Friday, August 23, 2013

A Modern Classic: Sabrina, The Teenage Witch (1996)

Nearly 30 years after her television debut, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch returned to television in 1996, this time in a live-action sitcom that made some subtle changes.

The series began with a TV-movie that aired on the Showtime pay-cable network, and moved to broadcast television when Viacom sold the series to ABC that fall, starting a 7 year run that ended on the WB in 2003.

As for those changes?

Sabrina, originally created by George Gladir & Dan DeCarlo in the 60's, was a platinum blonde, but since finding an actress with a matching hairstyle is almost impossible, the producers opted for a natural blonde. As it turns out, star Melissa Joan Hart (ex-Clarissa Explains It All) and her mother had started their own production company, so they had a major stake in the series. Hart, of course, wasn't about to cut her long blonde hair so it'd match Sabrina's shorter 'do in the comics.

Sabrina's aunts, Hilda & Zelda, were also given makeovers. Hilda swapped out her stereotyped emerald skin, and Zelda her plus-size figure, for the appearance of modern-day business women, as embodied by Caroline Rhea & Beth Broderick, respectively. The family familiar, Salem, long silent in past incarnations, was rebooted as a warlock transformed into a cat as punishment for attempting to take over the world, or some such. Comic Nick Bakay, who later became a producer on the show, put words in Salem's mouth, making the black cat comedy relief.

The only other member of Sabrina's supporting cast to transfer from the comics was her sweetheart, Harvey Kinkle (Nate Richert). However, the producers tried to mess with that relationship by writing Harvey out after the first few seasons when Sabrina went off to college.

As season 4 began, an animated prequel aired on ABC & UPN, with Sabrina now a pre-teen (and voiced by Emily Hart, Melissa's sister). Melissa took over the dual roles of Hilda & Zelda, with Bakay the only other cast member also doing the cartoon. Sabrina: The Animated Series lasted two seasons, and merited a follow-up, Sabrina's Secret Life, in 2002.

Dailymotion presents the series opener/pilot:

Currently, cable rights are split between the Hub and MTV2/TeenNick. MTV2 began airing the series with a marathon earlier this month to help TeenNick fulfill its contract before it expires.

Rating: B.


magicdog said...

This show was very likeable and I thought the updates worked well. The problems began when Sabrina went to college, the aunts disappeared, and Harvey left with nary a word. IIRC he found out Sabrina was a witch and broke up with her. Considering how he dealt with her secret in an earlier episode (one in which witches were allowed 1 day a year to tell a mortal the truth, deduce their reactions and then have it forgotten by the next day), this goes against his personality.

I was glad he came back into her life and they did ride off together in the series finale - but at the expense of that drip, Aaron. Sabrina should have never dated him in the first place and Harvey should never have been given the boot.

Personally, I think the show should have ended when Sabrina graduated HS. The fun just drained out of it once too many changes were thrown at it.

hobbyfan said...

In other words, since all the changes coincided with the change of networks (from ABC to WB), maybe they should've quit while they were ahead?