20 Secrets About Sabrina the Teenage Witch Revealed

In honor of Melissa Joan Hart's birthday, we're spilling all the secrets on her iconic sitcom, including which major star was originally supposed to play Sabrina.

By Tierney Bricker Apr 18, 2021 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Happy Birthday Melissa Joan Hart: E! News Rewind

"What's the matter? I have to be a witch, I have to be a mortal, I have to be a teenager and I have to be a girl all at the same time. That's what's the matter."

It's not often that an actor lands two iconic roles during their career. And yet, by the time she had turned 20 years old, Melissa Joan Hart had already starred in two genre-defining series. First, Hart played the titular character in Clarissa Explains It All, which ran on Nickelodeon from 1991-94. Five years later, she once again netted the title role in a show: Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

After first starring as the Archie Comics witch in a 1996 movie, Hart, who turns 45 April 18, cast spells and stirred up trouble on ABC and then the WB for seven seasons before the iconic series came to an end in 2003. However, the star almost didn't land the bewitching part, even though her mom was one of the producers, for two reasons: 1. She was thinking about quitting acting. 2. Another young actress was being considered for the role.

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18 Secrets About Clarissa Explains It All Revealed

Those are just a few of the secrets we're spilling about Sabrina the Teenage Witch in honor of Hart's birthday. Read on for more behind-the-scenes scoop, including which super-famous guest stars Hart partied with in the '90s and the real reason for Sabrina's boyfriend's making an abrupt exit midway through the series...

1. Before Melissa Joan Hart was cast in the titular role, Sarah Michelle Gellar was reportedly the network's top choice. But she decided to pass on playing a witch to take on vampires in a little show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead.

2. While Hart had already experienced success on the small screen, thanks to her time on the Nickelodeon hit series Clarissa Explains It All, the actress was preparing to walk away from Hollywood before landing Sabrina

"When I was a young teen, I was really aware of the child-star stigma. People will hit it big for one project, and then it's really hard to work after that. I never expected this to be a lifelong job," Hart explained to Glamour in 2020. "I just thought I was lucky I had a show, Clarissa, and that college would lead me to my next career."

"Shirley Temple was a huge role model of mine," she continued. "She went on to be an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and get involved with politics and raise her family. She quit at 20, so I thought, I'll quit at 20. But then my career just kind of kept going when Sabrina hit."

3. What many people don't know is that Hart's mom, Paula Hart, was actually the person responsible for getting a Sabrina TV series going after someone gave her the comic book on a playground.

"She took it to Viacom, made the 1996 movie, and kept saying this would be a great TV show. [Executives] kept going, 'Okay, whatever, whatever,'" Hart told Glamour in 2020. "She went to the editing room for the movie and cut together a five-minute trailer for a TV show, took it to the networks, and sold it to ABC on the spot. In the TGIF time slot!"

Paula would serve as an executive producer on all seven seasons, "hiring and firing, involved with the music, the editing—the entire aspect of it," Hart explained. "I didn't have to worry about the next thing, because she was in charge of the next thing."

4. In the 1996 TV movie, Charlene Fernetz and Sherry Miller played Sabrina's aunts Zelda and Hilda, respectively. But when it became a TV series, Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea replaced Fernetz and Miller as Zelda and Hilda Spellman.

5. Oh, and the family's last name in the film was Sawyer, but reverted back to the original last name, Spellman, from the comics for the ABC series.

6. Even though her mom was one of the producers, Hart enjoyed herself during her detailed her Sabrina days, detailing her partying ways in her 2013 memoir, Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life. The star revealed she took Ecstasy at the Playboy Mansion in 1999, made out with a girl in the limo ride home and did a Maxim photoshoot while still high. "That was my third or fourth time on Ecstasy," Hart admitted.

7. In the book, Hart wrote about the early days of her friendship with Britney Spears, who made an appearance on Sabrina, including the time they snuck into a club together when the pop star was underage. "I devised a plan to sneak her out of her hotel and then take her dancing so she could chill with people closer to her age, if just for one night. Britney loved the idea," Hart recalled.

After lying to Spears' bodyguard, they drove to L.A.'s Club Cherry where they were snuck in through the back door. "But once we got inside, Britney got absorbed by the crowd, and I lost her," Hart explained. "At the end of the night, I found her in a private booth with dozens of people kissing her ass as she basked in the attention and down time she'd worked so hard for...Since then, Britney's been snuck in and out of more back doors than I can count, but I shudder to think that I first showed her how it's done."

8. Hart also detailed her time partying with Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez after striking up a friendship with them when 'N Sync guest starred on the show in 1999.

"No travel memory, however, compares to when 'N Sync...asked me to join them in Turks and Caicos at the end of their 2001 summer tour," Hart wrote. "In the Caribbean, we had a great time sipping fruity drinks and partying with some other celebrities like Tori Spelling and Olympic medalist Tara Lipinski."

9. But there was one celeb of the era she wasn't down to hang with, Hart revealing she and Ashton Kutcher, who was starring on That '70s Show at the time, "just didn't get along," and that she had twice tried kicking him out of parties at her home for "smartass remarks." 

