Melissa Joan Hart on How 'Christmas Reservations' Channels 'The Love Boat'

Michael Maloney
Q&A Lifetime

It may not be even Thanksgiving yet, but Christmas-themed movies are in full swing on Lifetime.

Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch; Melissa & Joey), Michael Gross (Family Ties), and Ted McGinley (Hope & Faith) star in Christmas Reservations. Hart plays Holly, a devoted daughter, who manages the Treeline Ski Resort with her father (Gross). She has no one to smooch with under the mistletoe but her widowed, former college flame Kevin (Ricardo Chavira, Desperate Housewives) checking in to the resort may change all that. There are other stories going on, featuring some familiar races, prompting comparisons of Christmas Reservations to The Love Boat.

TV Insider sat down with Hart to chat about her Lifetime movie, other projects, including directing upcoming episodes of The Goldbergs and Young Sheldon, how the late Garry Marshall became her mentor, and which of her many series she’d like to see revived. Read on to get the scoop!

Battle of the TV Christmas Movies: Hallmark Channel vs. Lifetime

Battle of the TV Christmas Movies: Hallmark Channel vs. Lifetime

Both networks are airing Christmas movies 24/7.

What attracted you to Reservations for Christmas?

Melissa Joan Hart: I love doing these movies where there’s not always a happy ending, but this one is different in that it’s like The Love Boat. Michael Gross plays my dad and he and I own this holiday inn and everybody shows up for Christmas week. As everyone arrives, just like The Love Boat, you know who’s going to be paired up, and you go on the ride. We have a fabulous cast including Ted McGinley.

Speaking of The Love Boat!

Exactly. In fact, he’s the one I think who came up with the similarities [between the two]. I was like, ‘Oh, thank you! That helps me!’ Ted was so good with me [as Sam] on No Good Nick on Netflix. His lovely wife, Gigi [Rice, Army Wives], who did two episodes of No Good Nick, is hilarious. I had really wanted to work with Markie Post (Night Court) again. She had played my mom in Holidays in Handcuffs. There were roles for two sisters in this and I thought Markie and Gigi look identical.

Lifetime

I think TV viewers have been getting them mixed up for years!

[Laughs] That’s what Gigi says. I told Gigi I want you in a movie with Markie Post. She said, ‘I’m asked almost every day if I was on Night Court. They finally got to meet, hang out and work together. They’re in a great story about two sisters. Gigi and Ted’s characters connect. Ricardo and my characters catered together in college and our relationship is rekindled.

What are the challenges in bringing believable conflict to an upbeat holiday movie?

For Holly, it’s asking why isn’t she in a committed relationship? Why hasn’t she had one before? In her case, she’s a workaholic and didn’t want to give up on her father after her mother passed away. Kevin has kids and a life in the city. She’s got her dad and the lodge. The question becomes which one of them is going to give? Which one has to make the change in their life? That’s the obstacle.

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'The Facts of Life' Cast Reunites in Lifetime's 'You Light Up My Christmas'

The holiday movie, starring Kim Fields, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Nancy McKeon, premieres on December 1.

In Gigi and Markie’s story, Markie’s character has a health scare and she’s waiting on a call from a doctor. She hasn’t told Kay [Gigi’s character], who wants to have fun. I think one reason these holiday movies are so well-received is that they’re about what people want – joy and happiness in their lives. But, in real-life, the holidays can be incredibly stressful. People are worried about money, being lonely; they’re battling stress maybe from having lost someone or being alone. There’s stress from getting the cards out, decorating, fighting for parking spaces…

"Whose house do we go to?"

Yes. Or if you have to go to a tacky sweater party and getting cookies ready for Santa. My mother-in-law loves watching these movies. Viewers can sit down, take a breath, and enjoy a little escapism. They can put a smile on your face and help relieve stress.

Were you a fan of Family Ties?

Yes. While we were shooting the movie, we had the cast over for dinner and we’d go for hikes. My kids hadn’t seen Family Ties so, we started watching it. When I was promoting No Good Nick, I found it hard to describe. There weren’t a lot of shows I could point to and say it’s like this. Then I realized, ‘Oh, it’s like Family Ties. They deal with some tough stuff but they also have great jokes. They really go to some deep places.’

What else is going on?

I’m directing a lot. I have an episode of The Goldbergs airing on Thanksgiving week. I’m [directing] two Netflix shows — the Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia, which is a Mario Lopez-produced show and a big Olympics episode of The Big Show Show. In January, I’m directing Young Sheldon. Right now, I can be a mom for the holidays, and then I have a slate of Lifetime movies next year.

How did you get into directing?

It was during Sabrina. We were a hybrid show [of live action and special effects]. Directors would come in and they weren’t familiar with what we did. [Chuckles] They got sick of me bossing them around! My mom, [Paula Hart, executive producer of Sabrina], said,’Here’s your DGA [Directors Guild of America] card. You’re directing the next episode.’ Later, I had it built into my contract that I’d direct my own stuff. It’s nice to have these opportunities. Lifetime has been giving these opportunities [to women directors] for years. Directing is more creatively fulfilling [for me].

More than acting is?

Yeah. When I direct, I get to make the vision come true. It’s also really daunting. I have to think about so much like how I’ll cut the film. When I directed The Santa Con, after reading the script, I saw a big problem would be giving [a character] a big duffle bag to carry around [which the script called for]. We ended up giving him a [lighter] backpack, something easier to handle. After I directed The Watcher in the Woods starring Anjelica Huston, I turned to my mom, who is my producing partner, and said, ‘I just want to be in a Christmas movie and say fun things.’ After I do that, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m ready to be the boss again.’

Do you have to shut off the part of your brain  off when you go back to acting?

I never do. I’ve been in the business too long [to not speak up]. I’ve always been a loudmouth. A director said to me once, ‘I want to be there when you direct.’ So, when I directed Sabrina for the first time, I called him up and said, ‘C'mon. You can be an extra.’ But he was on location.

Who helped you with directing?

[The late] Garry Marshall (Happy Days; Pretty Woman] helped me out quite a bit. He was a mentor of mine. I got his number from either Henry Winkler or Anson Williams — both had directed Sabrina. I had a script I really wanted to get to Garry. I was told he either loves you or [not]. I called him up and he said he was going to Hawaii with his family for the holidays very shortly. I thought oh, OK. But then, he says, ‘So, send it to me and I’ll read it right away.’ We ended up doing other things together. He did a cameo in a movie for me. He really helped bring me along.

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What was the best advice he ever gave you?

He said, ‘Don’t forget to tell the story.’ There are all these things that directors have to keep track of, but make sure you don’t forget to tell the story.

Of all your series, which one would you like to see revived?

Everyone knows me from Clarissa and Sabrina. But the show I’d love to go back to is Melissa & Joey [with Joey Lawrence]. It was so much fun. I recently re-watched the pilot and I forgot how funny the show is. It’s a really good show. Picking a favorite show is like picking a favorite child. But I had the most fun on Melissa & Joey. I wanted to be the ‘loose cannon’ character on that series and I was.

Circling back to Christmas Reservations – could it turn into a TV series or a series of movies?

We were having so much fun on set that we started talking – New Year’s Reservations? Valentine’s Day Reservations? Passover Reservations? How many could we do? It could be a Love Boat-style series, for sure. Nobody’s talked about it [officially] yet. It’ll depend on the numbers.

Christmas Reservations, Saturday, November 2, 8/7c, Lifetime