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This is part of an ``interview'' Harry Murchison conducted by e-mail with Mitchell Kriegman, the creator and executive producer of Clarissa Explains It All. I've taken the liberty of editing it slightly so it ``flows'' more like a face-to-face or phone interview. (This comment applies mainly to the first round of Q&A, BTW.)
The questions come from Harry and various other ``clarissa'' mailing list members.
Mitchell Kriegman's original message to the list, 16 May 96:
i am also new to your mailing list, but i have to say i'm not new to ceia - i created it. it seems like your group has gone beyond the show into a more detailed analysis of mjh. not surprising she's quite wonderful. i have to say it's quite satisfying to see so many people taking the show and character so seriously (but not too seriously - just seriously enough). and it's wonderful to see c quoted in so many wonderful ways i.e. out of context. i'm not quite sure where tcp.com is, i know there are major groups in england. i've been reading for a little while and i know my friend rick fernandes has been communicating with you all. so i thought i'd just say hi and thanks for all the interest.
And now for the Q&A's...
Harry Murchison: Do you have any other tv programs in the works?
Mitchell Kriegman: starting from recent memory, i did a series on showtime last summer entitled Twisted Puppet Theater, a xmas special for henson entitled Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, a series for Disney entitle Mousterpiece Theater, wrote for SNL, Sesame Street, National Lampoon, New Yorker, was story editor for nickelodeon (character development and story) for first season of Doug and Ren&Stimpy and all episodes of Rugrats, and early development on Rocko (but not the series) there were episodes of Alftales, had a few pieces in Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, lots of network pilots, produced comedy channel series with Rachel Sweet and another with the Higgins Boys and Gruber, as well as syndication comedy, gameshows, interactive cd-i/cdrom, lots of humor and short stories in print, a couple of wnet/pbs independent specials and before all that i was a performance artist and video artist. so there you have it.
H.M.: I have been trying to figure out in how many eposides did MJH laugh? The only laugh I have seen is in the episode when Janet wants to get to know Clarissa better. Clarissa and Sam come up with the idea of telling Janet of all the gross things Clarissa does Then Clarissa and Sam start to burp for part of the example and at the end just before they cut the scene she laughs! (And it seems like a real Laugh!!)
Here are some other ones dcljr has come up with [...]
Well, let's see. Purely from memory:dcljr also included a letter from Jason Jones, it said:
In ``Sick Days'' (#113), Marshall says something about how she shouldn't be out of bed with that cough. Clarissa says, ``Cough? What cough?'' She says, laughing, ``I was laughing bacause I have my health back!'' And then: ``I just love that healthy feeling!'' (coughing at the end). [All quotes only from memory.] She laughs in this scene, but it's faked.
There are surely a few times where she's laughed derisively at Ferguson. I think I remember one of them, but I can't think of which episode it is. She looks at Ferguson and laughs because of the way he looks. But I don't remember how he looks.
In ``Alter Ego'' (#157), I think there's a kinda forced laugh (or maybe two) when she was dressed as Jade. Again, I don't really remember.
I was watching ``Road Trip'' (#143) the other day, and there's a scene near the very end where Marshall does his squirell imitation and Clarissa starts laughing. And it occurred to me that she doesn't really laugh out loud -- at least, not like that -- very often. Maybe I'm wrong. Any thoughts?Well how many times did she laugh?
M.K.: as to laughing - i have always been amazed at how perceptive this group is in discerning the actual goings on behind the scenes. i think your listing accurate, one of the things i tried to do a lot was push melissa a little bit to break her cool, and sometimes i think she was genuinely surprised at the turn of events (the worm in the camping episode is a good example) the laugh in sick days was a put on, but the burp was probably real.
Alan (S18996AW): What ethnic background does the Darling family have? Irish? (Ferguson is a red head) Where did the last name Darling originate? Finally, who named Clarissa and Ferguson? Was it two different people's choice. How can one possess such a cool name and the other live with such a dorky name if the same person named both kids?
M.K.: the name ferguson - long ago when i was a performance artist i did a series of audio tapes called the telephone stories (they were audio art, radio plays for the telephone, the precurser of dial a joke) at the whitney and other museums as well as on npr. the characters were janet (who was breaking up with) marshall (i played marshall). janet was a single mom who had a nightmare kid named ferguson. in this incarnation ferguson never spoke you only heard the aftermath of his actions which were always disasterous. ferguson was the name of the cat at the sound studio i was working at zbs upstate new york. ferguson was just like the character i created at the time. the name stuck in my mind as a great name for a character that is frustrating - FERGUSON! it sounds great when you yell it. so there. i didn't realize at the time how much fun it would be to corrupt. that came out of the clarissa char.
the name clarissa - has a deep dark secret i am not ready to reveal. but let me just say that i (and the character clarissa) did not consider the name a cool one or even a good one. if you watch the pilot (especially the pilot for the pilot) she makes a face and an apology for having such a dorky name. Ferguson and Clarissa aren't cool names they are burden names for characters which is why i liked them. clarissa has become a cool name only because of the success of the series. janet is from canada and i always imagined that she had an uncle ferguson. Darling is from peter pan.
Jim Davis: casting decisions would be interesting to hear about -- not just how MJH was chosen, but how the other choices were made. who was the actor first cast as Marshall Darling.
Don Ferry: Given the fact that with the success of CEIA the character in SWAM was changed from a boy to a girl, What was your original oin the development of the idea of CEIA. Where you involved in the development of Clarissa. How do you think Melissa handled the role of Clarissa. Finally, why does the CEIA series seem so magical to so many?
