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The Transformation Of Jennifer Love Hewitt From Party Of Five To Now

When Jennifer Love Hewitt joined the cast of Fox's "Party of Five" in Season 2, we already knew quite a bit about the Salinger family. Five recently orphaned kids were figuring out to manage on their own. Charlie (Matthew Fox) was now the guardian of his siblings: Bailey (Scott Wolf), Julia, (Neve Campbell), Claudia (Lacey Chabert), and Owen, a baby played by several different actors as he grew up through the show's six-season run.

Love Hewitt came on as Sarah Reeves, Bailey's adorable and earnest new girlfriend, whose journey involved discovering and working through the news that she was adopted. Producers liked her performance so much, they rewrote the show to keep her beyond a planned nine episodes. Sarah remained a part of the Salingers' world into the final season, when she decided to go to New York City to learn more about her birth mother.

"I'm not considering it, Bailey. I already bought the ticket," she said, firmly.

And that was it. She left the show and we weren't quite sure how Sarah's plans would play out. For that matter, Love Hewitt's future was a mystery, too. By then, however, she was a rising star with her own fan base, devotees who made her a household name: "Love." Clearly, she was going somewhere after "Party of Five." But where?

First Stop: a Spin-Off Series

Sarah Reeves was a complicated character who went by the name Sarah Zamora Reeves-Merrin (to honor her birth mother) by the time "Party of Five" ended. Producers could see they still had plenty to work with plot-wise, plus a popular actress—with her very own brand of perkiness—already in the role. They decided to give Hewitt a spin-off series.

Debuting in 1999, "Time of Your Life" focused on Sarah's life in New York City. She moved into her birth mother's former apartment. She met some new friends, including Romy Sullivan, played by Jennifer Garner.

The show seemed destined for success, but unfortunately, ratings decided otherwise. "Time of Your Life" spent five months on hiatus and was ultimately canceled before the end of the first season. That left Love Hewitt in the lurch. But while her series was no more, no one could cancel this star of the '90s, who was ready to take on the new millennium—as long as she could have fun doing it.

"I don't want to ever, ever do something in life that isn't fun. Ever," the then 21-year-old ambitiously proclaimed to Cosmopolitan. Luckily, she already had her next gig all lined up.

Love Hewitt Made Her Own Opportunity

In 2000, Love Hewitt took on a pet project of her own, producing "The Audrey Hepburn Story" and also starring as the iconic actress. Not everyone was convinced she could pull it off. Some said she wasn't up to the acting the role required. Others criticized her body, even suggesting her curves—and not her talent—were the only reason for her popularity (via Salon).

But Love Hewitt was more than the bubbly persona people knew her as onscreen. She'd been in show business long enough to develop nerves of steel, and there was no chance outside opinions would convince her to walk away from the role. "Whatever people are going to say, they're going to say, and I'll take it," she told Cosmopolitan."When the movie was released, those who took time to notice could see how Love Hewitt had developed her talents. People started saying things she was no doubt happy to hear. "[S]he handles herself gracefully by staying consistently in character," Phil Gallo wrote for Variety in 2000. "[S]he displays an onscreen maturity that's far more nuanced than the tortured looks and giggles that pass for acting on Fox's 'Party of Five' and 'Time of Your Life.'"

After proving herself in film, Love Hewitt was poised for even more success. But it wasn't easy to guess where she'd wind up next.

Love Hewitt Scored Another Series

Love Hewitt's next major moments on screen came when she was cast in another TV series of her own. In CBS's "Ghost Whisperer," she played Melinda Gordon, an antique shop owner with an unnerving gift: the ability to speak to recently deceased people. Melinda was charged with helping them resolve their problems and communicate with loved ones, so they could peacefully cross to the other side. It was another role Love Hewitt could really sink her teeth into.

"[Melinda] wasn't just a person with a gift. The show was actually less about that. It was more that she truly felt for and cared about the people that she was helping," she explained to Elle in 2018.

"The Ghost Whisperer" aired for five seasons from 2005 to 2010. Love Hewitt was 26 when the show began and 31 when it ended. Squarely in grown-up territory, she worked steadily on shows including Lifetime's "The Client List" and CBS's "Criminal Minds" before being cast as Maddie Kendall, a dispatcher, on Fox's "9-1-1."

By then, Love Hewitt was even more skilled and centered, speaking up about how the media had treated her as a young woman. With a daughter of her own, she knew too much focus on physical appearance was inappropriate and unhealthy. That part of her journey hadn't been fun, but she's happy to call it out now.

"I laughed it off a lot of the time, and I wish maybe I hadn't," Love Hewitt told Vulture. "I'm really grateful that we're in a time where, hopefully, that narrative is going to change for young girls who are coming up now, and they won't have to have those conversations."