a show that detailed the life of a teenager and now stars in a show that details the trials of taking care of a teenagers.