It’s been over 20 years since Sabrina The Teenage Witch premiered on ABC’s coveted TGIF line-up, but the show is still incredibly memorable. It had more than its share of warm and funny characters, like Sabrina’s witch aunts, the talking cat Salem, and of course, Sabrina herself. It also featured some pretty creative storylines and a few downright bizarre episodes, like one about pancake addiction. Sabrina also sported a who’s who of late ‘90s and early 2000s guest stars, like Britney Spears, Coolio, The Backstreet Boys, and naturally, Jerry Springer. It also cycled through a lot of characters, some that left with explanation, some that just completely disappeared, and some that left and then later came back (hello, Harvey!).
But perhaps the most fascinating aspect about Sabrina is that, considering how zany and occasionally non-sensical it was, the show was often tongue-in-cheek with its writing. There were little references to other famous witches sprinkled throughout the show, lots of juicy witch trial history tied into plot lines and back stories, and Sabrina’s mishaps with magic always made for an entertaining, bingeable show.
Let’s get out our Time Balls, go back 20 or so years, and revisit some surprising facts you probably didn’t know from Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
15. The Sabrina character got her start in Archie comics
Sabrina made her debut in Archie’s Madhouse #22, one of the most sought-out Archie issues in the modern era. She was supposed to be a one-off character, but fans wanted more of her. Archie writer and Sabrina creator, George Gladir, said he was “flabbergasted” when she got her own animated TV spin-off in 1970.
Gladir named Sabrina after a woman he remembered from his junior high years because he thought the name sounded very New England. The woman’s name was actually Sabra, not Sabrina as he’d originally recalled, but the name stuck. The character’s first origin story in the comics was that she was the result of an accident by her Aunts Hilda and Zelda after a magic potion went wrong. However, in the more recent comics and in the TV series, she’s half-witch and half-mortal (her mother is mortal and her father is a witch). Oh and there’s that strange little detail that she cannot see her mother or else she’ll turn into a ball of wax.
14. The show started as a Made-for-TV Movie
The show’s pilot was a made-for-TV movie that aired on Showtime in 1996. Sabrina was played by Melissa Joan Hart, but her last name was Sawyer and not Spellman. The aunts were played by different actresses, and Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds plays one of her love interests, Seth. She ends up with Harvey Kinkle (spoiler alert!), who is played by Tobias Mehler, who you might recognize as Zak Adama from Battlestar Galactica or as Lieutenant Graham Simmons in Stargate SG-1.
The movie was set in Riverdale, where the Archie gang lives, rather than Greendale where she lives in most of the comics. Michelle Beaudoin, who played Melissa’s best friend in the film, also shows up in season 1 of the TV show. But like so many other characters, Jenny disappears come season 2 with no explanation.
13. You can visit Sabrina’s house – if you’re really nice about it
The TV series takes place in the fictional Boston suburb of Westbridge, Massachusetts for most of the series. It has the zip code 01970, which is the same zip code of Salem, a New England coastal city notorious in the history book for its “witches.” The Spellman’s Manor is located at 133 Collins Road, which is possibly a reference to the 1960s TV show Dark Shadows (Angelique Collins was a witch on the show).
The house used for outside shots of the Spellman’s Manor and the building used for Sabrina’s school are actually located in New Jersey, not Massachusetts. You can actually visit the Spellman house if you make the trip to Freehold, NJ. It’s the real-world home to several businesses, some of which will let you peek inside if you keep it brief!
12. Sabrina’s Aunts Looked Very Different in the 1960s
Sabrina’s Aunts Hilda and Zelda looked like traditional witches in the 1960s comics and nothing like they did on the show. Hilda had dark hair and green skin and was originally known as Hilda the Witch in the Archie Comics. Aunt Zelda was depicted as short and stout with green hair, and she had a zany personality, very unlike the serious college professor Zelda in the show.
It wasn’t until the ’90s comics when they got a more modern look to match the live-action sitcom’s characters, played by Caroline Rhea (Hilda) and Beth Broderick (Zelda). Both actresses left the show at the end of the sixth season, but Caroline Rhea’s Hilda returned for the season finale in season 7. Aunt Zelda also made an appearance, but in the form of a candle. Remember how Sabrina’s mother would turn into a ball of wax if Sabrina looked at her? Well, in the finale, Sabrina and Aunt Hilda sacrifice Zelda to The Witches Council so Sabrina’s mother can attend the wedding.
11. An accomplished film director played Sabrina’s Teacher
Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids and the new Ghostbusters, starred in the first season as Sabrina’s biology teacher, Mr. Eugene Pool. Sabrina’s favorite teacher, Mr. Pool had all sorts of talents, like martial arts and a knack for picking up odd jobs. Like many characters in Sabrina, Mr. Pool disappeared without any explanation.