M.K.: i will get the name of the original janet - she later appeared as the guidance counselor in the misguidance counselor episode, she's quite a good actress and had a great featured part in murphy brown. she didn't do the series because she would have to move to florida - who can blame her.
sam was the toughest to cast. i really wanted a kid with an earring (piercing! your favorite list topic!) who was so cool he didn't care about anything and was almost equal to clarissa in independence but it's not so easy to find 12-14 year olds like that. the first same was very difficult and troubled, i think, (he appeared shortly after as a child murderer in a tv movie on hbo) everybody auditioned for ferguson and jason eventually won the part. sean got sam because of what he did with his hair. after a prissy audition i asked him to leave the room and mess up his hair. when he came back he was much more natural. i kept the hair as long as i could. originally sam was also able to talk to the camera - he always knew what was going on on some level. jody also auditioned for clarissa and i wanted her to have access to the camera but it was too difficult for everybody to understand (crew, cast, etc) and she was intimiated by the director and i think melissa to some degree.
i knew immediately that melissa was right for the part. she'll tell you sometime her audition story. and how she answered the questions just right. and that pesky strap on her overalls. the basic casting philosophy was as follows. the conventional choice for this kind of part is an ``in your face'' kind of girl (i.e. maiyam bialik) i saw those kinds of girls. but i think it's too much when a character is talking to the audience to feel like you're being attacked. what you really want is someone to draw you in. hence melissa. originally i wanted a claire danes type (this was before mscl) someone who was already cool, but melissa had light and magic and i decided that her quality was most important. what i liked about melissa (besides that she lightens up the screen and is an incredible professional) is that she was really just a nice sweet white long island girl (from katie beers country). so i made her cool without ever losing those qualities. i think the fantasy mixture of cool with normal nice was the big draw (it's a lot like what mathew broderick brought to ferris bueller).
melissa didn't know what to make of it all at first, especially the clothes i picked out, and a lot of the dialog, but she went with it.
regarding the development of clarissa explains it all. I had a development deal with nickelodeon to develop their first sitcom and my goal was to create a character that was emblematic of their network. and give a personality to the network - at that time they had no stars no cartoons, no characters of their own (I also was the story editor for nick on the ren, doug, rugrats et al but that's another story for another time). my original idea was called ``I told you so'' it was told from a girl's point of view and she would rattle on and on and tell you all about the things that happened to her in the course of a day and she'd end every episode by saying ``I told you so.'' sources included Penny (on Pee Wee), Harriet the Spy, Leave it to Beaver, and most of my own performance and video art (talking to the camera was always a hallmark of my work).
talking to the camera - while we're on the subject let me say this about talking to the camera. I never considered that we were ``breaking the fourth wall.'' I don't think there is a fourth wall on tv. That's a theatrical convention. When Dan rather talks to the camera he's not breaking the fourth wall. When David letterman delivers his monologue he's not breaking the fourth wall. In short they are just simply talking to you. Giving you the news. This is a video orientation rather than a theatrical one.
The development process - the usual development stupidity occurred - could clarissa be black (fine, but they didn't realize that the whole family would also be black, naturally), stuff like that. The worst of which is that although they loved the script, the pilot, etc. They were concerned that it was a girl character written by a man. And there was much to do about whether this was acceptable in all the PC ways. The height of it all was during the episode ``bully.'' There was strenuous objections to clarissa standing up for herself and being ready to fight it out (meanwhile she tried everything she could to avoid a fight (itching powder etc.). A girl wouldn't really fight a boy they said. all of which is nonsense. Especially if the girl is older and at any rate shouldn't people stick up for themselves, on and on and on. besides the ending was utterly benign. In the end I refused to change the show and today they proudly present the show at feminism conferences and such.
M.K.: the titles - tech note. show shot on d2 which clones instead of dubs. i.e. no quality loss. i had no money to do titles which i love to do (very proud of my other titles - mousterpiece theatre, twisted puppet, big country) so i did them over white with a bunch of costumes and jump cuts (of which i am fond) - the most important story (besides rick f.'s hard work) about the first opening is about the basketball sequence. it was a completely conscious process on my part to appeal to both boys and girls (i can discuss that later if there's interest) it was important to me. and melissa had to dribble a basketball in the opening and she dribbled, well like a girl - not - on a basketball team. i knew that a boy watching would immediately turn off the set if he saw a girl who couldn't bounce a ball - so i jump cut it so it looked like she could. i didn't have money to do end titles (which i also liked to do) so after thinking about it (and liking her writing her name backwards and hitting it) i decided it would be fun to run them in reverse. also rachael's music was prime and she has never received sufficent credit for it. she's done other great music for me a pilot for abc called what's going on down there? and other stuff.
last thing about titles - blossom ripped off our titles at some point and nick (small minds at the time) wanted to sue - i considered it flattering (except that they did such a bad job) and i suggested we just do new titles instead. of course viacom could find money to sue, but not to create. eventually i squeezed the money from the budget and did the new titles which david roofthooft produced and rick edited.
We shot bumpers at the same time we shot titles.
Donald Lancon: Were you writing for ``Saturday Night Live'' in 1985-86, when Melissa was on the show a few times? If so, did you ``notice'' her then? If not, did you know anything about her before she auditioned for CEIA?
M.K.: I didn't know mjh at snl. I didn't know her at all.
D.L.: How long had you been developing the idea of CEIA before you finally got the pilot made in Nov 90?
M.K.: The development period was probably six months or so. It was relatively short compared to most tv. As I recall I was competing with Salute Your Shorts.
D.L.: What would you have done if you hadn't sold Nickelodeon on CEIA?
M.K.: I developed it specifically for Nick so I don't know what I would have done. If I like an idea I usually try to find someplace for it, so I assume I would have gone elsewhere. Clarissa was one of those magical, fortuitous, serendipitous events (like most successful shows) so many of the conditions were in retrospect just right. Network television would have never let me do the series (wouldn't now either) even nick would probably not be able to do it now, but at the time they were open and not overly critical so I got to do what I wanted.
