18 Secrets About Clarissa Explains It All Revealed

Premiering on March 23, 1991, the iconic Nickelodeon sitcom starred Melissa Joan Hart as the titular character who would go on to become a style icon.

By Tierney Bricker Mar 23, 2021 10:00 AMTags

While she explained it all, we're about to reveal it all.

Ready to feel the passing of time like a slap to the face? Clarissa Explains It All is 30 years old. The iconic sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart premiered on March 23, 1991 on Nickelodeon, quickly becoming one of the decade's most defining series. 

Created by Mitchell Kriegman, Clarissa aired 65 episodes over five seasons, focusing on the life of the titular character who'd often talk directly to the audience and break down the storylines with fake news segments. Oh, and did we mention she had the coolest style ever and had a pet alligator? As Clarissa herself one said, maturity is a boring state of mind. 

 Clarissa Explains It All, which also starred Jason Zimbler, Elizabeth Hess, Joe O'Connor and Sean O'Neal, came to an end in 1994. But did you know there was almost a spinoff series starring Hart? Or that the star nearly passed on her breakout role to take a supporting part on another hit '90s sitcom?

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Check out these behind the scenes secrets about Clarissa Explain It All...

1. Clarissa Explains It All was just the second sitcom to air on Nickelodeon after Hey, Dude. Creator Mitchell Kriegman, who previously worked on Saturday Night Live and for Comedy Central, simultaneously wrote for the network's animated Rugrats, Doug, Ren & Stimpy and Rocko's Modern Life while showrunning Clarissa's three-season run.

2. The lead role came down to two actresses, with Kriegman admitting he almost went with the other before realizing Melissa Joan Hart was his Clarissa Darling.

"It was a funny choice in that one of them was more like who Clarissa would be if she were in high school, and Melissa was not really Clarissa, she was more normal, actually," he told Paley Matters in 2017. "When I saw Melissa, though, and she lit up the screen, it was easier to have Clarissa be weirder and do stranger and more offbeat things if she was more normal, and that's when I settled on her."

3. Hart revealed in her 2013 memoir that while auditioning for Clarissa she was also up for a part in Blossom as the titular character's ditzy best friend, Six.

4. Kriegman had one rule during the show's run: No purple. 

"I would never give a reason," he told Great Big Story of his wardrobe and set specifications. "I kind of rationalized it a little bit by saying, 'I'm trying to appeal to boys and girls.' So I said, 'It's gotta be all pinks and blues, we gotta use those as our main colors. Purple throws that off.' Bulls—t. Complete bulls—t, right? They just ignored me after a while."

5. Clarissa Darling became a '90s style icon, with costume designer Lisa Lederer favoring mismatched patterns and bold colors for an eclectic look.

"Clarissa wasn't really a tomboy and she wasn't really the weird girl. She was always just herself," Lederer reasoned in 2013's Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age. "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."

6. "I saved every single piece that I wore on that show and I have them in my theater closet in my basement," Hart revealed in a 2014 interview with Elle

7. Wanting to give Clarissa an "off-the-wall" pet, Kriegman got the idea for Elvis the alligator from an ex-girlfriend "who had a wading pool in her off-campus apartment that had tadpoles and turtles and all sorts of stuff in it," he told Mental Floss. "She was brilliant—she also had a miniature alpine gondola hanging across it. And I was like, 'Wow, that is just so weird.' And that's where the idea for Elvis came from."

8. In the pilot episode, another actor played the part of Sam, Clarissa's best friend, before Sam O'Neal took over the role. 

"I was there for a few minutes, possibly had read a scene, and then Mitchell asked me to leave the room," O'Neal recalled of his audition process in Slimed!. "Before I stepped out, though, he asked me to mess up my hair. I was a nutcase when I was in school and a little bit of a class clown, so I always used to rub my heavy-duty cowlicks, which made my hair stand on end. When I left the room and messed up my hair, I came back in and Mitchell said, 'Yeah, you've got the job.'"

9. As for why Sam always entered Clarissa's room via a ladder in her window, Kriegman offered a very simple explanation in his chat with Mental Floss.

"Do you really want him to have to ring the doorbell, and say, 'Hi, Mrs. Darling, OK if I go visit Clarissa?'" he reasoned. "It's just way slow to do that....It's never commented on, and he just does it at all hours of the night and day. I really wanted to do something unique. It was in keeping with a kids-first point of view."

10. But that climb wasn't easy for O'Neal to do every episode, having to lie on the studio floor until his cue to enter the scene. "Honestly, the toughest part was getting up," the actor explained in Slimed. "I had to hunch over my knees as I made my appearance."

11. Hart was 14 years old when the show began and was going to school whenever she wasn't filming. Towards the end of the series' run, the crew threw her a threw her a part for her graduation from "Nickelodeon High School," voting her "most likely to have her own series."

12. Though Kriegman was inspired a bit by Peter Pan's Darling family, he hasn't revealed the inspiration behind Clarissa's name. "I've never told anyone that, not even Melissa," he said in his Great Big Story interview. 

13. While Clarissa's bedroom became the show's most iconic location, the set designer wasn't initially thrilled with the space.

"I'll never forget when we designed her room," Kriegman told Mental Floss. "The designer was very upset at first, because he wanted to design a very girly room. And I said, 'OK, you can design her girly room,' and so they did. It was pink. Then I said, 'Now we're going to take car paint and paint black checkers across the wall.' They were in shock. I mean, there was a cameraman who said, 'What is she, possessed by the devil?'"

14. Before going on to write The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins was a writer on the show. 

15. After losing one of her baby teeth during the series, Hart's adult tooth never grew in, something Nickelodeon "thought kept me young, and said, 'Please don't fix it!'" Hart told USA Today in 2019. After Clarissa ended, Hart got a dental bridge. 

16. Clarissa Explains It All abruptly ended its run in 1994, but not due to low ratings. "It was very unfair," Kriegman told Paley Matters of Nickelodeon's decision. "They decided that she was too old. I wanted it to be like Leave It to Beaver. I wanted people to grow up with her. There was no reason to stop. Clarissa could've grown up, but they had this arbitrary internal Viacom thing where they thought she was too old for the network."

17. After its cancelation, Kriegman pitched a new series, Clarissa Now, to CBS, which would follow the character to New York City after she gets an internship with a newspaper. But the network asked him cut some of the series' signature devices, including Clarissa talking to the audience and the graphics. A pilot was filmed in 1995, but CBS didn't pick the show up to series. 

18. In 2015, Kriegman released a novel, Things I Can't Explain, which serves as a sequel to the series. The book followed the character in her late 20s, navigating life as an adult. Three years later, a revival was reportedly in the works at Nickelodeon, with Hart attached to serve as an executive producer and reprise her iconic role.

However, in 2019, Hart told Us Weekly that the reboot was "on hold." But we're still here for it, TBH!

Clarissa Explains It All is streaming on Paramount+.

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