||This article needs additional citations for verification. (January 2009)|
Title screen from the second season in 1980
|Created by||Jeff Harris
|Written by||Ben Starr
|Directed by||Herbert Kenwith
Mary Jo Catlett
Mary Ann Mobley
|Theme music composer||Alan Thicke
|Opening theme||"It Takes Diff'rent Strokes"|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||8|
|No. of episodes||189 (List of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Budd Grossman
|Running time||24 mins.|
|Production company(s)||Tandem Productions, Inc.
|Distributor||Columbia TriStar Television
Sony Pictures Television
|Original run||November 3, 1978– March 7, 1986|
|Related shows||The Facts of Life
Diff'rent Strokes is an American television sitcom that aired on NBC from November 3, 1978, to May 4, 1985, and on ABC from September 27, 1985, to March 7, 1986. The series stars Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold and Willis Jackson, two African American boys from Harlem who are taken in by a rich white Park Avenue businessman named Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), for whom their deceased mother previously worked. During the first season and first half of the second season, Charlotte Rae also starred as the Drummonds' housekeeper, Mrs. Garrett (who ultimately spun-off into her own successful show, The Facts of Life).
The series made stars out of child actors Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Dana Plato, and became known for the "very special episodes" in which serious issues such as racism, illegal drug use and child sexual abuse were dramatically explored. The lives of these stars were later plagued by legal troubles and drug addiction, as the stardom and success they achieved while on the show eluded them after the series was cancelled.
In pre-production, the original proposed title was 45 Minutes From Harlem. The series was originally devised as a joint vehicle for Maude co-star Conrad Bain (after Maude had abruptly finished production following an unsuccessful revamp earlier in 1978), and diminutive child actor Gary Coleman, who had caught producers' attentions after appearing in a number of commercials.
The sitcom starred Coleman as Arnold Jackson and Todd Bridges as his older brother, Willis. They played two children from a poor section of Harlem whose deceased mother previously worked for rich widower Philip Drummond (Bain), who eventually adopted them. They lived in a penthouse with Drummond, his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), and their maid.
There were three maids during the show's run: Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Adelaide Brubaker (Nedra Volz), and Pearl Gallagher (Mary Jo Catlett). They lived in the Penthouse Suite at 697 Park Avenue in New York City. As Arnold, Coleman popularized the catchphrase "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" The ending often varied, depending on whom he was addressing.
Seasons 1-4 
In Season 1, Charlotte Rae appeared in every episode as Edna Garrett, but she departed the show partway through the second season to star in her own spin-off, The Facts of Life. Following Rae's departure, Nedra Volz took over as the housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker. Although she was not part of the official main cast and not added to the opening credits, Volz appeared as a frequent semi-regular character.
Seasons 5-6 
In Season 5, Mary Jo Catlett portrayed Pearl Gallagher, the last of the three maids, and joined the cast as a series regular. Pearl appeared in almost every episode until the final season. Midway through Season 6, Dana Plato became pregnant and approached the producers of the show to include her pregnancy. Initially they agreed to add it, but they later recanted, with Plato's publicized brushes with substance abuse contributing to this decision, resulting in her dismissal from the series.
Plato's character, Kimberly, was written out of the story lines with the explanation that she moved to Paris to study abroad for a couple of years. Plato did not appear as a series regular in the final two seasons of the series, but she made several guest appearances.
At the same time, ratings were beginning to sag, so new characters were added to open up future storylines. Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey portrayed recently divorced television aerobics instructor Margaret "Maggie" McKinney, and her son, Sam McKinney. Carter was introduced a way into the sixth season; after she left for California, Drummond (with family in tow) took off after her, during a two-part trip in February 1984, a storyline which also introduced Sam.
Phillip proposed to Maggie, and they married. Several past characters attended the wedding ceremony including Dudley, Aunt Sophia, Adelaide, and Mrs. Garrett.