D.L.: What can you tell us about how Melissa got the role of Clarissa? For example: How many ``call backs'' were there? Did you personally pick her? Was there an initial ``weeding out'' that was handled by other people?
M.K.: Melissa had one call back. Both were excellent. I personally chose the entire cast with some approvals from nick. No one contested my choices. Geoffrey Darby who was in charge at the time was very supportive of my choice of mjh.
D.L.: Whom did you model the character of Clarissa after? Was it based on a real person, or persons, whom you've known?
M.K.: I mentioned earlier some sources - when you make a show like this you draw on a lot of stuff over time. Mostly personal. It was a lot more acceptable to create a girl who was different and smart than it was to create a boy that wasn't some perfect little man. I drew on a lot of my own experiences, I imagined my wife as a kid, I incorporated Melissa whenever I could (remember she always played her own age roughly a this is not the norm in television - playing her own age made her much more ``real'') and then after awhile it took on a life of its own.
D.L.: Which male character on the show do you most identify with? Why?
M.K.: In so far as I'm anybody and not Clarissa, Sam was supposed to be me.
D.L.: You said (via Rick Fernandes) that Clarissa seemed less weird after the first season because you were New York when the second season was shot. How much did you ``relinquish control'' of CEIA to others after the first season?
M.K.: The change in season two was much less a situation of relinquishing control as it was the realistic situation I found myself in both contractually, in relationship to the people I hired, and geographically. Nickelodeon was consistently naive and at different times horrible in contractual matters so I was unable to move the show to ny in the second season. So realistically I had to set the show up in Florida and run it somehow from ny. Which meant that I had to give my producer (Chris Gifford who did an extraordinarily good job) room to do his job. In retrospect I think it worked pretty well, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would have taken the show in many more directions - it would have been much wilder and unconventional. The writing would have been faster and edgier and the graphics and narrative structures would have developed more. I also think Melissa would have pushed the envelop a bit more. On the other hand there was a lot of great input from others as a result a Neena Beber, Chris Gifford, Chuck Vinson, Rick Fernandes, Don St. Mars, David Ellis to name a few. I still managed to do a great deal of rewriting from ny and I would still design a lot of graphics with Don, and develop stories, etc. I just had to be considerate of the situation my crew and cast were in.
D.L.: We hear that there is a CEIA ``blooper'' tape somewhere. Do you have this tape? Is there any chance that CEIA fans could ever see it?
M.K.: There are some great ``wrap tapes.'' I have them somewhere, I'm not sure where.
D.L.: Did you watch CEIA back when the show was originally being aired? Do you ever watch the show now? Do you personally have all the episodes on tape?
M.K.: I watched the show before it was aired (obviously) and I still occasionally watch the show when I run across it. It's very pleasing that it still stands up.
D.L.: What are your favorite CEIA episodes? Least favorite?
M.K.: Off the top of my head favorite episodes: cool dad, alter ego, no tv, bully, parents who say no, ferguson explains it all, the last episode and then there's bits I like in all the shows.
Least favorite: new addition!
D.L.: Why do you think CEIA was so popular? How much of the success of CEIA do you attribute specifically to Melissa (over other things like the writing, etc.)?
M.K.: Melissa had a great deal to do with the success. Specifically I think it's what Melissa brought to the character of Clarissa that was so important. She has never been, never ``was'' Clarissa. She was cast in the role, although I was constantly tailoring the part to her and getting her input. I think in the first season she didn't really know what to make of the character - the clothes, the attitude toward her parents, she doesn't like computers, the reference base, the language, etc. But her very ability to ``go with it'' is what makes her great. Once we got over her long island accent it was always very smooth sailing. Here's the other thing - the character as written had the potential (on purpose) to be very sarcastic, cutting, even insulting and bratty, but when Melissa delivered the material there was always something nice and decent and knowing about it. This quality allowed me to push the writing and attitude even more without her becoming obnoxious. It also answered my critics at Nick who were surprisingly stiff about a girl being outspoken. There were many instances when there was a really great collaboration between us a a lot of the stuff I had Melissa do existed in one form or another in my previous work as a performance and video artist. She made a lot of this material work better than I was able to. Eventually there became this language thing between us where the words that I write and that she speaks just click and that's the greatest experience for a writer. A lot of times however she was very (too) comfortable (tv series are hard work) and I had to push her a little.
Measuring her contribution against the writing is really a cultural perception issue. Stars are always perceived as the ``stars'' of their shows. Frankly, I think the show represented a whole new direction for sitcoms in general (shorter scenes, faster dialog, virtually no laugh track, changing point of view, graphics, fantasy, time shifts, music and audio jokes, no fourth wall, a lot more story) some of which have been picked up on and much of which has been ignored. The writing and aesthetic works for everybody, regardless of the age and it's what makes the show look more expensive than it was. Good words in tv = production value.
D.L.: Where did you get the writers for CEIA? Had you worked with them before? What about the directors?
M.K.: Every writer (there was only one staff member in the first season besides me a Alexa Junge (now a producer/writer for ``Friends'') and that was tough. Later Neena Beber was a staff writer and eventually head writer (she's a playwright) and a lot of other great writers (who were writing for sitcoms for the first time) Patti Marx, Doug Petrie, Peter Matei, Peter Gaffney, Glenn Eichler, Becky Hartman, Tim Burns, Michael Berkow (they've gone on to write stuff like - Roseanne, In Living Color, Aeon Flux, Harriet the Spy, talk of the town in the New Yorker, and much more). The directors were quite good too - especially Chuck Vinson and Liz Plonka who directed most episodes. They were all new to me and new to the show. And mention should be made of the coolest person on the show a Lisa Lederer, the costume designer. (She had a nose ring - and that was a while ago - and that really freaked nick out - that piercing thing again!).
