Q&A media session with Melissa Joan Hart: ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)
June 26, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Melissa Joan Hart plays the character of Melissa Burke on ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” (Image courtesy of ABC FAMILY)
For many of us who grew up watching Nickelodeon the early ’90s, actress Melissa Joan Hart was an actress that captured our attention as the blonde, blue-eyed crafty Clarissa Darling. And when the series ended, needless to say, for many guys or fans of Hart, many would go through “Clarissa withdrawal”.
But fortunately, in the mid-’90s, Melissa Joan Hart would return with a few “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” movies and would eventually lead to the multi-award winning comedy series “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” which lasted from 1996-2003.
Needless to say, many Americans grew up watching Melissa Joan Hart play the lead of these two popular high school teenage characters and one wondered if we would ever see Melissa Joan Hart back on television again?
In 2010, Hart returned in the ABC Family comedy series “Melissa & Joey” playing the lead character Melissa Burke alongside actor Joey Lawrence.
In the half-hour comedy series, Melissa Burke is a former wild child of a political family and now, having grown up, she has aspirations to become a politician.
But a scandal hits the family when her sister ends up in prison and her brother-in-law flees. So now, Melissa must take care of her teenage niece Lennox and her nephew Ryder.
And its difficult enough to focus on politics and taking care of two teenagers and desperately needing help, she hires Joey (played by Joey Lawrence), who moves in with the family to become the family’s nanny… or “manny”.
Now, the second season of “Melissa & Joey” is set to premiere on Wednesday, June 29th and recently a Q&A media session was held with Melissa Joan Hart who talks about the second season and playing a grown-up role.
Here is a transcript from the media Q&A:
Moderator At the end of the Halloween episode we saw a reference to Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I was wondering will we see more of those as well as Blossom references in the future.
M. Hart Not really. I mean, we play towards it to let you know we know where we came from and what the audience knows of us. There will be one word out of Joey’s mouth that will remind everybody of Blossom. But other than that, no, we just each made a little play towards our previous character and that’s it.
Moderator How will the appearance with Joey’s ex-wife alter the dynamic between Mel and Joe.
M. Hart In every episode, pretty much, Joey and I are always dating. There’s a lot of—I date a younger man. I’ve got Michael Foster from Greek to play my younger boyfriend and his ex-wife comes back. We fight over my trainer—whether not she’s going just train me or date him. There’s a lot of that in almost every episode and you’ll see a lot of each of us getting jealous of the other with whoever they’re dating at the time, but we question, should I be dating him or should I be dating her? But I think each time they realize that they have a relationship already in place sense and they can tread there.
So, you’ll see a little bit of that flirtation and a little bit of that curiosity that I think you get when you’re single and have a person in your life of the opposite sex that’s close to you. You always kind of question is this the right person for me, so you’ll see a lot of that. But we don’t really want to—we want to stay away from that, all of us I think, the network, the writers, Joey and I because unless we can do it in a really smart way, I think it’s toxic to a show to actually get the lead characters together.
Moderator What was it about this character that interested you in portraying her?
M. Hart I got to basically help the writers develop the character. I told them exactly what I wanted to play. After doing Sabrina—well, Clarissa was like a really strong girl who was finding her way the world, and a nonconformist and quintessential, whereas, Sabrina was very much like she had special powers, but the character or Sabrina was always in the middle of the story trying to make everything right. She’s sort of the kid acting as an adult, so I really wanted to play an adult acting as a kid.
My first real sitcom adult role—I just wanted it to be something fun and cool and not to prove that I didn’t have to be the straight man in order to be the lead of a show. I wanted to be able to be silly and wacky. I really admired Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character on Old Christine. That was sort of a character that I wanted to watch, so that’s sort of where it came from. With Jamie and I—my mother and I produced the show and when we cast Joey in that role and then Joey and I were cast together and came on board we all just realized it was a good chemistry all around that we wanted to keep it going. So we got a chance to do the show.
So really, with us kind of creating the show, in a sense, with ABC Family, wecame with the idea that they wanted a show about a manny and the writers came in and sat with Joey and I, each separately and we each got to play what character we wanted to be. My big thing is I wanted a girl who was very silly and she thinks she has it all worked out, but she’s just falling apart. And that’s really what I wanted to play, so it’s something that I get to do.
