‘Clarissa Explains It All’: Melissa Joan Hart Snagged the Role Because She Made Character ‘Quirky and Different’

Melissa Joan Hart is America’s sweetheart. The actor was a staple of the 1990s. Despite being an epic star in her teen years, she grew up live a quiet life in Connecticut with her family.

Although she still works in television, she’s slowed down considerably. Especially considering she starred in multiple sitcoms and movies at the beginning of her career. One of the No Good Nick star’s most famous roles was as Clarissa in the Nickelodeon classic, Clarissa Explains it All. 

According to Mental Floss, Hart almost never got a chance to shine as Clarissa. There was another actress in line for the role. 

Melissa Joan Hart was almost passed over for the role of Clarissa in ‘Clarissa Explains it All’ 

Melissa Joan Hart
Melissa Joan Hart | Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

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It’s hard to say if the show could have been a hit without Hart. Creator Mitchell Kriegman obviously didn’t think so. Despite tough competition, he ultimately decided that Hart was the best choice for the role. That’s saying something, considering the way Kriegman described Hart’s competition. He claims that the other actress, who he did not name, “kind of was Clarissa.” 

Even though the other actress literally embodied his character, Kriegman had to go with Hart. According to Kriegman, Hart brought a more unique spin to the role. “She was so charming and she just lit up the screen. Because she did that, I could load her up—make [Clarissa] really quirky and different. She could make it play.”

And Hart did make Clarissa “quirky and different.” But that’s not the only thing that was different about the show. The entire premise was somewhat unheard of in television at the time. 

‘Clarissa Explains it All’ was groundbreaking

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When Clarissa aired, Nickelodeon had only ever produced one other sitcom. Hey Dude was wildly successful, but a children’s sitcom was still a big risk. Especially since it featured a female lead.

Nickelodeon was coming into its own as a channel, and in the midst of developing a ‘kid first’ philosophy. According to Kriegman, the new culture “had a lot to do with the network being on the side of the kid, rather than, say, on the side of the toy company. It would be really pure in its intentions—the shows had to be what kids wanted, instead of what adults wanted.”

That was the perfect environment for a show like Clarissa to flourish. Kriegman was adamant that his main character needed to be female, since most of the shows on the network at the time were geared towards males. Some Clarissa plots faced backlash from executives who had unrealistic expectations of females.

They thought Clarissa was too rude for a girl, or that she did things girls would never do. But Kriegman had done his due diligence and defended his character. In the end, he made a female lead that was completely relatable to girls everywhere. 

Clarissa and Ferguson’s relationship was complicated

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Another feature of Clarissa that executives were iffy about was her relationship with her brother Ferguson. Kriegman was adamant that they have a strong sibling rivalry, and he didn’t pull punches. Clarissa basically tries to kill Ferguson in the first episode.

Kids loved it, but adults were shocked. According to Kriegman, “that was a big deal.” 

Clarissa didn’t always straight-up hate Ferguson, however. She could bully him all she wanted, but the second another bully stepped on the scene, Clarissa laid down the law. Kriegman received unexpected resistance to an episode where Clarissa stands up to one of Ferguson’s bullies.

Kreigman was told by network executives that it was too unrealistic. “At first, people were saying, ‘Well, a girl would never fight a boy.'”

Kriegman again stood his ground, and his defense of his character made her the epitome of a realistic 90s girl