D.L.: Can you explain why nearly a third of CEIA's viewers were over 18? Just who was CEIA's intended audience? Did this change in later seasons (as Clarissa/Melissa grew older)?
M.K.: Here's the deal about how the show was conceived - #1. My writing is always dual premise writing - which means that each episode has a kid premise which drives the episode and an adult premise that doesn't interfere with the kid level but gives it depth, resonance and another level of humor. So it's always designed to appeal to adults as well as kids. #2. Clarissa is always first and foremost a person (not just a kid, or a girl), her issues are always kid issues or in another sense ``life issues'' that everyone can relate to. #3. It was designed to appeal equally to boys and girls and I can go into that more at some other time. So the fact that the demos for the show are 20-30% adult and 50/50% boys and girls doesn't surprise me at all.
The audience has always been intended for kids first and everybody else as much as possible. It never changed. I always treated the show like an adult sitcom. There was never anything kiddie or truncated about the show. I worked very hard with nick (mostly unsuccessfully) and the press (very successfully) to position the show as a full blown family offering equal to the networks.
D.L.: What factors were involved in the decision to stop at 65 episodes?
M.K.: Nick stopped at sixty five for no good reason I can understand. They also have refused to do more even though they've gotten numerous lucrative offers from syndicators. It's just bad business on their part.
D.L.: Since the follow-up ``Clarissa'' series is obviously not going to happen, is there any chance of any future Clarissa-related projects such as TV movies or specials? Would you ever consider doing a Clarissa project without Melissa?
M.K.: I've always been interested in continuing Clarissa. It should continue - it never peaked. The ratings never dropped. The character wasn't exhausted. It should continue. I've had many plans to continue the series, or do a movie, etc. Nick just has this stranglehold on it and is in some ways threatened by it's success so it tries to control it. ``Clueless'' was in many ways the movie I would have made with Clarissa. It's very close to a John Hughes type film.
D.L.: We've heard that Nickelodeon discouraged the move to ``fix'' Melissa's teeth, because it would make her look older. Is this true? (I mean, the part about Nickelodeon.)
Don Ferry: Shouldn't we get information on the truth of the toothy developments that took place as the show went on
M.K.: The teeth story is utterly true. Every season Melissa would ask if she could fix her teeth and I'd say yes and nick would say no.
D.L.: According to Valerie Clark, who got to attend a few tapings of CEIA through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Melissa's father, mother and boyfriend showed up in the recital scene in ``The Zone'' (#148). Did you ever appear in an episode? Are there any other ``cameos'' we should know about?
M.K.: I might have appeared, but I don't remember a I think there was some scene on a ship with a piano and a disaster of some kind, I forget.
D.L.: Do you still stay in touch with the cast and crew members from CEIA?
M.K.: I see everyone occasionally. They were my family and I feel very close to them, I liked working with them a lot and I wish them the best. For many it was their first jobs in the business and it mattered very much to me that people were treated fairly and had a chance to contribute and be appreciated. I really consider tv making as a collaborative process and in many cases I was training people for these jobs as they were performing them so it was a very personal relationship. The studio itself was brand new and really inexperienced at this kind of production so I was very protective of my crew.
D.L.: We know that Jason is attending Notre Dame and apparently not pursuing an acting career; Joe has been in a few commercials. Do you know what Elizabeth and Sean are up to? What about Sarah (Hillary), Nicole (Olivia), David (Clifford) and Heather (Aunt Mafalda)? Do you know what the writers have been doing since CEIA? For example, Neena Beber, Douglass Petrie, and Mollie Fermaglich?
M.K.: Elizabeth Hess last time I heard is a screenwriter and I've lost touch with Sean and the others.
Whose idea was it to do the album ``This is What 'Na Na' Means''? What
can you tell us about the experience of making that album?
What about ``Peter and the Wolf''?
Would you ever consider making more Clarissa albums -- something like
a ``Clarissa Explains the Classics'' series, perhaps?
M.K.: The Na, Na record was my idea initially. Obviously Rachel wrote all the music. It was a very bad scene with Nick and Sony on this one. In fact I took my name off it because it was so frustrating. First of I think the music is incredible - and you should hear the longer versions of this stuff - it's like listening to the Gin Blossoms or early Nirvana. But Sony and nick got scared that it was becoming more than a kiddie album and they didn't know what to do with it. The in-between stuff which I hate was originally a spin off of my earlier audio art stuff - the telephone stories but they kept ruining the writing and hiring writers and ruining the concept. They also kept shortening the songs. The idea was that this was a garage band, that Sam had and Melissa had joined in. They screwed up the cover too. They made it a kiddie album. The songs are still great (peace esp). It was supposed to be a real music album for real kids and people who liked the show. They screwed it up.
Peter and the Wolf was better. I wrote all the stuff she said. I was ready to redo the original but again Sony got conservative. I'd love to do more. We won an award for that.
D.L.: There are relatively few Clarissa-related products (handful of videos, 2 albums, 2 books, board game, Director's Lab CD-ROM, t-shirt). Was there a conscious decision not to market CEIA more aggressively? If so, why?
M.K.: Ask nick - merchandise is my nightmare. They never marketed the series. Even when we were in production they didn't have tee shirts at the studio. We used to make our own stuff - an incredible jean jacket - a really cool black tee shirt with the first fan letter on the back and the logo backwards on the front so that the only way you saw it the right way was in the mirror. We had basketball sneakers, hats, key chains all sorts of stuff a someone sold a jacket at an auction for $500. There were always promises but nick did nothing. The board game did incredibly well and this stuff (especially the jacket) would have sold incredibly, but again I think nick was afraid of ceia's success. Who knows.