Moderator Are there any other projects you have that you’re currently working on right now that you are the can tell us about?
M. Hart I’m actually pitching shows all over the town right now. I have a network show, a cable show and an internet show that I’m pitching right now. What I’m doing, while I’m in LA, is also pitching an internet talk show with my siblings. So … and it … be a super fun little show, but it’ll just be for the internet right now kind of in a talk show sort of format. So, it’ll be really fun. I don’t know if you know, but our company Hartbreak Films, we did our first independent film last year—it came out on DVD—called Nine Dead. That’s a role that I played that was really different. If people want to see me in a whole different light doing more drama in a sort of thriller, a psychological thriller. So that’s something that I’m pretty proud of.
Moderator On Melissa & Joey, there’s often a healthy and delicious meal being cooked or eaten in the kitchen. How important do you think it is to portray healthy eating habits on TV?
M. Hart Well, that’s interesting that you noticed that because that’s actually a big thing for Joey. He is a cook. He likes to cook. I’m lucky enough that my husband is from the south and a great cook and I don’t cook that often. I think that’s part of growing up on the set. There’s certain things I never learned for myself was how to dress myself, how to do my own hair, makeup, or how to cook. Those were done, I came to set showered, in my pajamas, pretty much and someone would make me look good and someone would feed me.
So those are the things that I never really learned, but Joey somehow has a real knack for it and he loves to make sure that when he’s doing on the show he’s always got a full meal worked out. He spends a lot of time with the prop people on the meals that they make and it’s really nice to see. I think it is nice. I think it is interesting that you caught that because, obviously, it’s not really something we meant for the audience to notice. It’s more meant for Joey to have an easy time with it when we’re shooting so he doesn’t have to mess with the prop too much.
But yes, it is great. I think it’s great to show that on television. It’s a difficult time right now.
Also been working with Kellogg’s on their Share Your Breakfast program because there’s a big problem in the country right now where one in four children are waking up hungry and that’s unacceptable in this country right now. But then you’ve also got, of course, is the child obesity rate. So on the one hand, you’ve got that and on the other hand, you’ve got the highest poverty level in children since The Depression. So a lot of these kids are waking up with empty bellies and it’s kind of mind-boggling to think one in four children in our country is waking up hungry. So it’s a really nice thing to focus on doing food right.
It’s always amazing to me. Like I can go and get a salad at the commissary at our work and I’ll get a salad and I’ll go get a bottle of water and out of the whole thing it’s $6, but $4 of that is my bottle of water. So it can be reasonable to eat healthy. It can be economical and if you go to the Farmer’s Market and whatnot. So I think it is good to show that sort of side of things as well. However, it’s not the main focus of the show. Obviously, it’s just sort of a side thing and that would actually be a really good question for Joey, I would say too what he thinks really thinks about that stuff.
Moderator So do you guys eat what he cooks?
M. Hart A lot of times were afraid of prop food because sometimes it’s just sitting there all day.
Moderator Speaking of healthy living, How do you stay in such great shape?
M. Hart Oh gosh. I’ve been having a hard time with it recently, to be honest. During the show you might see me put on a few. Also, my children and I think I went through a little bout of depression while I was working on the show just because I wasn’t with my kids as much as I wanted to be. And I try getting up and going to the gym although I would try as hard as I could its tough. But I also ride my bike to work and stuff like that. I try to stay active. I get very bored, so I’m really trying to mix it up.
So, right now, this summer I’ve been on a goalie program—since we’re done with were done with show and I kind of have my time to myself, I’ve been mixing it up with spinning, yoga, zumba and then some weights and gym time with my husband and friends. So it’s been a nice little summer so far. I’ve gotten in really good shape in the last few weeks.
But while I was in the show it was really, really difficult to balance being away from my family and working. Whenever my family was around, I didn’t want to be going to the gym and whenever they weren’t around was just too tired to leave the house so it was work. So you’ll see that a little bit on the show, I think.
Moderator I understand you opened up your own sweet shop named SweetHarts as a lifelong dream. What is your favorite item to have on the menu?
M. Hart We have some really fantastic treats. My kids love to do that. They learned a little trick where they will make themselves a big frozen yogurt, lots of candy on top. We have these things called chocolate rocks that you can put on the ice cream. They look like little tumbled rocks, but they’re like chocolate and they love to do that.