Will Kraft, played by Roseanne’s Martin Mull, replaced Mr. Pool in the second season as the hard-nosed principal of Westbridge High. No offense to Mr. Pool, but Mr. Kraft had a much more interesting storyline. For one thing, he has a thing for witches. His ex-wife Lucy is a witch and he fell for Hilda and Zelda at various times! His name, of course, is also a play on “witchcraft”, so he was destined to fall for these immortal ladies.
Paul Feig probably had better things to do, like creating a little show called Freaks and Geeks, which aired a few years after.
10. Melissa Joan Hart’s favorite episode is a weird one
Melissa Joan Hart’s favorite episode was “Pancake Madness” from Season 3. It’s also a fan favorite and probably one of the weirdest Sabrina episodes ever (which is really saying something), as it revealed the Spellmans’ addiction to the breakfast food. A play off of the “very special episodes” from sitcoms in the ’80s and ’90s, the episode explores Sabrina’s harrowing addiction to…pancakes. The wacky adventure opens with Sabrina evoking pancakes for her breakfast. Her aunts freak out because the Spellman family has a history of addiction to the beloved breakfast food. Sabrina doesn’t care and takes a bite anyway, and she instantly falls into a cake-hole.
Hart revealed to EW that it was a personal favorite, saying “It was probably my most fun episode. I just remember digging through garbage cans and having the syrup woman dancing around me in an IHOP place. It’s just those fun, silly moments and the physical comedy. The writing was really smart on that one. When the crew still giggled on-set when we were filming it, after they’d already heard it in rehearsal, I knew, ‘Okay, this is a good one.’”
9. There were many Salems
Other than Sabrina, the talking cat Salem Saberhagen is probably the most well-known and beloved character from the entire series. Once a witch himself, Salem was sentenced by the Witch’s Council to spend an indefinite amount of time as a cat. Why such a strict punishment? Well, he was trying to take over the world!
Salem the cat was played by five different real cats named Elvis, Warlock, Lucy, Salem, and Witch. Most of TV Salem’s scenes, however, were played by an animatronic puppet that was controlled by three puppeteers, who could manipulate Salem’s body in more than 30 ways. The Salem puppets were so realistic that some cast members forgot that he wasn’t a real cat. In an interview with Romper, Beth Broderick recalled, “I often petted the puppets forgetting that they were not real.”
8. Salem Was Everywhere, All the Time
Salem is the only character other than Sabrina herself to appear in every episode of the TV show. Salem also appeared in other ABC TGIF shows, including Boy Meets World, Teen Angel, and You Wish. In the Boy Meets World episode, Salem uses a time ball to transport Cory Matthews and the gang back to the 1940s, and Cory goes off to fight in World War II and leaves Topanga behind. The Teen Angel and You Wish Salem episodes were also time travel themed, with characters getting transported to the 1970s and 1960s, respectively.
Other characters throughout the series seemed to leave and come back sporadically, some with a reason and some completely randomly. Salem, however, was always a reliable presence on the series, even if he would have had an excuse for an absence or two. He’s off time traveling, duh.
7. Salem’s Voice Actor Is Also Everywhere
Salem was voiced by Nick Bakay, an actor, producer, voice actor, and sportscaster on ESPN. He created the TV series King of Queens, starring Kevin James, and wrote Paul Blart: Mall Cop as well as it’s sequel Paul Blart 2, which also starred James. He was the voice of Salem in both the live-action series, Sabrina: The Animated Series, and in the video games (spoiler alert for #4 on our list). His pipes also brought to life Norbert Beaver, one of the two main characters in the popular late ’90s Nickelodeon series, The Angry Beavers.
Bakay writes a weekly column for NFL.com, appears on SportsCenter on ESPN during regular football season, and he even had his own show on ESPN radio. In the episode “Jealousy,” Salem says, “I need to call in to Nick Bakay’s sports show on ESPN radio. All he ever talks about is the Buffalo Bills, and his voice? LORD, is it annoying!”
6. There Was a Not-So-Discrete Movie Promo
Another wink to reality comes in the episode “No Place Like Home”, in which Britney Spears makes a guest appearance and sings her hit single, “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” Melissa Joan Hart starred in the movie Drive Me Crazy with Adrian Grenier in 1999, and Britney’s appearance was meant to promote it — she even name drops the movie title in casual dialogue. Hart also appeared in the music video for “(You Drive Me) Crazy” along with Grenier. The pair later made a guest appearance in MTV’s Making the Video along with Britney for the song.