D.L.: Have you been following Melissa's career since CEIA ended? What do you think of her post-CEIA work (in particular, ``Touched By An Angel'', ``Sabrina, the Teenage Witch'' and ``Twisted Desire'')?
M.K.: I've only seen a moment of TD, haven't seen the rest (although I did like her in that Kellogg's commercial). She's very talented. Eventually she'll find another good vehicle for herself.
D.L.: How likely is it that you will work with Melissa in the future?
M.K.: I think Melissa and I would work together again in a second.
D.L.: You listed a lot of things that you've done, before and after CEIA. Have any of these (besides CEIA) been under the name Thunder Pictures? That is, does Thunder Pictures exist independently of CEIA?
M.K.: Thunder Pictures produced Twisted Puppet Theater on Showtime and Clarissa (the pilot for CBS) and two other pilots for ABC. So yes, it exists. It's my company.
D.L.: What project are you currently working on?
M.K.: I'm writing ``Elmo in Grouchland,'' a Sesame Street feature, working on a spin off of Sesame Street, writing an independent feature, just made a development deal with TCC and there's more to come. But one thing that may be of interest to you guys is that I've got a big internet project that's on it's way.
Note: Mitchell later clarified that...
tcc is the tcc in uk, hopefully i'm doing a big deal with them for more teen sitcoms.Back to the ``interview''...
D.L.: Finally, two ``research topics'' (perhaps you could FAX the relevant material to someone?):
M.K.: Can't help you much on the dates of episodes but eventually I'll try and find all the original names and send them.
Mitchell also responded to some recent posts to the list...
In some list poll results I posted on 8 Jun 96 was this comment from a list member:
Poor ELVIS!!! after getting the boot at the beginning of the second season, Clarissa should of gotten a new and unusual pet!M.K.: Elvis the alligator became too difficult to get everybody to work with so he went away.
[At least, I think that's what he was responding to.]
Alan (S18996AW) said on 27 May 96:
Okay John Heppen, I'm going to make your day with this ice breaker. Thank me later!......... Mrs. Janet Darling...``Hot'' or ``Not''??Some people responded ``hot'' and some ``not''.
M.K.: On Mom a I thought she was hot, too. She reminded me of ``Honey West'' I was always surprised no one noticed.
I said on 21 May 96 (during a discussion of commercials and merchandising aimed at kids):
OTOH, Nick did surprisingly little marketing of CEIA-related stuff. That's gotta count for something. (Actually, I hold this against them. But that's a whole different issue. =)M.K.: To dcljr 21 may 1996 I hold this against them too.
There's been a lot of talk about smoking on the list recently -- whether Melissa does, the fact that Clarissa never did, even that the Boney character appears to be smoking something! I'm not sure which comment(s) Mitchell is responding to, here...
M.K.: I just want to say ``smoking'' as doing something bad should not be underrated. Smoking is the fetish of the future.
Someone wondered how we know that this guy is really Mitchell Kriegman. (I can't find the message right now!)
M.K.: Oh by the way, I'm not really Mitchell Kriegman, I'm Mr. Futtstein.
And now back to the Q&A with list members...
Donald Lancon: There has been much discussion on the list about other TV shows that CEIA reminds us of (in terms of overall ``feel'', character interaction, etc.). You mentioned some ``sources'' for CEIA's precursor (as it were),``I Told You So'', but what about CEIA as it actually turned out? If you were to compare CEIA to other TV shows, which ones would you choose and why? Were any of these similarities intentional?
M.K.: the only show i feel any kinship with is seinfeld. only because it's extended subject matter and the rhythm of the writing where the joke comes from the banter and not one liners. seinfeld is probaby the best sitcom ever made (probably the best you can do with a sitcom period). the show gets compared to save by the bell because of the market but i think that's meaningless.
D.L.: Some personal info, if you don't mind: You mentioned your wife. Do you have any kids? If so, what age(s) & did they influence your work on CEIA? How old are you?
M.K.: i have two kids - mac and jake - 4/2. and clarissa was already done when mac was born. my own childhood and fantasies are more the source than anything else. writing for kids isn't about having kids and definitely not about being a parent. writing for kids (and kid characters) is about being a kid. big difference and the difference between good kids tv and stuff that sucks.
D.L.: You said Nick & Sony screwed up the ``NA NA'' album, including the cover. What was the original idea for the cover?
M.K.: i'm sorry i forget. i know it wasn't some sucky dorky picture of clarissa holding a guitar as if she's never seen one before.
D.L.: You said you've ``always been interested in continuing Clarissa'', but that Nick has a ``stranglehold on it''. Is this another ``Ren & Stimpy'' type deal, where Nick owns the rights to the show and the characters and can do anything with them they please? Is this something that could be gotten around? You seem to still have a great deal of interest in it. (And lord knows many of _us_ do, too! =) And about this continuation of Clarissa... would this be along the lines of the follow-up series, or do you really think you could extend the original series (i.e., Clarissa in high school)? On a related note, one thing you didn't answer: Would you ever consider doing a Clarissa project without Melissa?