Season 7 
In the seventh season, Carter and Cooksey were added to the opening credits (with Carter getting special "and" billing, last in the order), and many new areas and ideas were explored in the storylines, as viewers now got to see Philip as happily married. Also, since there was a new fresh-faced kid in the house with Sam, Arnold now had his own little sidekick and was happy to be a "big brother" for a change, and with Willis being dropped into the background slightly, this new brotherly duo took center stage for many storylines. Additionally, stories focusing on Arnold's school life (featured occasionally in many previous seasons) were delved into much more. The ratings did not improve to NBC's hopes. Carter departed at the end of the seventh season.
Season 8 
In the spring of 1985, NBC canceled the series because of poor ratings. ABC picked up the series for an eighth season, and aired it Friday nights. In this season, which turned out to be the last, Mary Ann Mobley replaced Dixie Carter as Maggie McKinney Drummond (Carter had left and started work on Designing Women after NBC canceled Diff'rent Strokes; Mobley had previously played an unrelated, one-off love interest of Drummond's during the first season).
ABC canceled the series after 19 episodes, and aired its final episode on March 7, 1986. The show returned to ABC's schedule in June for two months of summer reruns, which ended on August 30, 1986. The final season ranked 76th out of 106 shows, and averaged an 11.5 household rating.
- Conrad Bain - Phillip Drummond
- Gary Coleman - Arnold Jackson
- Todd Bridges - Willis Jackson
- Dana Plato - Kimberly Drummond (1978–1984, 1985-1986 recurring)
- Charlotte Rae - Edna Garrett (1978–1979)
- Nedra Volz - Adelaide Brubaker (1980–1982)
- Janet Jackson - Charlene DuPrey (1980–1984 recurring)
- Dody Goodman - Aunt Sophia (1981–1982 recurring)
- Shavar Ross - Dudley Ramsey (1980–1986 recurring)
- Le Tari - Ted Ramsey (1981–1985 recurring)
- Mary Jo Catlett - Pearl Gallagher (1982–1986)
- Rosalind Chao - Miss Chung (1982–1983 recurring)
- Steven Mond - Robbie Jason (1980–1985)
- Nikki Swasey - Lisa Hayes (1982–1986 recurring)
- Dixie Carter - Maggie McKinney Drummond #1 (1984–1985)
- Mary Ann Mobley - Maggie McKinney Drummond #2 (1985–1986)
- Danny Cooksey - Sam McKinney (1984–1986)
- Jason Hervey - Charlie (1985–1986 recurring)
Phillip Drummond is the only character to appear in every episode of the series. Arnold Jackson missed two episodes, both from the 1981-1982 season, "First Day Blues" and "The Team".
Supporting characters 
Outside of the Drummond household, there were a large number of supporting characters seen over the years. Phillip's slightly dotty sister Sophia (Dody Goodman) was regularly seen in the fourth season, playing matchmaker for her brother in hopes of getting Philip to marry again. Dudley Ramsey (Shavar Ross) showed up as Arnold's new best friend that year (though Dudley's first appearance was in the episode "Teacher's Pet" in Season 2, where he was named Dudley Johnson, before being adopted), with whom he shared many memorable childhood scrapes. Some of these were important or serious storylines under the "very special episode" heading, which Diff'rent Strokes popularized (see below). Ted Ramsey (Le Tari) was Dudley's adoptive father, who turned up occasionally.
In the third season, Janet Jackson played Willis's steady girlfriend Charlene DuPrey. She was a frequent recurring character until season 6, when Charlene and Willis decided to break up, but remain friends.
Other classmates and friends of Arnold's seen over time included Robbie Jason (Steven Mond) and snobby Lisa Hayes (Nikki Swasey), who initially was sweet on Arnold, but later came to despise him, leading to hatred between the pair and many squabbles. Miss Chung (Rosalind Chao) was Arnold's homeroom teacher for a year. In the fall of 1985, when the series moved to ABC, Arnold, Dudley and Lisa entered high school, where they gained a new friend in Charlie (Jason Hervey).
An oft-mentioned character was "The Gooch", who was the bully at Arnold's school. While his name is mentioned in numerous episodes (and his bullying of Arnold the center of several plots), the character actually never appeared on screen.
