MELISSA & JOEY: Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence Interview (2011)

Joey Lawrence and Melissa Joan Hart of "Melissa & Joey"

Last summer saw the debut of ABC Family’s hilarious new series MELISSA & JOEY starring Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence. As a family show, the series focuses on the challenges of a fun-loving politician who, after taking in her teenage niece and nephew after their parents are caught up in an criminal scandal, hires a manny to help out — a former business executive and money manager who just happened to be one of the victims of a ponzi-scheme scandal. The daily travails and conflicts of this make-shift family leads to much comedic tension and provides a light family drama as they all attempt to navigate the tenuous familial life created out of the most absurd circumstances.

As fans of My Fake Fiancé already know, the chemistry between Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence is dazzling. Whenever they are on screen together, they are riveting. While the show does not overtly focus on the will-they-or-wont-they kind of romantic entanglement, seeing Melissa and Joey’s characters dance around each other as they simultaneously strive to provide parental guidance to Ryder and Lennox — it is clear that they are not only role models for them, but they are also the bookends for their lives in this mixed-up world of comedy laced with a golden heart.

MELISSA & JOEY is about family in the most unusual of circumstances and how love grows in the midst of comedic, and yet perhaps predestined relationships. Family is not something that you have to be born into — it is the people that love you and care for you no matter what the circumstances.

Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence

What’s next on MELISSA & JOEY?
Melissa:  The first 12 will be released on DVD and then on June 29th we launch with the rest of the season.  We’re excited about the new season — actually, it’s the second half of the 1st season , which was split up into 12 episodes for the first half and 18 for the second half, which nobody has seen yet.  In the beginning, what everyone has seen was just warming up.  The first 12 were essentially us just getting our groove and now the next 18 is kind of figuring out where the show lives.  So the next 18 will develop even more, even richer stories.
Joey:  Like a pot coffee, the longer it sits, it just gets darker and richer.  That’s kind of how we do comedy.
Melissa:  But not cold.
Joey:  No, no, no.  It’s hot. It’s in the pot.

Did you film all 30 episodes straight through?
Melissa:  Yeah.  We just finished up a couple weeks ago.  My skin’s finally clearing up and I’m finally able to lose some weight.
Joey:  It’s pretty amazing.  You don’t think it takes its toll, but really it is.  Every week it’s like its own final exam.  You start Monday and there’s a deadline Friday and there’s 45 pages to memorize, and when you’ve got kids, it changes constantly.  It’s a live performance every Friday night.  We did it for like 11 month straight, pretty much.  So you don’t feel it, but at the end — it’s a grind.  But it really is an awesome ride.  After 11 months, it’s good to have a few months off, and then hopefully go back to work.

Will the tone stay light or will the show explore darker storylines?
Melissa:  It’s a combination.  We don’t have those ‘very special’ episodes.  It’s going to be straight comedy.  The exciting thing about this is ABC Family will have its first original programming on Wednesday nights, but it will also have its first comedy block, including the launch of STATE OF GEORGIA.  We’re always going to keep it light.  We have some great guest stars in the next episodes.  We have Vivica Fox and Joey’s brothers — who come in two different capacities, Matt and Andy.
Joey:  John Ratzenberger.
Melissa:  And in the first episode back, [Joey’s] ex-wife comes back.
Joey:  Not my real ex-wife.  The character’s ex-wife.  I’m so relieved about that, I can’t even tell you.

Will the character Joey still be living in the basement?
Joey:  Yep, I’m still in the ‘man cave.’

Will we see more of your ‘man cave’ living environment?
Joey:  I think so.  Yeah, it all leads up to a sort of interesting finale. . .  We can do things on ABC Family that we couldn’t do on  ABC proper, and that’s what’s kind of cool.  We get away with jokes that I don’t think we’d be able to get away with otherwise.

What has been your favorite storyline so far?
Melissa:  I liked Japan and before that the DANCING WITH THE STARS.  There’s a Japanese businessman in an upcoming episode who is opening up a business, so I as a representative of Toledo, I try to convince him, but I can’t speak Japanese, but Joey does.
Joey:  [My character] was born on a military base in Korea, and I speak the language, so I come and sort of translate and then chaos ensues.  It’s funny.

Will there be more sexual tension on the show between the characters?
Joey:  It has to sneak up on you.  If you just hit people with sexual tension right off, by 30 episodes in, you’re bored.  So I think it has to be a gradual build.
Melissa:  There’s definitely sexual tension laced throughout every show.  But for our characters’ relationship, is that we don’t like each other, but we need each other.  So really that’s what the comedy is from.  And through the show you see us as the relationship definitely develops to the point we respect each other, we don’t always get along, or even do things the same way — it’s kind of husband-wife, but really we’re brother-and-sister. Also where the comedy comes from is neither of us know how to be parents.  So we’re constantly struggling with how to do it.

Did you draw from your own parenting for your characters?
Melissa:  I sort of based the character on the opposite of what I do for my kids.  So all those natural instincts, this character has none of those.  She’s a party girl who is a politician.  What does she know about raising kids?  So basically I play the character the exact opposite of what I would do.
Joey:  These kids are old.  They are not 8.  They are 15 and 17.  So it’s really more like aunt and uncle.  So I associate Joe Longo’s relationship with Ryder, who is 15 turning 16 on the show, more like I would with my sibling Andy, who I am 11 years older than.  It’s really more like that.  So I think it’s more of you can get away with saying things that a parent necessarily couldn’t.  You have an opportunity to get through to young people more than a parent would because they associate you with an older peer than a parental figure.  And these kids are so old, it would be impossible.

What do you see in your young co-stars?
Melissa:  Taylor is very smart. She is a firecracker.  We’ve become good friends and she has her head on right.  What’s really great about her is she’s very willing to look, observer and learn and ask questions.  She comes from the soap opera world, so there was a little breaking her into the comedy, but she’s really taken to it.  She’s willing to take any advice, and any time we give them tips, they totally take it.  Nick is fantastic.  He has great natural instincts.  He’s just delightful.  So we’ve all become very close.  . . It’s really fun to watch them ’cause it’s a different time than when we were growing up.

Will the show be incorporating more physical comedy?
Melissa:  Wherever possible.
Joey:  She loves the physical comedy.

In a special catch-up opportunity, the first half of MELISSA & JOEY’s first season was released on DVD on May 24th by Shout! Factory. The 12-episode set features not only full episodes, but behind-the-scenes bloopers, featurettes and a sneak peek at where the remainder of the season picks up. For those who missed seeing this fun show previously, this is the perfect chance to check it out and find out why it has enchanted families from around the world.

Be sure to tune into MELISSA & JOEY’s second half of their first season when it returns on Wednesday, June 29th at 8 pm on ABC Family Channel.

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Joey Lawrence and Melissa Joan Hart of "Melissa & Joey"
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