The Televised Adventures of Sabrina

Last week, we saw the premiere of THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA. The dark reimagining of Archie Comics’ famous teenage witch, inspired by the current comic book series of the same name.  This certainly isn’t Sabrina’s first foray into television. In fact, the character has been a regular staple of the small screen for nearly fifty years!

Sabrina’s televised adventures began in 1970 with the debut of her animated series, which would be the first of many.  Produced by Filmation, SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH aka SABRINA AND THE GROOVIE GOOLIES (for real) aired Saturday mornings on CBS and even aired in primetime during syndication.  Originally a spin-off of ARCHIE’S COMEDY HOUR, this series lasted four seasons. It also featured the title character attending Riverdale High and using her magic to fight various villains.  She also kept her magic a secret from her friends, which included several Archie regulars.  

Like many cartoons at the time, the series included a laugh track for some reason. The show ended in ‘74, but Sabrina and the gang would return a few short years later in THE NEW ARCHIE AND SABRINA HOUR.  This cartoon aired on NBC but only lasted thirteen episodes. It was then retooled and eventually canceled due to low ratings.

For nearly twenty years, Miss Spellman’s adventures were confined solely to her comic book series. The airwaves were dominated by shape-shifting robots, irradiated reptiles, and truly, truly outrageous pop stars. By the spring of 1996, something big was on the horizon: the world’s most famous teenaged witch was about to make her long-awaited return!

Sabrina made her live-action debut in a TV movie on Showtime called, appropriately enough, SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH. Starring Melissa Joan Hart (CLARISSA EXPLAINS IT ALL) in the title role of Sabrina Sawyer, the film was basically a supernatural rom-com in the vein of the original comics that inspired it.  The success of the film led to a long-running television series that premiered on the ABC network as part of their TGIF block. This series kept the tone of the film but acted as a soft reboot. It re-cast many of the actors and even (thankfully) bringing back Sabrina’s original surname of “Spellman.” The half-hour sitcom became incredibly popular. Genre television was very limited at the time and modern supernatural comedies were basically unheard of.

Not content with merely adapting and updating the original source material, this show proved to be influential and established many of the tropes now associated with the franchise. Most notably an updated origin for both Sabrina and her pet/familiar Salem. When we first meet our teen heroine, she lives with her aunts Zelda and Hilda (played by Beth Broderick and Caroline Rhea, respectively) and their cat, Salem.  On her sixteenth birthday, she discovers she is a witch and that she is the daughter of a powerful warlock and a mortal woman. Salem is also revealed to be a witch. He was transformed into a cat as punishment for attempting “world domination.” Because cats lead really hard lives, right?

As with most sitcoms, each episode told a one-and-done story. Typically involving Sabrina having to deal with a spell gone awry while attempting to balance high school with her magical life.  Most episodes dealt with her keeping her magic a secret from her friends, which included her boyfriend Harvey, another character from the comics.  After the first season, the series took a more serialised approach and featured multi-episode stories and even season-long arcs. During its final years, Sabrina attended college and even got married… well, almost.

Overall, the character saw a surprisingly long life in this new venue. While the series was cancelled by ABC after four seasons, it was immediately picked up by The WB network for another three seasons! During the series’ run on ABC, the character found new life in a familiar format with the premiere of SABRINA: THE ANIMATED SERIES. This version of the title character was younger than her live-action counterpart. However, featured similar themes, albeit this time in a middle school environment. This series ran for sixty-five episodes and followed by a tv-movie and a short-lived spin-off, SABRINA’S SECRET LIFE.

Following the end of this last series, the characters remained mostly dormant for nearly a decade.  Without any new television prospects, Sabrina was once again relegated to the occasional comic book appearance. The last few years, however, have seen quite the resurgence.  A new animated series, SABRINA: SECRETS OF A TEENAGE WITCH aired for one season. New versions of the characters debuted in comics like AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE and THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA. The latter series would become the basis for a brand-new live-action series, following the success of the dark, yet campy RIVERDALE.  Shifting the comic’s 60’s timeline to modern-day, this series will be a much darker interpretation of the character. The series is already slated for two 10-episode seasons.

Cameron Kieffer wears many hats. He is a freelance writer and artist, creator of the webcomic "Geek Theory" and is co-host of the Nerd Dump podcast. He lives in Topeka with his wife and increasingly growing comic book collection.

Cameron Kieffer

Cameron Kieffer wears many hats. He is a freelance writer and artist, creator of the webcomic "Geek Theory" and is co-host of the Nerd Dump podcast. He lives in Topeka with his wife and increasingly growing comic book collection.

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