Then once they’ve eaten the candy off the top and they’ll say, “Mommy, I don’t really like this. Can I go get a lollipop or a rain pop or—?” And then they’ll be like, “Mmm,” they’ll eat half of that and go, “I don’t really like this. Can I get a pucker powder?” Which is like a pixy stick that you can make yourself. Then they’ll go, “Mmm. I don’t really like this. Can I get—” And I realize that after a few times of this happening that this is their trick to get everything in the store.
But my favorite , I love the—we have the red velvet cookies that are to die for. I think we still have cake balls. Although, I think we’re changing up our vendor. There’s a lot, so if you’re feeling like you want to be a little bit healthy that you want a little bit of a nutty treat, I like the lemon drip gelato. It depends on my mood.
Moderator What is your favorite attraction at Disneyland or Walt Disney World?
M. Hart Oh gosh, again, it depends on the mood. Probably, my heart will always be Space Mountain. Although, I have to say, the new Toy Story ride, that’s getting to be my favorite too. Honestly, I am just like waiting—I’m on pins and needles waiting for that Cars ride to open at Disneyland.
Moderator So being a parent, how is it to take on a role of a legal guardian totally thrown into a sink or swim situation? Is it strange to leave the mom instinct behind?
M. Hart Oh well, what I do is I take my mom instincts that I’ve learned from being a parent—the hard thing about the show or what’s interesting about the show is that these people are not parents. They’re not even like—anyone that has a baby, adopts a baby, or whatever, they usually come into it at a very young age and they learn as the children grow. They learn each stage as it goes. Whereas, these people are being thrown into raising teenagers, which is the whole other world and … having a relationship with these kids being the aunt has a hard time with separating aunt and parental figure now.
So it’s kind of interesting, though, because I take everything I know as being a mom of little ones and I turn it around. If we’re on the show and something like eating healthy comes up, I’ll just go against that and go, “Oh, here’s some—here have some chocolate milk for breakfast. You’re good.” So we take everything we know as parents and just sort of do the opposite.
We really like playing with that too and reminding the writers every once in a while that—every time we have a line that sounds a little too parental we’re like, “We’re not the parents. Let’s change this, let’s make this a little bit more inappropriate.” So it’s really fun. It’s where, I think, a lot of this humor comes in. A lot of the humor comes from me and Joey fighting, but then a lot of other humor comes from us not knowing a thing about being parents.
Moderator Filming in front of a live audience, working with someone you know so well like Joey and then also having the rest of the cast that you’ve grown to know now, how do you keep composure? How do you not laugh when you’re filming?
M. Hart I just think that comes with experience and practice—rehearsal because we’ve rehearsed it so many times and we have people laughing at us all week, we always have a small crew on the floor with us when we’re rehearsing—the director, the AB’s, the script advisor and the prop people. They’re always there giggling with us. So you get used to hearing it. You’re also kind of in your own head a little bit when you’re in the show and the whole idea of acting is selling something, like really believing—your emotions manipulating it.
That’s what we’re doing when we’re out there is we’re constantly trying to manipulate it so that it is authentic to us. So we are in this conversation. We are standing in the living room talking about whether or not Lennox can have a fake ID to go to a concert. So we leave breaks for the audience. The audience is almost like another character in it where we leave room for them, but sometimes it’s fun too , to play along like if they laugh one of us will laugh with them and it kind of works, if it works for the scene then it’s great. But we do have a lot of bloopers. You can see on the DVD—there’s a lot of bloopers on the DVD that’s out right now and we’ve got a lot more coming, but we’ve been having a blast and I think that comes across too.
Moderator Are there any other actors you would like to have his guest stars with you on Melissa & Joey?
M. Hart Yes. There’s a ton, but we’re making a campaign to try to get Danny DeVito on because his beloved little girl, Lucy, is on there playing Stephanie. We’d love to have Danny come on at some point.
I would love to see some athletes like Michael Strahan who’s proved himself on comedy numerous of times and I think is a great guy and he’s a good friend. I would love to have him on. I think I’ve promised Curtis Granderson, one of the Yankees, a role, so I’ve got a make that happen.
I’d love to have some of my girlfriends on like Soleil Moon Frye and Kellie Martin—show some of their acting chops, some of their comedy. Then, of course, some really big names would be great to come on if we could get some good ratings and prove ourselves as a little show that could.