Very special episodes 
Diff'rent Strokes was also known for its many "very special episodes", most notably an anti-drug episode ("The Reporter", in Season 5) that featured then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, who promoted her "Just Say No" campaign, and a two-part episode that guest starred Gordon Jump as a pedophile bicycle-shop owner, who attempted to sexually molest Arnold and Dudley.
Another episode involved a con artist (played by Whitman Mayo) posing as a relative of Arnold and Willis in an attempt to get access to the inheritance they were left by a former neighbor, and Kimberly's new love Roger (who turns out to be racist) not allowing his sister to go to their school's costume ball with Willis because of his race.
In an episode on the dangers of hitchhiking, Kimberly and Arnold (who were out in the cold weather and didn't have money for cab or bus fare) were abducted by a deranged man (played by Woody Eney), who initially acted as a good Samaritan by giving the two of them a ride, and inviting them to his apartment. After the man's true nature became known, Arnold escaped to look for help, and it was implied the man had intentions of raping Kimberly until the police arrived to arrest him. At the end of the episode, Conrad Bain (in an out of character PSA) spoke about what to do if real life situations as the one portrayed on the show were to occur.
In the final season (when the show moved from NBC to ABC), the one-hour season opener revolved around Sam being kidnapped by a bereaved father (played by Royce D. Applegate) hoping to replace his own dead son.
In other notable episodes, the family discovered that Kimberly was suffering from bulimia after witnessing her eat an entire sheet cake, only to vomit right out. While in another Arnold and Sam met Karen, a street performer. After a performance, she has an epileptic seizure, and Sam is scared thinking she's dying. The boys then feel uncomfortable around her, and when they begin making jokes about her seizures (such as handing her a glass of milk to turn into a milkshake), they find out that housekeeper Pearl herself has epilepsy, but unlike Karen controls her seizures by taking medication.
Spin-off and crossovers 
The Facts of Life (1979–1988) is a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes featuring Drummond's former maid Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae), who had accepted a job as the house-mother for a dormitory at an all-girls private school. In a late first season episode of Strokes (which served as the "backdoor pilot" of Facts), Mr. Drummond (along with Garrett) took Kimberly to the school hoping to enroll her there, and while there Garrett was offered (and accepted) the job as "dorm mother". The success of the spinoff led to several Strokes/Facts crossovers in the ensuing years.
While not a spin-off, Hello, Larry (1979–1980) had a connection to Strokes as it was established in a crossover episode that Philip Drummond and Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson) were old army buddies, and Mr. Drummond had bought the company that owned the radio station Larry worked at as a talk show host.
Later appearances as the characters 
In 1994, Coleman appeared in an episode of Married... with Children, playing a building code inspector whom Al Bundy called to report an illegal driveway. When Kelly recognizes him, he denies any connection to Arnold Jackson, but utters his catchphrase to Al, "What'chu talkin' about, Bundy?". Also, in 1996, Coleman and Bain reprised their roles for the series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled "I, Done Part 2". In their scene, they reference Willis by name before meeting Will Smith's character, leading to Coleman uttering a variation of his catchphrase, "What'chu talkin' about, Willis?".
Additional catchphrase references and appearances in pop culture 
In 2004, Gary Coleman appeared on the second season of The Surreal Life and is pressured to quote his famous catchphrase by Vanilla Ice. He also guest-starred as himself on The Wayans Bros., The Ben Stiller Show, Drake & Josh, The Jamie Foxx Show, The Parkers, Robot Chicken, and The Simpsons.
Diff'rent Strokes curse 
Following the cancellation of Diff'rent Strokes, Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges and Dana Plato encountered difficulty in obtaining acting jobs. All three experienced various legal problems while Bridges and Plato also struggled with drug addictions, all of which were documented in the press. The press and fans of the series blamed the casts' personal problems and faltering careers on what was eventually dubbed the "Diff'rent Strokes curse."
