It's not just that the Melissa Joan Hart sitcom was a popular show for pre-teen girls or even pre-teens in general; it's that it helped established a network identity for the channel it was on, a still-young Nickelodeon, and helped shape a lot of similarly focused shows that aired throughout the rest of the '90s. In honor of its silver anniversary, we're counting off a few things that even some Clarissa diehards might not know.
1. It was the first tween sitcom
According to a 2012 Splitsider interview with Clarissa creator Mitchell Kriegman, he credits its success in part to the fact that nothing like it had ever previously aired on American TV.
"Punky Brewster had been a bit younger when she first burst onto the screen, and Patty Duke (along with her identical twin cousin) had been a might bit older," Kriegman said. "Clarissa was the first tween sitcom. Our job wasn't just to create some shows to make money. They wanted to make money for sure and we had to do it for nothing, but they wanted something that would be the 'anti-Disney.' Disney was really boring at the time. Disney was Old Yeller and the most staid kind of stuff for kids. Really 'goody-goody.'"
Clarissa blazed the trail for subsequent female-centered live-action shows such as The Secret World of Alex Mack, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Zoey 101, iCarly, as well as similar fare on other channels.
2. It only lasted 65 episodes
Maybe it was all the reruns that tricked our memories into thinking the show had to have spanned at least 100 episodes, but it didn't. It lasted for just five 13-episode seasons, from March 3, 1991, to Oct. 1, 1994. Compared to a lot of other well-remembered TV shows, that's not much, but you might say it just goes to show how much Clarissa packed into those 65 installments. That said, it did outlast the other live-action Nick shows of its post-Hey Dude generation, like Salute Your Shorts and Welcome Freshman.
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3. It has a Peter Pan connection
Clarissa's family name, Darling, comes from the family name in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. However, Kriegman is oddly mum on the subject of where Clarissa's first name comes from. As Kriegman told Mental Floss in a 2014 interview, "That's a secret that's going to go to my grave with me," he said. "The only thing I can say is that I intentionally picked a name that she could say that she hated."
4. There's a Blossom connection too
We could have known Hart in a completely different role. At the time she was auditioning for Clarissa, she was also trying out for a role on a different '90s series about a young woman with a distinctive fashion sense: Blossom. Hart was auditioning for the part of the title character's bestie, Six, but she ultimately declined the role in favor of Clarissa. The part of Six ultimately went to Jenna Von Oy.
5. Nickelodeon execs initially thought Clarissa was rude – then learned the error of their ways
As Kriegman told Mental Floss, the higher-ups at the channel at first found Clarissa's tone with her parents to be aggressive and rude. Kriegman, however, recognized this reaction for what it was: "That's usually the initial response to my girl characters," he told the magazine. "And I always say the same thing: 'If a boy were saying this thing, and doing this thing, would you be complaining that they are being too rude, or they're being too sarcastic or jokey with their parents?' The answer's no."
6. And there could have been a sequel series
It's fairly well-known among Clarissa fans, but just in case you haven't watched it before, now's your chance to see the "all grown up" version of the show that CBS ultimately decided not to greenlight back in 1995. Nickelodeon eventually aired the pilot, and this look into a future that might have been is currently posted on YouTube in its entirety.
Of course, if you want to sink more than 20-something minutes into Clarissa's alternate futures, there's also Things I Can't Explain, the book Kriegman published last year that looks at Clarissa's life in her twenties.
7. And there was that album
Yep, in 1994 Hart (as Clarissa and the Straitjackets) released a seven-song mini-album, This Is What "Na Na" Means that skews more alt rock than bubblegum pop. It's both better and worse than you might expect.
8. Speaking of that theme song…
You hear that song once, and it's stuck in your head for the day. But you might be surprised to learn that the woman singing those "naa naa" lyrics had some success singing outside the context of this theme song. Rachel Sweet, who also wrote the Clarissa theme, released four albums between 1978 and 1982, and might be most familiar for her 1981 duet with Rex Smith, "Everlasting Love." Sweet had previously collaborated with Kriegman on a show for Comedy Central back when it was still called the Comedy Channel.
9. Ferguson became the software designer we all bet Clarissa would have become
Clarissa may have been the technologically adept one in the Darling house, but in real life, Jason Zimbler, who played little brother Ferguson, ended up with the career in software. According to a 2013 issue of Paste magazine, Zimbler designed software for HBO. In the above clip, just fast-forward to 9:40 to see what Fergface looked like in 2014.
10. And Clarissa's dad had a recurring role on Mad Men
Actor Joe O'Connor has acted before and since Clarissa, but he might be most familiar from Mad Men, on which he played Tom Vogel, the father to Alison Brie's character.
11. And there were a few roles on Clarissa that were played by actors who'd later go on to become famousA young JoAnna Garcia Swisher appeared as Fiona, the short-lived love interested for Ferguson, for example.
A pre-Harriet the Spy Michelle Trachtenberg played Elsie, a young girl that Clarissa babysits.
And in his first credited TV role, James Van Der Beek played Paulie, a guy who falls for Clarissa's edgy alter-ego, Jade.
12. There's also a Hunger Games connection
Above is the fourth-season episode "A Little Romance," which is credited to none other than Suzanne Collins, who worked as a TV writer before she made major bank as the author of the Hunger Games books. You have to wonder if just a bit of Clarissa ended up in Katniss – or the other way around.
13. The show was canceled for the most Nickelodeon reason ever
In the Mental Floss article, Kriegman notes that the show ended not because of low ratings but because Clarissa (and Hart) aged out of the Nickelodeon demographic. "In those days, Nickelodeon stopped at 14 and MTV started at 15 or 16, and there was no middle ground," he said. "They felt she was way too old for the network. And I just felt like she could've kept going, and there wasn't really a reason to stop from any perspective. I think people would have stuck with her."
14. Hart may yet be down for a reunion
Hart had long said she had no interest in revisiting Clarissa, but in the age of Fuller House, she seems slightly more amenable to the idea. "I think it's great," she told E! "I mean I totally get it. Never say never, but I'm not going to try to push it, really. People have already approached me about doing a few reboots, whether it's Clarissa or Sabrina." Hart went on to say that she'd more interested if she came across a script that treats her past characters right.
15. And the show's creator thinks he knows the secret to its success
Though Clarissa helped shape a lot of subsequent shows about pre-teen girls, Kriegman thinks there's one important difference between his creation and the ones that followed. As he explained to Splitsider, "Clarissa was smart. She wasn't trying to be a 'star.' Being a star for Clarissa would have been a step down. Her character wasn't aspiring to be famous in a rock and roll star kind of way. She admired smart people. She admired Madonna, but she admired a scientist, for that matter."
"The shows that came after are supposed to be 'aspirational,' but [their characters] are really aspiring to be show business stars, which is about the least functional, least useful thing in the world," Kriegman said. "American Idol and all these shows are great, but being a scientist or being a journalist or being a painter or being anything is more important."