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The Facts of Life
FactsOfLife
Genre
Sitcom
Number of Episodes
209
First aired
August 24, 1979
Last aired
May 7, 1988
Created by
Dick Clair
Jenna McMahon


The Facts of Life is an NBC network sitcom and spin-off of "Diff'rent Strokes" created by Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon and developed by Howard Leeds, Ben Starr & Jerry Mayer.

The show premiered on August 24, 1979 and ended on May 7, 1988 after 9 seasons & 209 episodes, making it one of the longest-running sitcoms of the 1980s.

PlotEdit

Season 1

The series featured the Drummonds' housekeeper, Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) as the housemother of a dormitory at Eastland School, a private all-girls school. The girls in her care included spoiled rich girl Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), the youngest, gossipy Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey (Kim Fields), and impressionable Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn).

The pilot for the show originally aired as the last episode of the first season of "Diff'rent Strokes" and was called "The Girls' School (aka Garrett's Girls)."

The plotline for the pilot had Kimberly Drummond (Dana Plato) 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, puts on a successful play, and also solves a problem for Nancy. Mrs. Garrett is asked to stay on as the new housemother but states she would rather remain working for the Drummonds at the end of the pilot.

Following the series' pilot, the name of the school was changed to Eastland and characters were replaced with Natalie, Cindy (Julie Anne Haddock) and Mr. Bradley becoming part of the main group featured. Although Kimberly Drummond is featured as a student at East Lake, her character did not cross over to the spinoff series with Mrs. Garrett.

In the show's first season, episodes focus on the troubles of seven girls with the action usually set in a large, wood-paneled common room of a girls' dormitory.

Also appearing was the school's headmaster, Mr. Steven Bradley (John Lawlor), and Ms. Emily Mahoney (Jenny O'Hara), an Eastland teacher who was dropped from the show after the first four episodes. Early episodes of the show typically revolve around a central morality-based or "lesson teaching" theme.

The show's pilot episode plot included a story line in which Blair Warner insinuates that her schoolmate Cindy Webster is a lesbian because she is a tomboy and frequently shows affection for other girls.

Other season-one episodes deal with issues including drug use, sex, eating disorders, parental relationships and peer pressure.

Seasons 2–8

The producers felt that there were too many characters given the limitations of the half-hour sitcom format, and that the plotlines should be more focused to give the remaining girls more room for character development.

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 guest appearances in the second and third seasons, and all but Molly Ringwald appeared in one "reunion" episode in the eighth season).

Mr. Bradley's character was also dropped and replaced with a generally unseen headmaster named Mr. Harris. (Mr. Harris actually appeared in an early second season episode, "Gossip", played by Kenneth Mars) and Mr. Parker for the rest of the series.

In addition to being housemother to the remaining girls, Mrs. Garrett became the school dietitian as the second season began. Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon), a new student from the Bronx, arrived at Eastland on scholarship. A run-in with the law forced the four girls to be separated from the other girls at school and work in the cafeteria, living together in a spare room next to Mrs. Garrett's bedroom.

The season two premiere of the retooled series saw an immediate ratings increase. By its third season (1981–82), "The Facts of Life" had become NBC's #1 comedy and #2 overall NBC program, beating out its predecessor, "Diff'rent Strokes" for the first time.

In 1983, Jo and Blair graduated Eastland Academy in the highly anticipated season 4 finale "Graduation" (which placed #5 for the week).

To keep the four girls under one roof, the hour-long season 5 premiere "Brave New World" saw Mrs. Garrett go into business for herself and open a gourmet food venture named Edna's Edibles (it placed #9 in the weekly ratings). The four girls would come to live and work with Mrs. Garrett in this new refreshed space.

In September 1985, NBC moved the 7th season of the series to its burgeoning Saturday night lineup at 8:30 PM, as a lead-in for the new series "The Golden Girls" at 9 PM.

In an attempt to refresh the "ratings work horse" and increase ratings, actor George Clooney (before he became famous) was added to the regular cast and Mrs. Garrett's store was gutted by fire in the season seven premiere "Out of the Fire".

The follow-up episodes "Into the Frying Pan" and "Grand Opening" had the girls band together to rebuild the store with a pop culture-influenced gift shop, called Over Our Heads. The changes proved successful as all 3 episodes placed in the top 10 ratings each week.

Charlotte Rae initially reduced her role in seasons six and seven and later decided to leave the series altogether.

In season eight's heavily promoted one-hour premiere, "Out of Peekskill" Mrs. Garrett married the man of her dreams and joined him in Africa while he worked for the Peace Corps. Mrs. Garrett convinces her sister, Beverly Ann Stickle (Cloris Leachman), to take over the shop and look after the girls.

Beverly Ann later legally adopted "Over Our Heads" worker Andy Moffett (Mackenzie Astin) in the episode "A Boy About the House".

