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Facts Of Life
The Facts of Life (TV series)
Created by: Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon
Developed by: Howard Leeds, Ben Starr and Jerry Mayer
Starring: Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields, and Mindy Cohn
Charlotte Rae ('79-'87)
Nancy McKeon ('80-'88)
John Lawlor ('79-'80)
Jenny O'Hara ('79)
Molly Ringwald ('79-'80)
Felice Schachter ('79-'80)
Julie Piekarski ('79-'80)
Julie Anne Haddock ('79-'80)
Pamela Segall ('83-'84)
Mackenzie Astin ('85-'88)
George Clooney ('85-'86)
Cloris Leachman ('86-'88)
Sherrie Krenn ('87-'88)
Country of origin: United States
No. of seasons: 9
No. of episodes: 209
Running time: 30 Minutes
Original channel: NBC
Original run: August 24, 1979 – May 7, 1988
Preceded by: Diff'rent Strokes (1978–1986)
Followed by: The Facts of Life Reunion (2001)
Related shows: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris, The Facts of Life Down Under
The Facts of Life is an American sitcom that originally ran on the NBC television network from August 24, 1979 to September 13, 1988. A spin-off of the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, the series' original premise focused on the character, Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), as she becomes housemother (and later, dietitian as well) to seven girls at the fictional Eastland School, a prestigious all-girls school in Peekskill, New York.
The Facts of Life was produced first by TAT Communications, followed by Embassy Television, and then by Embassy Communications (Norman Lear's production companies) and Columbia Pictures Television (through ELP Communications). Sony Pictures Television currently owns the distribution rights to the sitcom.
From 1979 to 1982, the series was produced at Metromedia Square, and from 1982 to 1985 at Universal City Studios in Hollywood. From 1985 to 1988, the series was videotaped and produced at the Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood, California.
The show's theme was composed by Al Burton, Gloria Loring, and her then husband, Alan Thicke. The well-known opening lyric "You take the good..." came later as the first season lyrics, some of them performed by Rae, differed from those that followed. The original lyrics eventually shifted to the closing credits before being dropped entirely. Burton, Loring and Thicke had previously composed the theme to Diff'rent Strokes, which was sung by Thicke.
Originally a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes, the series featured the Drummonds' housekeeper, Edna Garrett, as the housemother of a dormitory at Eastland, a private all-girls school. The girls in her care included spoiled rich girl Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), gossipy Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey (Kim Fields), overweight, impressionable Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn), and tough street kid Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon). Other student characters came and went throughout the series' run.
The Facts of Life finished in the Nielsen Ratings top 30 for four seasons of its nine season run:
1980-81 (Second season): #26
1981-82 (Third season): #24
1983-84 (Fifth season): #24
1985-86 (Seventh season): #27
The pilot for the show originally aired as the last episode of Diff'rent Strokes' first season and was called "The Girls' School (aka Garrett's Girls)." The plotline for the pilot had Kimberly Drummond requesting that Mrs. Garrett help her sew costumes for a student play at East Lake School for Girls, the school Kimberly attended in upstate New York, as her dorm's housemother had recently quit. Mrs. Garrett agrees to help, and we meet Tootie, Blair, Molly, Nancy, Sue Ann, Jennifer, Laura, and Mr. Crocker, the school's headmaster. Mrs. Garrett helps put on a successful play, while also solving a problem for Nancy, and is asked to stay on as the new housemother.
While Mrs. Garrett states she would rather remain working for the Drummonds at the end of the Pilot, it can be assumed that she later changed her mind. Following the pilot, the name of the school was changed to Eastland and the characters of Jennifer, Laura, and Mr. Crocker were replaced with Natalie, Cindy, and Mr. Bradley. This episode also features more girls living in the dorm than were seen previously. Although Kimberly Drummond is featured as a student at East Lake, her character did not cross over to the spinoff series with Mrs. Garrett. Instead, she remained with Diff'rent Strokes, and occasionally characters from the Facts of Life would "visit" her.