Moderator Is there any hilarious story lines that you would love for your character to be involved in?
M. Hart I’m waiting for the moment when Lennox and I are walking down the hall with each of us is sneaking in late from a date and kind of both of us going “Shh” …. That’s sort of a moment I’m waiting for, but we have a few of those similarities but not quite that scene yet but that’s something I’d like.
Actually, back to your other question. A friend of mine that I would love to have on the show but I don’t know if he would ever do it is Bill Murray. I would absolutely love to have Bill Murray on the show.
Moderator You’ve mentioned before that there was a really great to crew camaraderie on Sabrina. Everybody did things together, you guys hung out off the set. I was wondering if that is developing on Melissa & Joey?
M. Hart It is, it absolutely is. My sister’s graduating high school today and at the graduation our script supervisor will be there, one of our grips will be there. I’m actually going to his wedding later on this year. We are hanging out outside of work and we are becoming quick friends. It’s great. The difference is when I started Sabrina was in my early 20s, a lot of the crew was kind of in their 20s, early 30s. Everyone was pretty much single. We all got married on that show. We all started having babies on that show. So we had a lot in common. It was almost like college, times three.
But now, on this show, everybody seems to be a bit older, everyone’s got their own family. So it’s a lot of like “Hey, do you want to go out tonight?” “Oh, I can’t. The kids have blah, blah, blah in the morning. My wife blah, blah,” you know that kind of thing. So there’s a lot of people with families now so it’s a little bit more difficult.
But we hope to—if we keep going with the show, I think absolutely, our families will become friends. We actually have a softball team. I think we kicked butt pretty well this year on the softball team. And they wouldn’t let me play, but this year I’m definitely playing. I don’t care if I get a ball for the face. I’m playing softball.
Moderator What advice would you give to teen stars on Nickelodeon today that you wish you would had when you were playing Clarissa?
M. Hart Well, I think things have changed so dramatically that I don’t think I could give them any advice from what I learned. One of the things that I do try to tell Nick, who plays Ryder, and Taylor—Taylor is like the most grown-up girl I’ve ever met. She’s really got her head together and she’s a great girl. And Nick is an amazing boy, but he’s kind of new to the business as well.
One of things he and his family is struggling with, which I had a similar situation is that he lives in a different part of the country as well as his large family and he’s working here and having to put up with school and traveling and missing his family. So I had a lot of that when I was doing Clarissa. I was down in Orlando. My family was in New York and I had a big family and I was the oldest, so it’s the exactly same thing he’s got going on.
One of the hardest things for him that I see happening that it’s really hard to deal with is school, trying to figure out—he has his school and he has his friends up in Seattle, but then when he comes here to work which is most of the year now and what does he do? Where does he go? Is his school going to suffer? That’s what—I had a lot of trouble with that. I was a great student. I loved learning. I was very involved with all of my studies and once I started doing Clarissa that just went down the toilet. My GPA suffered, my SAT scores were terrible, so that was difficult for me. I didn’t like that, but it was also too hard to memorize 50 pages a week plus trying to do school as being tutored.
So I was trying to encourage him to enroll in school down here in California just so he can at least have a school atmosphere, have some peers his own age in this area, keep in with things like art class, gym and music—all the things that you don’t get when you get tutored. All you get when you you’re getting tutored is the basics of Math, English, French—there’s like five subjects and that’s it. So that’s something I’m really trying to push for him and his family is to figure out a way to spend good time together but also for him to make sure he gets his education the way he needs it.
Moderator You were always a role model to young girls. Do you take that into account when you take your roles?
M. Hart Yes. Of course I do. I take it into account with every little thing that I do, whether on a broad scale like picking a role, or a script, or on a smaller scale like am I going to put a cigarette in my mouth just for this movie, that kind of thing. I think it comes, mainly, though from me being an older sibling, having seven younger siblings. Growing up, I always felt very responsible for them and if they see me doing something I wouldn’t want them to see me doing in real life then why would I do it on screen for other kids to see as well. So I’ve always taken that pretty seriously.