M.K.: i wrote several scripts for the continuation, yes she moved to ny, but there were lots of opportunities for ferg and others to show up. and i kicked the graphics up a notch or too. they threw out my script at cbs (they said it seemed like it was written from mars - of course they hadn't ever actually seen ceia - in fact they never knew it had graphics!). they just wanted to take this nice white girl melissa and do a show around her as if she were just your normal actress. people forget that clarissa and melissa are definitely not the same. the script was written by someone who had nothing in common with clarissa or melissa and didn't see the graphics either and, and, and, it goes on and on and on - your basic hollywood network tv screw. and yes i could see doing clarissa without melissa. i've had two plans for that both for syndication which nick turned down. also why can't it be another girl - isabel explains it all - the point isn't that clarissa isn't the only one who's cool. being inside anyone's head is cool, except maybe the execs at nick
yes nick has really, really, really bad artist relationships. they are exploitative and unwilling to let other people make money or expand their franchise. they actually see themselves as in competition with their own artists. it comes from the top. they see your success as threatening to theirs. and the success of your show as a threat to nicks success in general. it's a pretty pervy point of view. but that's life.
Katie (CUTENTN): Does anyone Know what happened to Clarissa's wardrobe? I wrote Nick about it once and they sent me a stupid form letter
M.K.: i'm sure nick has her wardrobe (what we didn't give to melissa). they probably use it on other shows - if you've noticed they painted the set bright colors for (ugh) gullah gullah.
Katie (CUTENTN): I wanted to know if they were really doing the Clarissa show i have heard rumors that they will be airing it this fall.
M.K.: dead, dead, dead, dead.
John Wang: I just had a thought, why don't we ask Michael Kriegman to write a form letter as if from Clarissa that can be used as a reply to all those people writing to the mail list as if they were writing to Clarissa. If Michael indeed created the character Clarissa and since we seem to have him answering some of our questions, this would be an ideal way to add a feature to this mail list.
M.K.: i wouldn't do it
Don Ferry: what is the significance of Sam entering through the window using the ladder!
M.K.: i just thought it was an absurd cool way for a friend to visit another friend, nothing freudian here, although everyone started getting a little uncomfortable once they got older with clarissa in her pjs. i still thought it was cool.
D.F.: I would like to know Mitchell's direction for continuing Clarissa! Would the family stay together and be like an endless Married With Children. Would Clarissa strike out on her own such as a kind of ``Clarissa Now''. Thus would Clarissa be on her own with totally new adventures or would there be some association with the resrt of the family.
M.K.: answer previously
D.F.: What did Mitchell have or not have to do with the conceptualization of ``Clarissa Now.'' Did he like that plot. Would it have flow on CBS with all its problems; or does such a show as CEIA need a audience on Cable - such as Nick. So would CEIA type show make it on the pulpy banal networks - or is it a more cable orientated thing. Why didn't CBS pick up the ``Clarissa Now plot.''
M.K.: ask the magic eight ball. i'm not a big fan of network tv, esp sitcoms, it's not a great business.
D.F.: Was going to propose a question to Mitchell Kriegman about the various projections of Clarissa's alter ego. I guess the first would be where her parents wouldn't let her work at the carnival and she played the dark haired tragic figure who life is crushing - I guess. A character I found much more stimulating than jade - but it was never worked with. Didn't they do another play on this characterization.? Then there was Jade of course _ Melissa to come? Melissa's alter ego??? How did Mitchell think up these - who did they represent and anything else he would like to comment on it - ie how did Melissa see this. I guess the longest other characterization melissa played was when she play her what was it great great(?) FrenchAunt - where did the idea come from. Any other comment on other characterizations.
M.K.: had clarissa been in my own backyard so to speak, i would have pushed melissa into more tracy ullman like stuff - jade, alter ego, etc. she would get lazy sometimes and would resist the stretch but i thought she did it well. to some degree jade was a play on melissa and who she was and where she came from (long gisland). it also let me tweak nick a little - with the nose ring and the bad girl thing. i hated coco (it was just swish and girly) and didn't write that (it was during the clarissa darkages). it was just a great way to make her character more elastic, i found it fascinating. i like the idea of a character playing other characters pretending to be someone they wish they could be, etc.
D.F.: Besides Mitchell's mention of a web site. Is he ever going to write about what CEIA means to me or I explain it all about CEIA. Or has anyone approached him about writting such a book - ie such as i want to interview you
M.K.: no one's ever approached me about a book. the web site will be much more than that - a whole content service on the web with all new fictional properties - stuff like clarissa, animation, movies, etc.
D.F.: Some have said on the list they didn't like the romantic connection with Clifford - so what was the idea here - ie the way the character was and the person cast - ie why would Clarissa be attracted to a Clifford
M.K.: i like clifford despite his limitations as an actor. first of all he was just a dorky boy. people go for other people arbitrarily sometimes, because they like the ``idea'' of a relationship not because it's traditionally romantic. i envisioned the relationship as a nonverbal one. ``so what do you want to do?'' ``i don't know, what do you want to do?'' etc. it didn't last that long and it was very hard for clarissa toget sexual in the early stages. nick wouldn't let it. anyway i liked that she went for a lump. if he had been a more developed actor (we had to cast in florida) it would have been better.
D.F.: Others have thought Sam wasn't agressive enough in persuing a romantic connection with Clarissa - is there anything Mitchell would like to say about this?
M.K.: again, just like melissa's teeth nick wanted to keep the series pre-sexual. which was my original goal in the first two years. see they nver accepted the show as a teen show. because they consider themselves a ``kids'' channel, so the show was hostage to that despite it's sophistication. so the sam clarissa thing was too tough to pursue very deeply. also they didn't really hit it off personally in this regard so it was uncomfortable for them and it's really tough to fiddle with the dynamics of a sitcom. it would become the clarissa/sam relationship show (kind of a teen mad about you), not really something anyone was willing to pursue.
D.F.: Marshall the Dad is liked by many as a generally full all around character - while Janet is thought of as being rather undeveloped and uninteresting - any comments here!!
M.K.: it's mostly an acting thing. i would have wished for more. i was happy with what i got.
D.F.: Some have said that as Melissa aged you made more of her phsical features - any truth to it you would like to comment on????
M.K.: i don't have a clue what you are talking about here.