In the show's first season, episodes focused on the troubles of seven girls, and the action was usually set in a large, wood-paneled common room of a girls' dormitory. Also appearing was the school's headmaster, Mr. Stephen Bradley (John Lawlor) and his assistant, Miss Emily Mahoney (Jenny O'Hara). The show was originally meant to be a summer series in 1979, but the head of programming decided to bring it back in early 1980. Miss Mahoney only appeared in the first few episodes of the show, and the character was dropped prior to the show returning in 1980.
Early episodes of the show typically revolved around a central morality-based or "lesson teaching" theme. The show's debut episode was extremely controversial due to the character of Blair Warner insinuating that her schoolmate, Cindy Webster, was a lesbian because she was a tomboy and frequently showed affection for other girls. Although the dialogue never included the term "lesbian," instead opting for terms such as "strange" and "not normal," it was one of the first times a teen questioning his or her sexual orientation had been shown on television. Other first season episodes dealt with issues including drug use, sex, extreme diet, parental relationships, and peer pressure. An oddity of the first season was that despite the fact that some of the girls were clearly older than the others, the plot lines would have all the characters taking classes together.
It has been reported that during the first season, Tootie was often on roller skates to make her taller and to prevent difficult camera angles due to Fields' height. Fields, who is 5-feet tall as an adult, was also two years younger (10) than the Tootie character (12). Previously, however, she had failed to get the role of Arnold Jackson's girlfriend on Diff'rent Strokes because she was taller than Gary Coleman.
A notable appearance during the first season's final episode, titled "Dope," was future Academy Award winner Helen Hunt who played the role of Emily.
Second season and beyond
After its initial thirteen-episode run, the show was retooled extensively. The producers felt that there were too many characters given the limitations of the half-hour sitcom format, and that the plot lines should be more focused to give the remaining girls more distinct personalities. Four of the original actresses – Julie Anne Haddock (Cindy), Julie Piekarski (Sue Ann), Felice Schachter (Nancy), and Molly Ringwald (Molly) – were written out of the show (although the four did make periodic appearances in the second and third seasons, and one "reunion" in the eighth season). Coincidentally, Felice Schachter was the first actress hired when the show was in its initial stages, and was the first actress to be let go following the retooling. Further, the character of Mr. Bradley was also dropped, and replaced with an occasionally seen headmaster.
In addition to being housemother to the girls – wealthy, spoiled Blair Warner, chubby, fun-loving Natalie Green, and nosey, gossipy Tootie Ramsey – Mrs. Garrett became the school dietitian as the second season began, and Jo Polniaczek a new student originally from the Bronx, who was street-wise and rough-around-the-edges, arrived at Eastland on scholarship. A turn of events led the four to be separated from the other girls, and forced to work in the cafeteria and live together in a spare room next to Mrs. Garrett's bedroom. The focus of the show shifted to the four itinerant girls, and the action shifted to the school cafeteria and lounge.
The series was given a berth on the 1980-81 American network television schedule, and the show was a constant Top 30 hit for most of the early and mid-1980s. Memorable episodes included Tootie's meeting with Jermaine Jackson, an all-night study session, Tootie's encounter with a teen prostitute, and Jo and Blair's trip to New York, where spending time with old friends led them to assess how Eastland had changed them. The series tackled many serious topics including: suicide, book banning, attempted rape on Natalie, attempted date rape on Jo, alcoholism, drug abuse, breast cancer, abortion, etc. In 1983, Jo and Blair graduated Eastland Academy while Natalie and Tootie were still attending school there. To keep the four girls under one roof, the plot involved Raymond, Mrs. Garrett's son, buying a bakery for her and convincing her to go into business for herself; she named it Edna's Edibles. The four girls came to work for her and lived in one of the rooms at the attached house.