But then again that being said, I also want to have a good long career and be proud of it and feel fulfilled in it. So I also want to choose roles and just produce things and whatnot that I feel have some value whether the story needs to be told or it’s just an interesting way to tell the story or there’s a certain goal I have in mind for each different role. For example, this movie Nine Dead is not exactly the kind of movie you would see on ABC Family. I play a pretty dark role and in a pretty dark twisted movie. And what was great for me was that at the time, I just had my second son and I felt like I really wanted to show some emotion on camera. Quite often I’m being silly and whatever, but I wanted to show a little bit of my dramatic side, a little bit of my dark side and I really got to do that with this Nine Dead movie.
It was also really interesting to shoot because my son was only four months old. So it was very difficult. I was still breast-feeding, so it was very difficult to go back to work at the time. But what was great about the show was that the movie started with—we actually shot it in sequence, which is just unheard of. We shot it from the beginning to the end, pretty much. And it’s one outfit—I wore one outfit for pretty much the whole movie and we were all handcuffed, nine people in the room handcuffed to a pole, so there was no …. It was very simple when it came to rehearsing, so I could spend a lot of time with my children on the side and spend time with my son specially breast-feeding and stuff.
So was really interesting to do that, but that was a role that I took to show my dramatic side and just also to have a little freedom. But it’s not exactly something that is—she was a terrible person, so it’s not exactly a role model type role.
Moderator I know we’ve mentioned this a little bit before, but do you think there’s a chance of your Clarissa cast coming in to guest star?
M. Hart Oh, no. We wouldn’t do like a reunion episode. We would do just like maybe some of the cast from Sabrina would come pop in here—like Soleil maybe or Alicia Donovan, I don’t know. Like maybe, if there was a role right for them and they were around and available probably they would pop in and do a little piece, but it wouldn’t be like as their roles that they played on Sabrina. We would want to reinvent it, completely.
Joey’s brothers come on the show but they’re different characters. One of them plays his brother but the other one is a schoolteacher for Ryder. So to do something like that would be really fun.
I always love—one of the benefits of producing is bringing in people you think are talented to help enhance your project and also just to have fun playing at work. I think it would be great. I actually have Leslie Grossman on the show, one of our last episodes of this season coming up. I ran into her in auditions. We have friends in common. We had dinner and she was fantastic and I was like, “She’s got to be on the show.” So when this role came up that I knew she’d be right for, I called her in and was like, “You’ve got to do this with me.” and we had a blast. So stuff like is always fun just to have familiar faces around—the people that you trust that you think are talented.
Moderator I just wanted to know a little bit about what we can expect from this season as far as the development of the relationship between Melissa and Joey and the kids and you guys. Can you talk a little bit about that?
M. Hart Yes. I mean the thing with any show—if you watch Friends or Seinfeld, Cheers—any of these shows, at the beginning, they take a little while to get going. While the writers are figuring it out and the actors are figuring it out and the whole show is getting the wheels greased. Of course, by the end of the first season beginning of the second season usually you have it down. If you’re going to have a hit usually that’s when you start to see it.
I really think in the beginning—we had the first 12, we were very, very lucky. I think with Joey and I having the experience that we have, and also having done the movie, and having chemistry, and just being able to click like we did. The crew and everything could fall into place, the rest of the cast could kind of fall into place around us. So we had it pretty smooth in the beginning, but now the next 18 that are coming up are, of course, we really got the ball rolling by then and we got into a great groove and we’ve got some really excellent episodes out there that you’ll see where the characters are really coming into their own. You see more of the kids and of their struggles and you’ll learn more.
I think the more you learn—like one of the great things about Friends, I’m such a big Friends fan. One of the great things is in the beginning they have these stereotypes. Jennifer Aniston was the rich bride, was going to be a bride, so her storyline always centered around the fact that she was the spoiled brat that with bride. Courtney Cox with the ex—used to be overweight that didn’t like Jennifer Aniston. So you see these things and the start off as these little nuggets of characters, but then grow as you get to know them and you get to know more of their background and you get to love them. You see them really flower and that’s what I hope you’ll see here is that these characters are really growing.
Joey and I—our storylines get interesting because we do sort of a flirt but also avoid each other and have our bickering moments, constantly. You’ll see the relationship develop with our kids and then with each other and them and their high school. The show really comes into its own in the second half of the season.
Moderator It’s been fun so far. I really do love what I’m seeing. I especially like—and I want to thank you for providing a family show that I can sit down in the evening with my kids. That’s kind of rare these days.