D.F.: Did Merlissa ever wear a wig as Clarissa?
M.K.: not as clarissa
D.F.: What was filming like? Was there a lot of fun on the sets? Did the characthers get along together good, and was there a lot of prank playing on the set?
M.K.: i enjoyed it when i was there. it was a very family like friendly atmosphere. esp in the first season - we had a party every friday with the kids and all. it was great. purple was the big joke. i'll explain. i don't particularly like purple and although you'll find it here and there on the show. i didn't allow it. i don't think it's a good tv color. and also i had developed a pallette that was pink and blue (symbolic of the boy/girl target concept). purple just confuses pink and blue. anyway i would never explain why i wouldn't allow purple, i'd just arbitrarily say no and say it was bad luck. and i'd also make fun if anyone wore purple on my set or in my offices. so after a while everyone became very self conscious about the color and it was a big joke. once everyone and i mean everyone wore purple for the day - i ignored it. (later on an abc pilot i did i refused to use an office that was purple until it was repainted). actually it served a slight function for me - see a producer no matter how reasonable is acutally arbitrary no matter what they say. so i used purple as a kind of joke to make the relationship clear. you have to remember i had a crew that had never done a sitcom before so it was my little device to establish the highly arbitrary relationship a producer has to a crew.
D.F.: Many production people I talk to refer to actors as self absorbed prima donas - I sure this was not true on CEIA????
M.K.: people by and large were unusually great on the set. but everyone had bad days. i've worked with a lot of actresses and i took great care to make sure that melissa wasn't put in a position where she would become a prima donna.
Dave Harris: MK said
I might have appeared, but I don't remember I think there was some scene on a ship with a piano and a disaster of some kind, I forget.Is this the scene with the sinking ship from (I think) 140: The Flu? I don't remember a piano, just Captain Festerspoon not going down with his ship.
M.K.: sounds right.
Donald Lancon: Where did OBKB (``oh-be-kay-be'') come from? Was it from Bill Cosby, the Little Rascals, or something else?
M.K.: obkb was melissa's expression, i incorporated it.
D.L.: Why is ``New Addition'' (#108) your least-favorite CEIA episode?
M.K.: new addition was poorly directed and the experience was abyssmal, i thought it was an underutilized script
D.L.: In many (if not all) of the episodes, there's a picture of a bride and groom on Clarissa's mirror in her room. Do you know who the people in that photo are?
M.K.: i have no idea
There's been some (half-serious) discussion on the list about holding a
CEIA convention -- possibly next summer. [As someone once said on the list,
``Are we as bad as trekkies yet?''
How would you feel about that? Would
you be willing to take part?
D.L.: This one is a little involved... On 3 Mar 94, ``urien'' (the CEIA editor who posted the official titles to the list) said:
A little Clarissa trivia... The JenMac Industries that appears in the credits of some of the shows are the names of Mitchell Kriegmans children (or so I've been told).You said:
i have two kids - mac and jake - 4/2. and clarissa was already done when mac was born.But this doesn't compute. If Mac is 4, then he was born during the second season, right? Anyway, from the names it looks like ``urien'' was wrong! (Besides, JenMac Industries appeared in the credits of the very first episode, produced in Mar 91, so it couldn't have been named after Mac.) So what's the real story on JenMac Industries?
M.K.: jenmac is a play on my wife's name, it was a dedication to my wife.
Don Ferry: a question to Mitchell would be in what direction he would have taken CEIA and how he would have directed Melissa in Clueless would be in order. Since Nick stiffled his creativity, why couldn't he work with Melissa in a different setting.
M.K.: the series is tied to nick and melissa and i tried to work elsewhere but she kept making deals with viacom
D.F.: To me Melissa looked her best when she had her hair framing her face. When she had her hair up she in some cases looked almost fatfaced. The question is do you think there is a best camera angle to shoot Melissa from. What I mean here is that on CEIA she was the main object. To me the camera a little below her eye level shooting a little up shows her best shooting angle. I don't see her image coming out that ``attractive '' on film - not stills mind you- with her hair up or short - the way she likes to wear it. Also on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Touched by an Angel being short (I mean Melissa) the camera seems to shoot down on her face - to me a bad combination! Any comments?
M.K.: i had very specific ideas about shooting melissa because of her height and color and look. against conventional wisdom (and most of my directors) i lowered the pedestal (what makes camera go up and down) to a dead on height or lower so it would be more intimate. hair is more subjective. it's basically the dilemma with shooting kids. producers don't think about it.
D.F.: There seems to be a dearth of close female friends to Clarissa! Was this designed to give more attention to Melissa; or is it not an issue! To me with her on different shows its just a little hard to drag her character out of the other women actresses. Such as in Twisted Desire; where the other woman actor kind of outshown her. Could just be the poor scripting of course. Too CEIA was family orientated. Still like Alex Mack - well she has other close girl friends? Any comments?
M.K.: i tried, she was competitive and we had trouble finding anyone good enough in florida. i think melissa really wanted someone to play off of but we never found anyone good enough.
Lars H.: Tom [Huston] said:
Melissa was born without the two top laterals ( a very common birth defect). Her brother Brian has the same two teeth missing.Is this true about her missing teeth?
M.K.: you know more about dentistry than i do.
Jason Jones: You mentioned that your initial script for ``Clarissa Now'' was rejected by those incompetent pea-brains over at CBS; could you put a copy of it on the internet? You could send a copy to Donald, which he could then place on his web-site and ftp-site. If you need any help doing this, just let me or Donald know and one of us will walk you through it (it shouldn't be hard if the script is saved in a text file somewhere). Well, I'd really like to read it if it's not too much trouble.
M.K.: i'll get back to you about the script.