Three years after the series ended, Gary Coleman sued his parents and his former manager over misappropriation of his trust fund. Although he was awarded over $1,000,000 in the decision, he filed for bankruptcy in 1999. In 1998, Coleman was charged with assault after he punched a woman while working as a security guard at a shopping mall. In 2001, Coleman (still working as a security guard) was videotaped trying to stop a vehicle from entering the mall. The driver ridiculed him, and released the tape to be broadcast on numerous television shows. In 2007, Coleman was cited for disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah for having a "heated discussion" with a woman. On May 26, 2010, Coleman, who had battled health problems since childhood caused by congenital kidney disease, was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo after falling and hitting his head after suffering a seizure. Coleman was then placed on life support after suffering an intracranial hemorrhage, and died the next day from complications of his injury at the age of 42.
During Season 5, Dana Plato became pregnant and her character was written out of the series (Plato would go on to make guest appearances). She married the father of her child, musician Lanny Lambert, in 1984 but the couple divorced the following year. Due to financial difficulties and her growing addiction to drugs and alcohol, Plato relinquished custody of her son, Tyler, to her ex-husband. In an attempt to boost her faltering career, Plato posed for Playboy in June 1989 but her appearance in the magazine did not help her land acting jobs. By 1990, Plato was living in Las Vegas. Despite having made $25,000 an episode while on the series, she was often broke and was working as a cashier at a dry cleaners. In February 1991, she was arrested after robbing a Las Vegas video store armed with a pellet gun. She was arrested the following year for forging prescriptions for Valium. In 1998, she appeared in a softcore film entitled Different Strokes: The Story of Jack & Jill... and Jill, which was intended to capitalize on her Diff'rent Strokes fame. After her arrests, Plato publicly admitted that she struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol.. She died of a drug overdose in 1999 at the age of 34. Her death was ruled a suicide.
After the series, Todd Bridges developed an addiction to cocaine. In February 1988, he was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a drug dealer at a crack house in South Central Los Angeles. He was acquitted in November 1989. Bridges was also arrested on a concealed weapon charge and possession of cocaine. In 1994, he was arrested after allegedly ramming someone's car after an argument. After years of battling his drug addiction, Bridges became sober in the early 1990s. He now travels across the United States, touring schools and discussing the dangers of drug use. Bridges has continued acting in films and television. His more high profile role was as Monk, a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran, conspiracy theorist, and nephew of Chris' boss Doc on the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris.
Two unofficial docudramas were produced about the show:
- In 2000, Fox broadcast a one-hour television movie, After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped. This film, which starred unknown actors, focused on Dana Plato's life after the show, leading to her death. Todd Bridges guest starred in this film as a drug dealer who sold drugs — to a younger Todd Bridges.
- On September 4, 2006, NBC aired a television drama entitled Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes. The film, which chronicles the rise and decline of the sitcom's child stars, also features recent interview clips with Coleman and Bridges. The two also star in the movie as themselves (briefly) in the final scene, standing by Plato's grave.
International show titles 
|Belgium||Arnold (70-80s on Flemish state television BRT)
Diff'rent Strokes (2009-2010 on Flemish commercial television vtm) (All seasons of Diff'rent Strokes 2011 vtm)
|France||Arnold et Willy (Arnold and Willy)|
|Venezuela||Arnold el travieso (Arnold the Mischievous One)|
|Argentina||Blanco y Negro (White and Black)|
|Mexico||Blanco y Negro (White and Black)|
|Bolivia||Blanco y Negro (White and Black)|
|Guatemala||Blanco y Negro (White and Black)|
|Costa Rica||Blanco y Negro (White and Black)|
|Panama||Blanco y Negro (White and Black)|
|Italy||Harlem contro Manhattan (Harlem v. Manhattan) (1980–81)
Il mio Amico Arnold (My Friend Arnold) (1981–1986)
Arnold (after 1988)
|Brazil||Minha Família é uma Bagunça (My Family is a Mess) (2006–2007) - Nickelodeon
Arnold (2009–2012) - SBT
|Japan||アーノルド坊やは人気者 (Anorudo boya wa ninkimono, Little Boy Arnold is Popular)|
|Taiwan||小淘氣 (Little Rascal)|
|Israel||על טעם ועל ריח (About Taste and Smell)|
|Germany||Noch Fragen Arnold? (Any More Questions Arnold?)|
|Thailand||ตลกคนแคระ (The Funny Midget)|
DVD releases 
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released Seasons 1 and 2 of Diff'rent Strokes on DVD in Region 1 & 4. Season 1 was also released in Regions 2 & 5 on October 6, 2008. On September 29, 2009, a "Fan Favorites" DVD was released. This is a one disc compilation consisting of eight episodes from Season 2.