M. Hart Your comment about the family show, what’s interesting is we did that with Sabrina. We really wanted Sabrina to be something that everyone could sit down with the kids of all ages and watch. This one I feel is a little bit older, it is a little bit older more towards my peer group, I feel like, women in their 30s or men in their 30s, but I think it also resonates with high school or college kids.
Right now, we don’t have so much of the teen fan base right now, but I really feel like it could be. However, I’m always a little skeptical of people say their six-year-old is going to watch it. I’m afraid the language can be a little rough. So I do try to warn against that a little bit that people don’t necessarily think just because I was Sabrina that they should watch this with her little, little kids.
Moderator Are there any similar qualities or characteristics to you?
M. Hart I think that Mel is an exaggerated version of lots of little parts of my personality. I think I’m a very adventurous girl. I’m very—let’s see, how would I explain this. I’m silly. I love to have a good time. I’m an event girl. I always call myself an event girl. I like going and making the most of something. If I’m going to a football game, I am going to go to a football game! I’m going to have face paint and pom poms and all the gear and be ready to go. I’m a planner. I like to have things scheduled out, but I also like to get really into things. I think that’s a lot like Mel. She doesn’t do anything half way. She goes all the way with something even if it’s not right.
But I think that there’s also other sides. I know my family always calls me scattered brain and silly and that I have a big heart, and stuff like that. I think that a lot of that is sort of similar in Mel. But, of course, she’s kind of a glamour girl. She wants to look the best and be sassy and very flirtatious and she’s very boy crazy, which I used to be before I got married. So there’s definitely some similarities there, but they’re very exaggerated from me.
Moderator In Clarissa Explains it All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch you played a teenager. I know you’ve grown up and you’ve gotten married and have children. So what has your experience in life and playing an adult in Melissa & Joey?
M. Hart Well it’s my first time playing an adult on a sitcom, but you’ve got to remember I’ve been playing an adult in other things for a long time. Like in My Fake Fiancé for ABC Family. I did Holiday in Handcuffs for ABC Family. I did this movie Nine Dead. I directed a lot. When I was pregnant with my son, I directed a short film called Mute that went to a lot of festivals.
So it’s so funny because on Sabrina I started that show when I was 20. So I was never a teenager when the show was going on, so I was always an adult. So playing a teenager just kind of came naturally to me because I’d done it on Clarissa so I could kind of keep that same tone to it, in a sense—like keep those same frustrations, those same problems. But meanwhile, as soon as the camera starts rolling I was in my 20s.
So getting to actually be on screen as more of myself like in a sense not trying to fit into some kind of teenage persona, I find it more comfortable. It’s more fun. It’s more freeing, but I don’t know, when you get into a role like that where you have a long running series like this one or Sabrina or any of them you get into a groove with the character.
Actually the challenge really is keeping it fresh and keeping it interesting and not just like kind of walking through. I feel like towards the end of Sabrina. I was having such fun on the set and there is such amazing people and I loved the experience of it, but I got a little—I was walking through it with the character. I was just kind of like I learned my lines every night and I was very diligent about my work and I just have a pretty strong work ethic. But as far as the acting portion of it went, I just sort of walked through it and trusted other people to help me find a joke if I was missing it and whatnot. But it wasn’t the kind of character where I really had to think hard work hard at it.
With this one, with Mel, I’m trying to keep it so that I’m working hard at it so that every day, every joke I’m finding things that are funny. I’m leafing through my brain and everything I’ve ever seen on television, in movies and every piece of comedy that I’ve ever watched or read or even said it in a witty joke at a bar one night. I try to pull back on all of those experiences and try to find something to make every page of Mel and Joey work really well. Make sure everyone’s really laughing every few minutes.
Moderator I’m interested in finding out what it’s like for you on the set. How long does it usually take for you to complete an episode of Melissa & Joey?
M. Hart As with most sitcoms, we work a five day week. We do a 5-day episode. We put on Mondays with a table read where we all get together and read it with the network and everybody sitting there so they can all hear it out loud. Then the writers will go and rewrite it while we go and rehearse and we’ll do our wardrobe fittings usually that day so we can figure out what we’re going to wear for the week.
Then Tuesdays, we come in and we rehearse with the new script. We’ll rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and we’ll put the show on. We’ll do the whole show once through, called the run through for the producers. We’ll do the producers run through. So the writers and producers will come down and watch a run through and then they’ll go back and that night they’ll work on their changes.
