CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL Creator Talks About the Show’s Legacy

When most people think of “classic” TV their heads are imagining scenes from the shows of the ’60s, ’70s, and sometimes even the ’80s. But then we, the millennial minions of TVWriter™, harken unto Classic Television it’s ’90s shows all the way. And one in particular is always – and we mean always – a topic of deep conversation when the topic comes up. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yore and CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL:

 clarissaby Pilot Viruet

In 1991, Mitchell Kriegman created Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All, a groundbreaking and charming sitcom with a female lead (Melissa Joan Hart) and an innovative visual style. Equally popular among boys and girls, the show would go on to become one of the biggest hits for the network. Twenty years after the series finale, the love for Clarissa has yet to die down. Kriegman is even keeping her legacy alive with a novel that picks up with Clarissa in her 20s. Flavorwire talked with Kriegman about the upcoming book, the importance of diversity on television, and the story behind the hubcaps on Clarissa’s wall.

Flavorwire: I want to talk about Clarissa Explains It All’s relevance because after we published this controversial interview with Mathew Klickstein, there were some “I can’t believe he said that Clarissa wasn’t a big hit” reactions. It was a weird, unfair comparison because different kinds of shows can coexist. 

Mitchell Kriegman: Right. My reaction was: It’s not a wrestling match where we have to pit one show against the other. Pete and Pete was awesome and was created out of completely different circumstances. It was actually originally a promo series that Will McRobb created that was brilliant. It should’ve become some kind of series that was bigger.Ren and Stimpy obviously was groundbreaking [and] reset the history of animation. Jon Kricfalusi single-handedly reset how we think about animation. That is gigantic. But that’s one genre, Pete and Pete is another one, and Clarissa is a third. There’s a lot of aspects that were overstated, but in terms of comparing them… why? It’s an unfruitful process.

Why do you think Clarissa is still so popular?

It opened up sitcoms in a lot of different ways for that audience. She was an original voice, she was ahead of the curve, and encouraged everyone to be ahead of the curve. It was the show of a generation. Obviously it was the beginning of Nickelodeon being 24/7, but there was other stuff, too.

She had this orientation of being forward-looking and being an early adopter before there were examples of early adopters. She dressed as an early adopter. Before Clarissa, when you would go into a store, you would have to buy a coordinated outfit: a blue ribbon and a blue dress and blue shoes. The idea of a mash-up of clothes from your closet as a way to dress wasn’t — besides Diane Keaton in Annie Hall — a common idea. She was an early adopter in fashion. She was obviously, in the most weirdly prophetic way, an early adopter with video games where she thought she could make video games and did.

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2 thoughts on “CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL Creator Talks About the Show’s Legacy”

  1. I was not happy with that Klickstein guy for dismissing “Clarissa Explains It All.” I remember that show fondly from the early days of Nickelodeon but don’t remember “Pete and Pete” at all. The Nickelodeon show that first caught my attention (and I was way out of the target age for Nick even then) was “You Can’t Do That on Television.” That’s where they got the sliming thing that is still associated with them.

  2. I always found CLARISSA charming. Gwen the Beautiful and Amber and I watched it together every week and it definitely was quality family time.

    PETE & PETE, however, was absolutely the best kids show I ever saw – as an adult. We’d watch that one together too, and the last two episodes made Gwen and Amber cry. (Not me because…MANLY MAN.)

    From the commentary on the P&P DVDs, it was clear that its creators had no idea what made the show work, and it looks like CLARISSA’s creator didn’t get what he had going either.

    But then Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t understand – or like – the popularity of SHERLOCK HOLMES either. There’s a lesson here somewhere. A lesson all writers should be lucky enough to have to learn.


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