On April 6, 2012, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series; they subsequently released the third season on DVD on July 17, 2012. Season 4 was released on November 20, 2012.
|DVD Name||Ep#||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 4|
|The Complete First Season||24||September 14, 2004||November 22, 2006|
|The Complete Second Season||26||January 31, 2006||November 4, 2008|
|The Complete Third Season||22||July 17, 2012||N/A|
|The Complete Fourth Season||26||November 20, 2012||N/A|
- "Bob Brunner, 'Happy Days' writer, dies". Variety Magazine. 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
- "Diff'rent Strokes: Complete First Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
- "Diff'rent Strokes: The Complete Second Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
- Weiner, Ed; Editors of TV Guide (1992). The TV Guide TV Book: 40 Years of the All-Time Greatest Television Facts, Fads, Hits, and History. New York: Harper Collins. p. 174. ISBN 0-06-096914-8.
- "TV Playbook: Let's Add a Kid!". IGN. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
- Sporkin, Elizabeth (March 25, 1991). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People 35 (11). ISSN 0093-7673.
- Murphy, Daniel (2008-03-21). "The Five Lowest Moments of Gary Coleman's Career". esquire.com. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
- "Former Child Star Gary Coleman Cited for Disorderly Conduct in Parking Lot Spat". FoxNews.com. 2007-08-01. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
- "Gary Coleman critically hurt after falling and hitting his head". The Sydney Morning Herald. May 27, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
- Gliatto, Tom (May 24, 1999). "Little Girl Lost". People 51 (9). ISSN 0093-7673.
- "Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". nytimes.com. May 10, 1999. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- "The 'Diff'rent Strokes' curse isn't a joke". latimes.com. May 28, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- "Child star Dana Plato's life ends with overdose". CNN.com. 1999-05-09. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
- "Jury Acquits Todd Bridges Of Charges Of Attempted Murder, Manslaughter". Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 77 (8): 36–67. November 27, 1989. ISSN 0021-5996.
- "Todd Bridges arrested, charged after tiff involving vehicle". Jet. 1997-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
- Abramovitch, Seth (January 16, 2013). "Todd Bridges on TV Dad Conrad Bain: 'He Treated Me Better Than My Own Father'". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- "Diff'rent Strokes Facts of Life: Where Are They Now?". abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
- Bauder, David (May 31, 2010). "Troubled lives for ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ stars". today.com. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- McDonough, Kevin (September 4, 2006). "Refried nostalgia, overcooked comedy". recordonline.com. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- Diff'rent Strokes - Complete Season 1
- "Diff'rent Strokes - Front/Rear Box Art, Episode List for Sony's 'Diff'rent: Fan Favorites' DVD". TVShowsonDVD.com. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
- Lambert, David (April 6, 2012). "Diff'rent Strokes - 'Season 3' DVDs! Whatchoo Talkin' 'Bout, Shout! Factory?". tvshowsondvd.com. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
- Lambert, David (August 13, 2012). "Diff'rent Strokes - 'The Complete 4th Season' is Scheduled by Shout! for DVD". tvshowsondvd.com. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Diff'rent Strokes|
- Diff'rent Strokes at the Internet Movie Database
- Diff'rent Strokes at TV.com
- St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture article about Diff'rent Strokes
- Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Diff'rent Strokes' at the Internet Movie Database
- After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped at the Internet Movie Database