Final Season

In the series' ninth and final season, the series aired on NBC's Saturday night lineup at 8 p.m. NBC still had confidence in the series, making it the 8:00 PM anchor, kicking off the network's second-highest rated night (next to Thursdays).

For February sweeps, the writers created a storyline in this season for the episode titled "The First Time" in which Natalie became the first of the girls to lose her virginity.

Lisa Whelchel refused this particular storyline that would have made her character (not Natalie), the first among the four young women in the show to lose her virginity. Having become a Christian when she was 10 years old, she refused because of her Christian convictions.

Whelchel appeared in every episode, but asked to be written out of "The First Time". The episode ran a parental advisory before starting and placed 22nd in the ratings for the week.

Still strong in its timeslot, NBC wanted to renew "The Facts of Life" for a 10th season, but two of the girls (Mindy Cohn and Nancy McKeon) decided that season 9 should be the last season.

CastEdit

  • Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Edna Garrett [seasons 1 to 7]
  • Lisa Whelchel as Blair Warner
  • Kim Fields as Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey
  • Mindy Cohn as Natalie Green
  • Nancy McKeon as Jo Polniaczek [seasons 2 to 9]
  • Felice Schachter as Nancy Olson [seasons 1-3]
  • Julie Piekarski as Sue Ann Weaver [seasons 1-3]
  • Julie Anne Haddock as Cindy Webster [seasons 1 to 3]
  • Mackenzie Astin as Andy Moffet [seasons 6 to 9]
  • Geri Jewell as Geri Warner [seasons 2 to 5]
  • Cloris Leachman as Beverly Ann Stickle [seasons 8 to 9]
  • Molly Ringwald as Molly Parker [season 1]
  • John Lawlor as Steven Bradley [season 1]
  • Roger Perry as Mr. Charles Parker [seasons 3 to 4]
  • Woody Brown as Cliff [seasons 5 to 6]
  • Pamela Segall as Kelly Affinado [season 5]
  • Todd Hallowell as Jeff Williams [seasons 5 to 9]
  • George Clooney as George Burnett [seasons 7 to 8]
  • Sherrie Krenn as Pippa McKenna [season 9]
  • Robert Romanus as Snake Robinson [season 9]
  • Paul Provenza as Casey Clark [season 9]
  • Jenny O'Hara as Miss Emily Mahoney [episodes 1 to 4]
  • Scott Bryce as Rick Bonner [episodes 191 to 203]

Recurring CharactersEdit

A key recurring character was Geri Tyler (Geri Jewell), Blair's cousin who has cerebral palsy.

Other recurring characters included the judgment-impaired Miko Wakamatsu (Lauren Tom), the delivery boy Roy who was obsessed with Jo (Loren Lester), the royal princess Alexandra (Heather McAdam) and the snobbish Boots St. Clair (Jami Gertz). Shoplifter Kelly (Pamela Segall) was billed as a regular during the fifth season.

Other guest roles included the parents of the girls.

Jo's parents (played by Alex Rocco and Claire Malis), Blair's parents (played by Nicolas Coster and Marj Dusay; Blair's mother was played by Pam Huntington in one episode during the first season), Tootie's parents (played by Kim Fields' real-life mother actress Chip Fields & Robert Hooks) and Natalie's parents (played by Norman Burton and Mitzi Hoag). (Natalie's grandmother was played by Molly Picon & appeared in two episodes.) A 1984 episode was built around Natalie coming to terms with the sudden death of her father.

Hugh Gillin appeared in four episodes as Howard. Officer Ziaukus was played by Larry Wilmore and appeared in 2 episodes.

The characters from "Diff'rent Strokes" also appeared in some episodes of both season one and season two.

Shawnte Northcutte from "The New Mickey Mouse Club" appeared as Madge in the 1980 episode "Who Am I?".

Celebrity Guest StarsEdit

Celebrities who made guest appearances on "The Facts of Life" included Helen Hunt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jermaine Jackson, Eve Plumb, Jean Smart, John Astin, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Dick Van Patten, Penelope Ann Miller, Doug Savant, Dennis Haysbert, Lois Nettleton, Richard Moll, David Spade, Richard Grieco, Juliette Lewis, Seth Green, Mayim Bialik, Deborah Harmon, Irene Tedrow, El DeBarge, Joyce Bulifant, Stacey Q and Anne Jackson.

Broadcast HistoryEdit

"The Facts of Life" was originally not a ratings winner on Friday nights in its summer debut in 1979 or in its second tryout in the spring of 1980.

It ranked 74th out of 79 shows on the air in the year-end Nielsen ratings, and was NBC's lowest-rated series.

The show was put on hiatus and extensively retooled in preparation for season two.

In November 1980, the second season of "The Facts of Life" premiered in a Wednesday 9:30 p.m. time slot where it immediately flourished, peaking in January 1981 with a 27.4 rating and 41 share; it ranked #4 for the week.