The show became part of NBC's much-watched Saturday night lineup in 1985, but by this time, the girls were now in their late teens and early twenties, and public interest was starting to wane. In an attempt to increase ratings, Mrs. Garrett's store, Edna's Edibles, was burned to the ground and was replaced with a pop culture-influenced gift shop that the girls ran together, called Over Our Heads. This phase of the show is notable for including a then-unknown George Clooney as a supporting actor. During season 9, a young Mayim Bialik, future star of Blossom, appears in the final two episodes of the show, along with Seth Green and Juliette Lewis.
In addition to inflatable palm trees, the gift shop sold a few records, and this offshoot business was the springboard for many appearances by popular groups and singers, such as El DeBarge, Michael Damian, and Stacey Q.
Departure of Mrs. Garrett
The ratings continued to fall in 1986. At first, Charlotte Rae reduced her role and later decided to leave the series completely. In the season premiere of the eighth season, Mrs. Garrett announces that she is getting married to the man of her dreams and will be joining her new husband in Africa while he works for the Peace Corps. During the episode, we meet Mrs. Garrett's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, played by Cloris Leachman, whom Mrs. Garrett convinces to take over the shop and look after the girls. Beverly Ann was never seen prior to this episode, but was mentioned when Mrs. Garrett was on "Different Strokes." (Incidentally, Charlotte Rae named the character Beverly Ann after her own sister.)
During this time, Beverly Ann legally adopted Over Our Heads worker Andy (Mackenzie Astin) and Australian exchange student Pippa McKenna (Sherrie Krenn), who attended Eastland Academy.
By the fall of 1987, the show, which had ranked in the Top 30 just two years before, now lagged behind, rarely ranking above #40, and it dragged down the rest of the night's lineup as a result (which, at the time, had Top 20 hits in The Golden Girls and 227). In a last-ditch attempt to raise the ratings, the show's writers created a storyline in which Natalie became the first of the girls to lose her virginity. Originally, Lisa Whelchel was offered the storyline, but she was a devout born-again Christian and premarital sex conflicted with her morals. (Ironically, it also conflicted with the first season episode titled "Facts of Love" in which Blair wanted to treat sex in a casual manner, but her boyfriend wanted to have a committed relationship with her prior to having sex.)
Three of the girls who were cut from the show after the first season returned in the second-to-last season for a "reunion of friends" in an episode titled, "The Little Chill." Julie Ann Haddock, Julie Piekarski, and Felice Schacter reprised their roles of Cindy, Sue Ann, and Nancy, mentioning that Molly was unable to attend the reunion because she was so busy (a nod to actress Molly Ringwald's successful film career after her departure). However, the ratings showed little improvement, and the show was eventually cancelled in the spring of 1988. The producers had hoped to keep the show going by using the final episode as a backdoor pilot for a potential new spinoff in which Blair impulsively bought Eastland Academy, made it co-ed, and became the new headmistress.
In addition to Cindy, Sue Ann, Nancy, and Molly, was the recurring character of Geri Tyler (Geri Jewell), Blair's cousin who had cerebral palsy. Other recurring characters, included the judgment-impaired Miko Wakamatsu (Lauren Tom), the snobbish Boots St. Clair (Jami Gertz), and the royal princess Alexandra (Heather McAdam). Shoplifter Kelly (Pamela Segall) was billed as a regular during the fourth season. Other guest roles included Jo's parents, played by Alex Rocco and Claire Malis, Blair's parents played by Nicolas Coster and Marj Dusay), Natalie's and Tootie's mothers, as well as the boyfriends of the girls. Characters from Diff'rent Strokes also appeared in some first and second season episodes.
Some quirky episodes took place in the last few seasons, evoking The Golden Girls, The Twilight Zone, and a sixties-ish episode guest-starring Bobby Rydell and Fabian.
Much like what had been done with The Facts of Life parent show, Diff'rent Strokes, NBC attempted to use the popularity of The Facts of Life to launch a successful spin-off show, but none of the proposed shows ever made it past the pilot stage.