Wednesday, we do the same exact thing where we work the new script through all the way. Then we put on a network run through where the network comes and listens to it and they see it. Then they make their notes on it and the writers go away again and rewrite it.
Thursday, we come in and we block the whole show for the cameras. Thursday’s we, basically, go through the whole show scene-by-scene so the cameras can figure out where they go, where we go. We tape it—we put tape on the floor and we literally mark every piece of blocking we have and the cameras do the same. Then we get in hair and makeup and shoot a few scenes. We’ll shoot a few scenes that the audience needs to see for the next day. They’re usually on swing sets, so they’re somewhere where the audience can’t see them or their like big costume changes or something like that, so we can knock those out of the way.
Then Friday, we come in again and do the camera blocking as well in the morning and then we get ready for live show. We eat dinner altogether at three o’clock, four o’clock we’re in hair and makeup doing the speed through of the script with the cast while we’re getting our hair and makeup touched up. Then five o’clock we go live on the show and we usually wrap—by 9 p.m., we’re usually across the street having a drink. So we’re actually really lucky because a lot of shows until like 11 or midnight, 2 and a lot of episodics, as you may know, they shoot 9 day weeks and they don’t have any rehearsal time or anything.
We actually, in television, this is the best schedule it could possibly be. A lot of people on episodics—like I was just hanging out with—I was in Monte Carlo at the Television Festival and Owain Yeoman from The Mentalist was there. We were comparing schedules and he was like I want to be on the comedy, because they work 12 to 15 hour days every day, which is what we did in Sabrina a lot because we did it sort of single camera with no audience.
With an audience, I have to say—the audience puts a lot of pressure on you, but it’s fabulous. You get the show done in three or four hours and all week you kind of have this nice easy schedule where you’re sort of hanging out in jeans and T-shirt. Thursdays and Fridays are our big days. Monday, we work maybe three hours. Tuesday with five and gets more and more every day. Friday’s end up being about a 12 hour days, but that’s not bad at all in this business. I could say having a family and having been in this business for 31 years, it’s kind of nice to have that schedule.
Moderator The banter between you and Joey just seems so natural and it’s so funny. Do you guys ad lib much?
M. Hart No. We’re both by the book kind of people. We take what’s on the page. We try to make it work. If it doesn’t, we’ll talk to the writers and say, “You know what this joke isn’t working for me. Can we rearrange this and this?” But really, what we say is pretty much there on the page.
The great thing about doing the audience show—and Danny DeVito just wrote about this in … Magazine the other day. He said he came to our set to visit his daughter and he was very nostalgic about his Taxi days of having a live audience show because it is kind of magical. You have a script set in stone Friday morning. You have a script and Thursday night I will memorize the crap out of that script. I’ll stay up two or three hours at night just trying to memorize that script. Then we get to do it in front of a live audience but the second you do it, the writers are all side of the stage talking and whispering and the network will come in once in a while with their notes and we change it. We change it right there and then.
We’ll do one take for the audience the way it’s written and then they’ll all come running in and they’ll give us all different changes. They’ll change 3, 4, 5 lines in the scene and we’ll do it again. Then they’ll come back with three or four changes, we’ll do it again with those changes. So we have to keep our brains locked down but also leave space for these little alterations they bring in, constantly. We call them alts, they bring in their alts. After one take then it’s like the alts start flying in and it gets complicated, but also makes it silly as you’re playing and you can see which one the audience reacts to the best.
Then to watch the show back it’s always kind of exciting, I think especially for the audience because they may have seen it one-way but you don’t know which way it’s going to end up. You may have your favorite picked out in your head which one you want it to be. For example, there was an episode that already aired in the fall that I did a spit take and in the preview—ABC Family ran the preview where I did spit take. I actually spit the wine across the room, but then in the show, they didn’t use that clip. They just did it where I just kind of choked on my wine. So it’s interesting. They have all these different versions and it’s interesting which ones they pick.
M. Hart: Also, I just wanted to add my Twitter name @MellyJHart. I’m fascinated with Twitter, so I’m all over it.
Catch “Melissa & Joey” on Wednesday nights (8/7c) on ABC Family! Second Season premiere is on June 29th!
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