Sabrina’s vanishing clothes nearly lost Melissa Joan Hart her hit ‘90s sitcom.
Hart revealed this week that she was sued and fired from “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” for doing a Maxim magazine cover while starring in the hit ABC sitcom.
Her spell-binding comedy about a young witch who moved in with her two aunts was the highest-rated sitcom in the TGIF lineup during its four-year run on ABC. It then moved to the WB (now the CW) before wrapping its 163-episode run in 2003. The 47-year-old actor got candid about the big-budget show and some of the drama revolving around it on Monday’s episode of the “Pod Meets World” podcast with “Boy Meets World” alumni Danielle Fishel, Will Friedle and Rider Strong.
Hart, who appeared in her underwear for the racy Maxim shoot at the time, said she was told that her participation violated her Archie Comics contract, which stated she “would never play the character [Sabrina] naked.”
The “Melissa & Joey” and “Clarissa Explains it All” star said that her lawyer showed up at the “Drive Me Crazy” premiere afterparty to break the news to her.
“[The lawyer] goes, ‘You did a photo shoot for Maxim magazine?’” Hart said. “I’m like: ‘Yes, I did.’ They’re like, ‘Well, you’re being sued and fired from your show, so don’t talk to the press, don’t do anything.’”
The former child star said she then got a call from her mother, who was also her producer, asking her what went down.
“[She] was like, ‘What did you do?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, whatever my publicist told me to do at the photo shoot. Like I did a photo shoot for Maxim! It’s Maxim, of course you’re gonna be in your underwear,’” Hart said.
The brouhaha apparently stemmed from a cover line on the magazine — “Sabrina, your favorite witch without a stitch” — but Hart ultimately got to keep her show because “they had no ground to stand on” after she argued that “she had no control over what [Maxim] wrote on the cover” and she appeared in it as herself to promote “Drive Me Crazy,” not the iconic comic-book character.
Hart, who was 23 at the time, also wrote an apology letter while the situation boiled over. But whether she was “allowed to be sexy” became rampant in the news cycle, with the topic being debated on morning shows and the actor being skewered on late-night shows.
“But it made for ‘Drive Me Crazy’ to come out and be a huge success, it was insane,” she said.
The near-firing came during a whirlwind 24 hours for her and she described the preceding events as the “worst day” of her life at the time. The conversation was prompted by the podcast hosts showing Hart a photo from the New York premiere of her 1999 teen rom-com “Drive Me Crazy.” (Fun fact: Hart made a Season 5 cameo on the host’s show as Sabrina and briefly dated Friedle.)
“If you look at my eyes [in the photo], I’d been crying all evening,” Hart said. She had been breaking up with her then-boyfriend (whom she doesn’t name in the interview) that night, barely got to spend time with her family and had “been up since 4 a.m.” doing press for the film, which boasted Britney Spears’ eponymous hit song. “That’s why my eyes are red in that picture [from the premiere].”
The Nickelodeon alum recalled that when she arrived at the movie premiere, she was told she couldn’t leave her car until the pop star arrived.
“I had to wait on the red carpet,” Hart said. “They wanted me to wait in my car for like an hour for Britney to show up so we could do photos together. And I was like, ‘Can I just go, start doing the press?’ [They were like,] ‘Nope, You’ve got to wait for Britney.’”
She did, as seen in numerous red-carpet photos at the time, and then Hart said she was “whisked away to a limo” to fly out to Vancouver to shoot the horror parody “Scary Movie.” But as she was on her way to the airport, she got a call from her agent and learned that she was fired from the film, in which she was supposed to be in the opening, playing the “vivacious, big-breasted one that’s like murdered or something in the beginning.”
In tears, she asked for the limo to turn around to go to the movie’s afterparty at Planet Hollywood. That’s when she learned about the Maxim debacle from her lawyer. After that, she said, she hid in her hotel room for two days and “woke up in a rock star moment” the next day surrounded by family and friends who had just pigged out, drank and partied with her all night.