Despite all of the promotion, a hit song, and two cute lead actors, the movie wasn’t very well received by critics. Movie critic Roger Ebert noted that it was “maybe the eighth movie of 1999 to hinge on a date to the big high school dance.”
5. Sabrina Was a Family Affair
Melissa Joan Hart’s younger sister, Emily Hart, played Sabrina’s bratty cousin Amanda throughout the series. She also voiced Sabrina in the late ’90s Sabrina: The Animated Series, while big sis Melissa voiced Sabrina’s Aunts Hilda and Zelda. Emily was also set to star in a live action Sabrina spin-off on the WB, complete with her own pilot episode, but it never got picked up.
“Sabrina will be on for quite some time,” noted Sabrina executive producer Paula Hart at the time. “But as she’s growing older, it’s time to fill those shoes again with a younger witch.” Paula Hart, as you might have guessed, is Melissa and Emily’s mother, and she served as executive producer for the entire run of the series through her Hartbreak Films production company.
4. There Are Sabrina Video Games
Speaking of Cousin Amanda, she’s the main antagonist in the second Sabrina video game for the PC, Brat Attack. Emily Hart voiced her character in said game, along with Melissa Joan Hart and Nick Bakay as Salem (as we’ve already spoiled for you). The first PC game was called Spellbound, where the player has the simple goal of becoming a licensed witch. There was also a PlayStation game called A Twitch in Time, where you must solve puzzles and use magic to restore a chaotic world back to peace…you know, just like Sabrina does on the show! Players can also change Sabrina’s outfits and travel to different locations.
You might recall that Melissa Joan Hart also starred in a few PC game adaptations of another ’90s series, Clarissa Explains It All. However, those were fictional games Clarissa made to solve problems and foil her little brother Ferguson. You can still actually purchase A Twitch in Time on Amazon, if you were so inclined.
3. There was a Turkish version of Sabrina
Acemi Cadi, which translates to “Novice Witch,” aired from 2005-2007 on Turkey’s Star TV. The premise is pretty similar to the American series: a teenage girl named Ayşegül learns that she’s a witch on her birthday. She also finds out that the two aunts she lives with, Selda and Melda, are also witches. And her beloved cat Duman? He can talk!
Unlike our Salem, Duman is a large fluffy gray cat, which is totally an acceptable cat for a witch to have. Her Harvey is a boy named Selim and, like our Sabrina, she’s constantly at odds with the popular group at school. Merve Boluğur, who played Ayşegül, has starred in multiple sitcoms in her home country, much like her American counterpart, Melissa Joan Hart.
2. Sabrina Had Its Critics
Sabrina had some vocal critics when it debuted. Televangelist Pat Robertson called Sabrina “an example of insidious New Age thinking.” Although the Hart family is Catholic and considered themselves to be “church-going” people, Paula and Melissa could still see the humor and fun in the magic of Sabrina when they developed the series. Beth Broderick (Aunt Zelda) recalled the backlash to a witch-themed show to the website Romper, saying, “There were a few nuts who sent us bibles and told us we were going to hell, but Sabrina was embraced by cultures all over the world.”
Another somewhat surprising critic was Elvira, the famed Mistress of the Dark. In 2009, Elvira told A.V. Club that Sabrina was a rip-off of her never-aired sitcom, The Elvira Show. “The talking black cat, the two old aunts, the teenage girl—the whole damn thing—and they [the network] released it the following year. It just focused on the teenage lead instead of me.”
1. A Sabrina Reboot Isn’t Happening
Despite many rumors, the Sabrina reboot probably won’t happen according to Melissa Joan Hart. As the actress told Digital Spy in 2016, “There’s no reboot – just so you know. That’s all rumors. There’s nothing going on. I do think there will be a lot of people interested in doing it should something come about.”
On the bright side, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the showrunner of Riverdale over on The CW, said that the character of Sabrina will eventually make an appearance, but that she’ll be a lot different from Melissa’s version. (As you might recall, Sabrina was from Greendale in the comics, on the other side of the Sweetwater River from Riverdale). He told The Wrap that his vision for Sabrina is even darker than what has happened in the first season of Riverdale. “There’s sort of that mythic idea that on one side of the river there’s one reality and on the other side of the river there’s another reality. So who knows? But yeah, there’s definitely a universe where Sabrina pops up in Riverdale, or there’s a version of Sabrina that exists in her own witchy bubble.”
Hopefully, we’ll see Sabrina the Teenage Witch again in some form soon.
Do you know of any other fun facts about Sabrina the Teenage Witch? Does she deserve her own show, or is she a better fit to join the cast of Riverdale? Sound off in the comments.