Dave Harris: What can you tell us about Clarissa's computer and the things she did with it? A magazine article says Derek Grime `created' CEIA (or at least these sequences), but there's no mention of him in the credits.
M.K.: the magazine writer was inaccurate. derek grimes either mispoke or was misquoted. he was hired for a very short time to produce some of the computer games on the show, but all the games were developed by me or the writers first.
D.H.: Elizabeth Hess isn't the one who won the National Spelling Bee in1953, is she? (Janet Darling doesn't look 50.)
M.K.: i have no idea.
Jason Jones: Which television shows, books, actors, writers, etc. have had the greatest influence on your work?
M.K.: the twilight zone, gabriel garcia marquez, moby dick
J.J.: In the latest list poll, one of the questions -- the most difficult question, in my opinion -- asked, ``What are your 5 favorite television shows of all time?'' What would your answers be?
J.J.: Are you planning on creating another CEIA-type show in the future?
M.K.: always planning
Lars H.: Were the opening title sequence and bumpers shot directly against the white background, or were they shot using chroma-keying?
M.K.: directly against white and adjusted with ped.
L.H.: Who prepared the food that is shown in some of the kitchen scenes? I assume that at least some of it was real, since we sometimes see the Darlings partaking of it. What happened to the leftovers?
M.K.: props, they rarely had to actually eat it.
John Heppen: Were there any creative differences with Melissa about the show?
M.K.: none that i remember
Harry Murchison: on the clarissa and the striaght jackets cd, some people think rachel sweet is doing the vocals not melissa. any truth to this? no one is directly credited for the singing on the cd, mjh is only credited for performing clarissa, and rachel for producing. i thought you would know, being your previous answer about your envolvment (or lack of it_ after nick and sony changed it some much)
M.K.: both, we layered melissa's voice and rachel added further tracks
H.M.: clarissa uses a phrase while talking on the phone to jody, in the episode ``bake a cake'' #110:
is it ``Oh-be kay-be... Abyssinia... Bye... So long... Bye...'' or,
is it ``obkb...ibcn ya....bye...so long...bye...''
M.K.: abyssina is my joke - an old vaudeville play on i'll be seeing you
Donald Lancon: You said of the CEIA bumpers, ``We shot bumpers at the same time we shot titles.'' Well, Lars H. and I disagree about what you meant by this, so we need some clarification. Did you mean: (1) the season 1 and 2 bumpers were shot when the original opening titles sequence was shot and the season 3 and 4 bumpers were shot when the new opening was shot, or (2) all of the bumpers were shot when the original opening was shot?
Harry Murchison: to this question : What are the real official episode titles? (There are discrepancies between the titles posted by a CEIA editor and the ones currently used by Nickelodeon in their AOL folder.) you wrote: (can't help you much on the dates of episodes but eventually I'll try and find all the original names and send them.) the original names would be of great assistance to getting dcljrs info on his web site as close to perfect as it can be =)
M.K.: no time
H.M.: last but not least is there any way you would send a photo of yourself to post on dcljr's web site next to these questions? if you can't send one, is there any magazine, events or newspaper article you can remember being photographed in?
M.K.: no photo
Donald Lancon: You said, about whether it was Melissa or Rachel singing on the album This is What 'Na Na' Means: ``both, we layered melissa's voice and rachel added further tracks''. I need clarification on this. (!) First of all, did Melissa _not_ sing on any of the songs? Second, did Rachel _not_ sing on any of the songs? Third, on the songs where both of them sang, would you say that the vocals are _primarily_ Melissa's, with Rachel merely providing ``additional'' or ``supporting'' vocals? Finally, this may sound silly, but I'd like to know: how would you break down the contributions made by each of them to the vocals on the album? Melissa/Rachel = 50/50? 80/20? 30/70? ...
M.K.: mostly melissa, i'd say 60/40. melissa's on all songs.
H.M.: just ordered some copies of one of your books Clarissa's All-In-One Perfect Complete Book of Everything Important (Until I Change My Mind), hopefully it will be in a coulpe of weeks. the reason i bring this up is because i would like to know if there are any other books you have written that i can get my hands on?
M.K.: short stories in a literay magazine "Between C&D." A short story in the New Yorker, National Lampoon pieces, no other books.
According to info found on the net by Harry Murchison:
The Disney Channel revealed a major original programming development slate and a new logo for the network as part of its commitment to deliver kid-driven family programming.
Projects include: (all titles are working titles)
-- ``Bear in the Big Blue House'' -- a Jim Henson production being created by Mitchell Kriegman. A big bear puppet hosts a half hour of storytelling and creative play.
-- ``Attention Earthlings'' -- a Jim Henson production being developed by Kriegman. A daily comedic game show where contestants compete to defend the planet Earth against alien invaders.
-- ``Take My Family, Please'' -- a Jim Henson production being developed by Kriegman. A sit-com in which a family breaks the fourth wall to tell us their story.
Mitchell said before:
while we're on the subject let me say this about talking to the camera. I never considered that we were ``breaking the fourth wall.'' I don't think there is a fourth wall on tv.
so has he changed his mind? or is this just the same type of description giving to characters talking to the tv?
He asked Mitchell directly and got this response:
M.K.: the press release descriptions are simply a press agent's understanding of the show and rarely reflects the showmakers actual idea. certainly in this case, not mine. nope. i still don't believe in the "fourth wall" in the traditional theatrical sense. i think it's all about your imagination. anyway - you certainly have your ears to the tracks. those are my shows and hopefully the disney channel will be a more interesting place to watch next fall.
You can read a profile of Mitchell Kriegman (and see a picture of him) at Ultimate TV.
You can hear him talking about his new series, Bear in the Blue House, at NewStream (requires RealAudio or RealPlayer).
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