The various attempts at spin-offs were backdoor pilots, which were shown as episodes of The Facts of Life. These episodes include:
"Brian & Sylvia" - A second season episode in which Tootie and Natalie go to Buffalo, New York to visit Tootie's Aunt Sylvia, a black woman who has recently married a white man, played by Richard Dean Anderson, the future star of MacGyver and Stargate SG-1. Ja'net Dubois of Good Times played Ethel, who was both Tootie's grandmother and Sylvia's mother.
"The Academy" - A third season episode, set at Stone, an all boys military school that was near Eastland. In this episode, the girls at Eastland were having a dance with the boys school.
"Jo's Cousin" - Another third season episode. In this episode, Jo visits her family in the Bronx, and we meet her cousin, a fourteen-year-old girl (played by Megan Follows) going through adolescence in a family full of men.
"The Big Fight" - A fourth season episode, set at Stone Academy, a boys military school. Natalie comes to visit a boy who tries to impress her by boxing.
"Big Apple Blues" - A ninth season episode, in which Natalie spends the night with a group of eccentric young people living in a Soho loft, and decides to remain in New York to start her life. Two of the tenants in the loft were played by David Spade and Richard Grieco.
"The Beginning of the End/Beginning of the Beginning" - The two-part series finale had Blair buying Eastland to prevent its closing. Blair finds that the school is in such dire financial straits that she is forced to make the school co-ed. Blair then essentially adopts the Mrs. Garrett role as she presides over the school, and is forced to deal with the trouble-making students in a plotline that is highly reminiscent of the second season premiere. The new Eastland students included Seth Green, Mayim Bialik, and future Oscar-nominee Juliette Lewis.
The Facts of Life was one of the first television shows to feature a person with cerebral palsy as a recurring character. In an interview as part of the E! True Hollywood Story for The Facts of Life, Geri Jewell stated that she believed she was going to continue as a recurring character on the show during the sixth season, but the producers offered her only one episode for the season because viewers would immediately assume that any episode with Cousin Geri would be a very special episode. Jewell stated that she stopped appearing on the show for this reason.
Another issue during the show's early seasons concerned the girls' appearances. Lisa Whelchel has stated in various interviews, including on the E! True Hollywood Story, that the girls spent a lot of time on set doing nothing, so the natural inclination for many of them was to eat, as food was readily available all over the set. This noticeably affected the girls' appearances, leading Joan Rivers to dub them "The Fats of Life" during the cast's appearance at the Emmy Awards, and causing the producers to restrict what the actors could eat while on set.
Mindy Cohn, in the E! True Hollywood Story, stated that the situation was the exact opposite for her. She had been losing weight during this period, and the producers asked her to stop because her character was known for being overweight. Cohn said the producers compromised with her regarding her weight by dressing her in baggy clothing to make her appear heavier than she was.
NBC aired daytime reruns of The Facts of Life for three years: from December 1982 until June 1985, it aired weekdays at 10:00 a.m. (EST) on the daytime schedule.
In Italy, seasons one through five were aired in 1983-1986 (dubbed as usual in Italian), on the terrestrial TV Canale 5, the first Italian commercial network, and later on other local commercial TV networks. The Italian version was named L'albero delle mele (it stands for Apple tree, since the apple is a word popularly used as a symbol for teenage girls).
The Facts of Life never aired on terrestrial TV in the United Kingdom. A few seasons aired on the UK BSB satellite channels and after BSB merged with Sky Television, the entire series was shown on Sky One.
The Facts of Life aired on the USA Network from 1993 to September 1998. In August 1995, the network celebrated the show's 16-year anniversary with a weekend-long marathon of episodes (14 episodes in all) featuring new interviews with Rae, Whelchel, and Cohn who talked about the series and their lives.
The Facts of Life aired on Nick at Nite from September 2000 to June 2001.
TV Land aired 48 hours of The Facts of Life episodes on its "Fandemonium Marathon Weekend" on November 17-19, 2001. The Hallmark Channel aired The Facts of Life from July 1, 2002 to November 1, 2002. To date, this was the last time The Facts of Life has aired nationwide in the United States.
The Facts of Life episodes are/were available on Comcast's Video-On-Demand service from August 8, 2005 to July 31, 2006 & again from the summer of 2007 through the summer of 2008. In Canada, The Facts of Life currently airs weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on CTS, a Christian-based network, and beginning September 15, 2007, it also airs weekends at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on CanWest's digital specialty channel, DejaView.
On July 16, 2008 full episodes and short "minisodes" of The Facts of Life became available online via Hulu.
VHS and DVD releases
In 2001, Columbia House released The Facts of Life: The Collector's Edition, a 10-volume "Best of" the series on VHS (40 episodes in all). Since Sony, the company which now distributes the Columbia library, focuses more on DVDs, the tapes have been discontinued and can only be found on websites such as amazon and eBay at higher prices than they were originally sold.
Name No. of Episodes Release Date Episode Titles
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Mrs. Garrett) 4 April 22, 2001 Rough Housing / I.Q. / Emily Dickinson / The Facts of Love
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Parents) 4 April 22, 2001 Adoption / Overachieving / The Secret / Legacy
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Crushes) 4 April 22, 2001 Flash Flood / Double Standard / Sex Symbol / Starstruck
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Girl Trouble) 4 April 22, 2001 Dope / Shoplifting / Growing Pains / Runaway
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (A Matter of Class) 4 April 22, 2001 Breaking Point / Gossip / Front Page / A Woman's Place
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Boys) 4 April 22, 2001 Dear Me / The Marriage Brokers / Kids Can Be Cruel / Different Drummer
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Principle) 4 April 22, 2001 Mind Your Own Business / Read No Evil / The Source / For the Asking
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Problems at Home) 4 April 22, 2001 The Affair / Daddy's Girl / Best Sister (Part 1) / Best Sister (Part 2)
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (School Pride) 4 April 22, 2001 Ain't Miss Beholden / Advance Placement / Who's on First? / All or Nothing
The Facts of Life Collector's Edition (Strange Happenings) 4 April 22, 2001 Slices of Life / Love at First Byte / The Rich Aren't Different / Talk, Talk, Talk
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first two seasons on DVD in Region 1 on May 9, 2006 with new interviews with most of the cast, including Season 1 originals Felice Schachter and Julie Anne Haddock (now Julie Anne Becker). To promote the DVD's release, McKeon, Whelchel, and Cohn appeared together on various shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Today Show and CNN Showbiz to reminisce about their time on the show and talk about their lives; unfortunately, Fields was unable to take part due to other commitments.
Seasons 1 and 2 proved to be such a success that Season 3 was immediately planned for release on October 24, 2006. No seasons have been released since that time, nor is it clear if any new seasons will be released. According to Sony, the company wants to devote more time to producing full box sets for more recent sitcoms such as Frasier, Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Two and a Half Men because of their success with a majority of the public.
DVD Name Region 1 Region 4 Ep # Additional Information The Facts of Life: The Complete First and Second Seasons May 9, 2006 March 7, 2007 29 Featurette: Remembering The Facts of Life, Featurette: After Facts. The Facts of Life: The Complete Third Season October 24, 2006 24 Bonus Previews
Made-for-television movies related to the series
The Facts of Life Goes to Paris - A two-hour TV movie, aired September 25, 1982, in which Mrs. Garrett and the girls travel to France. It was added to the U.S. syndication package as four half-hour shows.
The Facts of Life Down Under - A two-hour TV movie, aired February 15, 1987, in which the girls got involved in adventures in Australia. It is also syndicated as four half-hour shows in the U.S. package.
The Facts of Life Reunion - A two-hour TV movie reunion, aired November 18, 2001, in which Mrs. Garrett and the girls are reunited in Peekskill, NY for the Thanksgiving holiday. It airs sporadically in the U.S. on the ABC Family Channel.
Awards and nominations
Emmy Nomination for Best Actress (1982)--Charlotte Rae
Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Technical Direction/Electronic Camerawork/Video Control for a Series (1986)--For episode "Come Back to the Truck Stop, Natalie Green, Natalie Green".
Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series (1987)-- For episode "'62 Pickup".
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