The program became NBC's fourth highest-rated scripted series after "Little House on the Prairie", "Diff'rent Strokes" and "CHiPs."

By the third season, the series moved time slots to 9:00 p.m. Wednesdays, and soon became NBC's highest-rated comedy series, and NBC's #2 overall series, after "Real People"

For the show's seventh season, it moved to Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., to bolster the premiering series "The Golden Girls" at 9:00 p.m. in the newly formed Saturday night comedy block.

At the start of the eighth season, the series was moved back a half-hour to the toughest time slot on television—Saturday at 8:00 p.m. which brought the ratings down from its season seven high. Still, "The Facts of Life" easily won its time slot and garnered high numbers in the coveted teen and 18-49 demographics.

One of the highest rated season eight episodes saw the original season one cast return for a mini reunion. Titled "The Little Chill", it placed #19 for the week with a 18.2 rating and 31 share.

RatingsEdit

Season TV Season Timeslot Rank Rating
1 1979–80 Fridays at 8:30 pm (August 31, 1979 - May 2, 1980)
Wednesdays at 9:30 pm (June 4 - 11, 1980)
#74 4.5
2 1980–81 Friday at 8:30 pm (October 10, 1980)
Wednesdays at 9:30 pm (November 19, 1980 - June 3, 1981)
#26 19.3
3 1981–82 Wednesdays at 9:00 pm #24 (tied with "Little House on the Prairie") 19.1
4 1982–83 #32 17.1
5 1983–84 #24 17.3
6 1984–85 16.3
7 1985–86 Saturdays at 8:30 pm #27 17.7
8 1986–87 Saturdays at 8:00 pm #31 16.3
9 1987–88 #37 14.6

TV FilmsEdit

The Facts of Life Goes to Paris (September 25, 1982)

"The Facts of Life Goes to Paris" (directed by Asaad Kelada) centered on Mrs. Garrett and the girls traveling to France.

It scored 18.1/31 in the Nielsen Ratings. It was later added to the U.S. syndication package, broken up into four half-hour episodes; however, the original cut of the film appears on the 2010 Season 4 DVD set. The television movie was directed by Asaad Kelada.

The Facts of Life Down Under (February 15, 1987)

"The Facts of Life Down Under" placed a strong #13 for the week garnering 21.4/32. This was strategic counterprogramming by NBC (which placed the movie against the conclusion of ABC's highly publicized mini-series "Amerika"). The movie was also syndicated as four half-hour episodes in later U.S. airings.

The Facts of Life Reunion (November 18, 2001; aired on ABC)

The Facts of Life Reunion centered on Mrs. Garrett and the girls reuniting in Peekskill, New York for the Thanksgiving holiday. It airs sporadically in the U.S. on ABC Family. Nancy McKeon does not appear in this movie. Her character is explained as being on assignment as a police officer.

Attempted Spin-OffsEdit

"The Facts of Life" did various attempts at spin-offs whic were backdoor pilots that were shown as episodes of the show.

  1. "Brian & Sylvia": A season two episode in which Tootie and Natalie go to Buffalo, New York to visit Tootie's Aunt Sylvia, a black woman (played by Rosanne Katon) who has recently married a white man, played by Richard Dean Anderson.
  2. "The Academy": A season three episode set at Stone Academy, an all-boys military school that was near Eastland. In this episode, the girls at Eastland attended a dance with the boys from the military school. The boys included actors Jimmy Baio, Ben Marley, David Ackroyd, Peter Frechette, and John P. Navin, Jr.
  3. "Jo's Cousin": Another season three episode, in which Jo visits her family in the Bronx, including her cousin Terry, a fourteen-year-old girl (played by Megan Follows) going through adolescence in a family full of men. The family included actors Grant Cramer, John Mengatti, Donnelly Rhodes and D.W. Brown.
  4. "The Big Fight": A season four episode set at Stone Academy, a boys' military school. Natalie comes to visit a boy who tries to impress her with his boxing. This episode includes the same cast from the season three episode "The Academy", with the addition of '80s 'nerd' icon Eddie Deezen.
  5. "Graduation": This spinoff was to revolve around Blair and Jo's life at Langley College.
  6. "Big Apple Blues": A season nine 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 begin her life. Two of the tenants in the loft were played by David Spade and Richard Grieco.
  7. "The Beginning of the End/Beginning of the Beginning": The two-part series finale sees 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 plot line that is highly reminiscent of the season two premiere. The new Eastland students included Seth Green, Mayim Bialik and future Oscar-nominee Juliette Lewis.

AccoladesEdit

  • Emmy Nomination for Best Actress (1982): Charlotte Rae
  • Emmy Nomination for "Outstanding Technical Direction/Electronic Camerawork/Video Control for a Series" (1986) for the 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".
  • TV Land Award: Won for "Pop Culture Icon" in 2011.

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