10. One actor Hart definitely clicked with, however, was Ryan Reynolds, whom she met on the set of the 1996 movie. After the actor gave Hart a watch on his final day of filming as Seth, Sabrina's crush, the co-stars ended up making out in her hotel room

"I remember that his lips were pretty wonderful, plus he has these big hands and shoulders that completely swallowed my petite frame," she wrote in her memoir. "It was a terrific distraction from how strongly he smelled of hair product."

11. Sorry to disappoint fans who were always rooting for Hart and her onscreen love interest Nate Richert (a.k.a. Harvey Kinkle) to hook up IRL, but the two never dated.

"I think I probably crushed on him a little bit, but he was dating a girl on a TV show across the way from us at Universal Studios our first season— he started dating her pretty early on—and I had a boyfriend when we first started," Hart revealed to Distractify in January. And his then-girlfriend Lindsay Sloane ended up joining the show as Sabrina's friend Valerie, becoming Hart's BFF.

"So he was kind of gone a lot toward the end, and I think at that point, he had broken up with Lindsey," Hart detailed. "But Lindsey is one of my best friends, so I could never date him."

12. After the series moved from ABC to the WB after season four, Harvey was written off the show because producers were hoping for a fresh start when Sabrina left high school. Fans, however, were not ready to say goodbye to her first love, with Richert rejoining the cast full-time in season six. 

13. Hart's little sister Emily Hart appeared on the show in seasons three and five as Amanda Wiccan, Sabrina's cousin, and the network tried to launch a spinoff series centering on her character twice. The first iteration was going to focus on on Amanda, her mom, and her sister adjusting to life in the Mortal Realm. The final attempt was the season five episode "Witchright Hall," which served as a backdoor pilot focusing on Amanda's time at a boarding school for witches.

14. The Spellman's talking cat Salem was voiced by Nick Bakay, who was also a producer and writer on the series. In a 2016 interview with Huffington Post, Hart revealed that a combination of live, animatronic and fake animals were used for Salem's scenes. 

"There were different cats for everything," Hart explained. "There was a cat that jumped, there was a cat that's good for holding, there was a cat that was good for attacking a ball of yarn and there were all these backup cats."

But the real felines weren't always the most cooperative on-set, with the star adding, "They're feeding the cats, so they're hungry when they start, but once they get full they're pretty much no good anymore. They won't do what you want them to do. They're not like a dog. They don't care."

15. Michelle Beaudoin played Sabrina's best friend Jenny Kelly in the first season, but did not return for the rest of the series and her departure was never explained at the time.

"Oh, Jenny," Hart recalled in a 2016 interview with the Huffington Post. "Yeah, season by season our show's cast would come and go based on audience reaction, and sometimes there'd be dispute about contracts and negotiations as far as payment goes for certain actors. And just bringing in a fresh perspective from a different character."

16. Sabrina had many major casting shakeups during its seven-year run, with Martin Mull, Lindsay Sloane and Jenna Leigh Greene all departing ahead of season four. Soleil Moon Frye and Elisa Donovan joined the show in season five as Sabrina's college friends.

"There's a lot of politics that go on behind the scenes, like when a writer develops a certain character they get paid on the [likeness] of that character for every episode," Hart explained of the show's turnover rate. "If a writer develops a character, but that writer's gone and there's bad blood, they might get rid of the character they developed, so they didn't have to pay them anymore. There are a lot of things that go into that situation."

17. In her 2018 memoir Just the Funny Parts, Sabrina's first showrunner Nell Scovell revealed the head of the network initially wanted her to make a major change to the pilot script: Hoping for conflict between Zelda and Hilda, the executive pitched the idea to have one of the aunts not want Sabrina to live with them. 

"'That seems sad,' I said. 'Sabrina's a teenager. If she's not with one of her parents, and the aunts she's living with don't want her there, how can we laugh?'" Scovell recalled of her counter-argument, ultimately getting to keep the dynamic the way she envisioned it. 

18. Scovell also reflected on the series' lack of diversity, revealing that her agents had pitched legendary actress Cicely Tyson for the part of Aunt Zelda. "I should have jumped at the suggestion. Instead, I said that we were already zeroing in on Caroline Rhea and it wouldn't make sense for the two to be sisters," she explained, to which her agent countered, "It's a world of magic. Maybe one sister is black."

Scovell admitted, "It would have been an interesting and bold move, but I didn't pursue the idea."

19. Ahead of its seventh and final season, the writing was on the wall that the series was likely going to be canceled after the WB ordered only 13 episodes, not the usual 22. 

"It's a pretty crappy way to treat a show as old as we are," Hart told TV Guide Online at the time of their shortened order, "but it happens."

Hart then accused the WB of not caring about the series because it initially began at ABC "so nobody there backs our show, nobody there is fully supporting it or putting their neck out for it."

20. Broderick and Rhea were not series regulars in the final season, which focused on Sabrina navigating adulthood while working at a magazine.

"It was time for her to grow up, it was time to get her on her own two feet," Paula Hart told The Hollywood Reporter at the time, "and, yes, it was time to reinvent the show."

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