Image Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC FamilyLast Tuesday night, ABC Family’s cheesy, throwback-y new sitcom Melissa & Joey became the network’s biggest series debut in Adults 18-49, with 1.3 million in that age range tuning in to the decidedly nostalgic vibe of the show. The total viewership — a whopping 2.2 million viewers! — wasn’t shabby either, besting the viewership of shows across the cable and broadcast network spectrum. We’ll see how those numbers hold up — will people come back? — after tonight’s episode. In the meantime, EW got the chance to sit down with the show’s two stars, Melissa Joan Hart (hi, Clarissa…or Sabrina!) and Joey Lawrence (hi, Joey…or Joey!), to chat about how the show came together, what it’s all about, all that nostalgia, and which of their former sitcoms they’d reboot today if they had the choice.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How’d it come together for you guys to do this show?
MELISSA JOAN HART: The first time we got to work together was [the ABC Family original movie] My Fake Fiancé. Both of us just work together really well and from there we knew we wanted to spin-off and do something in television, and ABC Family agreed. We all came together and ABC Family had the concept, we had characters we wanted to play.
So, wait, whose idea was it?
MELISSA: Well, ABC Family had the same idea, basically. They were working on it from their end and we were like “oh, we should do this.” They had the concept — we had the idea to keep going together.
JOEY: They asked if we would be interested in continuing the dynamic of the characters that we able to tap into in the movie. We were open to it and then the discussion grew into larger talks and more talks and we talked to the writers and now here we are.
And it’s taped in front of a live studio audience?
MELISSA: It is, and we actually say in the beginning of the show. “This is taped in front of a live audience.” People miss it. I really think that there is this void in television. There are so few sitcoms. Everyone is trying to remake something else. I think that this one does have a little bit of Who’s the Boss? and some Friends humor, kind of Mad About You. We’re moving all the pieces around trying to get a good chemistry here and really make it click with the audience.
With shows like The Big Bang Theory and Hot in Cleveland, the traditional format is certainly enjoying buzz.
JOEY: I think that they thought that reality was going to supersede the half-hour comedy, but with the success of Two and A Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, CBS never really left. The past few years I think that networks have realized maybe it really isn’t gone, I don’t think that it really is gone. I think there’s a definite home for it, it’s great.
MELISSA: So many people have their eyes on ABC Family and so many people of our demographics — 20s, 30s, and 40s — are all watching that channel.
JOEY: It’s not Disney Channel by any means. This is a prime-time show.
MELISSA: We were afraid of the title because we thought that people might think that this is a reality show. That’s not the case. We were afraid that people were going to think that it’s soft, that it’s going to be like a Disney Channel show and then they are going to let their 8-year-old tune in…where I’m in bed with a guy. And it’s like, “Oh, wait…”
ABC Family has been getting edgier and edgier.
JOEY: They have a younger demo than ABC does, and I think that the work they have done in the past two or three years has been amazing. They have had great shows and the ratings have been through the roof. ABC Family is a hot network.
There is a nostalgia factor for you guys, and ABC Family works that really well. How does ABC Family fit for you guys?
MELISSA: They do find that talent that was so popular a little bit ago, and they are able to bring it back. Like, look at [Make it or Break It star] Candice Cameron, totally an adult now with kids, and now she is coming back to television in a really classy way.
Like her, you guys were all from the same era of television.
MELISSA: It’s a time when sitcoms were hot and big and the thing to watch. We were all fans of it, like The Cosby Show and Mad About You. To be able to go and do it again, especially on a network that supports it and knows how to market it and promote it, I think it is an amazing fit.
I feel like the casting folks at the network must use a barometer that measures how much people say, “Aww, I love or I remember them,” about the people in their shows. You guys fall into that category for lots of fans.
JOEY: It makes sense to use people who have had success — they do it in features all the time. The people who have had success, well-known names, put them in projects that are great and people will tune back in because they will not only be interested in the project, but also the people who are in it. It’s like a no-brainer.
MELISSA: Lots of times, networks don’t want to pay for names. They want to find someone new, launch someone new, and pay very little for that.
JOEY: Some of my idols, all those guys come from TV. Michael Douglas, John Travolta, and Tom Hanks, they all came from that half hour of comedy. Jennifer Aniston, Robin Williams, the list goes on and on. I’m happy that they are getting back to it and it will be a platform if we want to do other things.
So, as for the concept of the show, Joe, you’re the “manny” who moves into Melissa’s house?
JOEY: He is kind of the man of the house.
MELISSA: “Manny” is the easiest way to describe it. It’s actually hard to describe because we know it so well.
Is there chemistry bubbling? Or will something romantic happen eventually?
MELISSA: Maybe. But we are working with the network now on when that will happen.
JOEY: It’s the Bruce Willis-Cybill Shepherd model. It is that Moonlighting thing.
MELISSA: It is like Kirstie Alley and Ted Danson in Cheers — like repulsion and attraction at the same time.
JOEY: It’s that push and pull. It’s that classic thing. You don’t want to re-invent that wheel, but we’ve tweaked it a little bit.
MELISSA: We think that when the characters do actually get together, that’s when the show will take another turn. In the first five episodes, I have two where I’m dating and there are two episodes where he’s dating.
JOEY: We’re trying to figure out the dynamic of our relationship. It is very unique in a weird way.
MELISSA: Right off the bat, I bring a boy home. He’s a bad boy, and he thinks that isn’t the type of guy I should be with. I’m telling my niece not to date bad boys and I’m dating one. My 16-year-old niece and I are kind of dating the same guy, and I’m telling her not to.
JOEY: He’s looking out for the kids.
MELISSA: They become a new kind of family, a modern-day family.
Should kids be watching this show?
JOEY: It is definitely PG-13.
MELISSA: I get kind of nervous when 10-year-olds are like, “I can’t wait to see your new show!” I’m like, “How old are you?” If anyone thinks they are going to tune in and see Sabrina or Blossom, it’s not that. It’s for our demographic — college, maybe a little bit of high school. It’s not quite as racy as Two and Half Men, but it’s up there.
Now for a little fun. Reboots are all the rage. Joey, if you had to choose between a Blossom or Gimme A Break! reboot, which would you pick?
JOEY: Blossom, honestly, because I think that it is still relevant today, and I think that Gimme A Break! was too long ago. I think that would have to be completely re-done. Blossom is about a girl coming of age, having to deal with growing up when her mother is leaving, with all boys in the house, trying to find the woman she is. That is a very timeless thing that could be updated very easily.
Now your turn, Melissa. If you had to choose between a Clarissa Explains it All or Sabrina the Teenage Witch reboot, which would you pick?
MELISSA: I think that there is another version of Sabrina out right now called Wizards of Waverly Place. I think that the witch shows are always kind of regenerating. You have some flavors of Clarissa today, too, like iCarly, but what I liked about Clarissa was the amazing writing, the straight-to-camera monologues, breaking the fourth wall, and the animation on screen, which looked so high-tech back then.
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky
More on ‘Melissa & Joey’ from EW.com: