The Facts of Life (TV series)

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The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life.jpg
The Facts of Life season 1 title screen
Genre Sitcom
Created by Dick Clair
Jenna McMahon
Developed by Howard Leeds
Ben Starr
Jerry Mayer
Starring Charlotte Rae (1979-86)
Lisa Whelchel
Kim Fields
Mindy Cohn
Molly Ringwald (1979-80)
Nancy McKeon (1980-88)
Mackenzie Astin (1985-88)
George Clooney (1985-87)
Cloris Leachman (1986-88)
Sherrie Krenn (1987-88)
Theme music composer Al Burton
Gloria Loring
Alan Thicke
Opening theme "The Facts of Life"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 9
No. of episodes 209 (episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Jack Elinson
(seasons 2–7)
Jerry Mayer
(seasons 3–6)
Linda Marsh
Margie Peters
(seasons 5–6)
Deidre Fay
Stuart Wolpert
(seasons 6–7)
Irma Kalish
Richard Gurman
(seasons 8–9)
Producer(s) Jerry Mayer
(seasons 1–3)
Linda Marsh
Margie Peters
(seasons 3–4)
Rita Dillon
(seasons 5–9)
Kimberly Hill
(season 6)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Videotape
Running time 22 mins.
Production company(s) T.A.T. Communications Co. (1979–1982)
Embassy Television (1982–1986)
Embassy Communications (1986–1988)
ELP Communications (1988)
Columbia Pictures Television (1988)
Distributor Embassy Telecommunications (1984–1986)
Embassy Communications (1986–1988)
Columbia Pictures Television (1988–1995)
Columbia TriStar Television (1995–2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
Broadcast
Original channel NBC
Original run August 24, 1979 (1979-08-24) – May 7, 1988 (1988-05-07)
Chronology
Preceded by Diff'rent Strokes
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 May 7, 1988, making it one of the longest running sitcoms of the 1980s. A spin-off of the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, the series' premise focuses on Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) as she becomes a housemother (and after the second season, a dietitian as well) at the fictional Eastland School, an all-female boarding school in Peekskill, New York.[1]

Premise[edit]

Season 1[edit]

A spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes, 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 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, 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 pilot, the name of the school was changed to Eastland and characters were replaced, with Natalie, Cindy, 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 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[edit]

After the first season the show was retooled extensively, creating an instant surge in ratings - catapulting harder hitting episodes like "fear strikes back", where Natalie escapes a rapist - into the week's top 5. 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 appearances in the second and third seasons, and one "reunion" 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, a new student originally from the Bronx, arrived at Eastland on scholarship. A run-in with the law forced the four to be separated from the other girls, and work in the cafeteria, living together in a spare room next to Mrs. Garrett's bedroom.

In 1983, Jo and Blair graduated Eastland Academy in the season 4 finale "Graduation" (placing #5 for the week). To keep the four girls under one roof in Season 5, Mrs. Garrett went into business for herself and opened a gourmet food venture named Edna's Edibles. The four girls come to work for her and live in one of the rooms in the house attached to the store. The season 5 premiere placed #9 in the week's TV ratings.

In September 1985 NBC moved the 7th season of the series to its burgeoning Saturday night lineup at 830PM, lead-in for the new series Golden Girls at 9PM. In an attempt to refresh the "ratings work horse" and increase ratings, Mrs. Garrett's store, Edna's Edibles is gutted by fire in the season seven premiere "Out of the Fire", placing #11 for the week — giving the series a strong start for the season. The follow-up episode "Into the Frying Pan" (placing #8 for the week) had the girls band together to rebuild the store with a pop culture-influenced gift shop that the girls ran together, called Over Our Heads. By the end of the season, TV Guide reported, "Facts' success has been so unexpected that scions of Hollywood are still taken aback by it. ... Facts has in fact been among NBC's top-ranked comedies for the past five years. It finished twenty-third overall for the 1985–1986 season, handily winning its time slot against its most frequent competitors, Airwolf and Benson. Lisa Whelchel stated, 'We're easily overlooked because we've never been a huge hit; we just sort of snuck in there.'"[2]

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 works 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" which became the highest rated regular episode of the season with an 18.3 rating/31 share.[3] Describing the new changes to The Facts of Life Brandon Tartikoff, NBC Entertainment President, said "I was surprised that The Facts of Life performed well this season, as, with a major cast change and all, I thought it might not perform as it had in the past. Facts has been renewed for next season."[4]

Final season[edit]

In the 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 p.m. anchor - kicking off the network's 2nd highest-rated nights (runner up to Cosby 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, Whelchel refused because of her Christian convictions. Whelchel appeared in every episode but asked to be written out of "The First Time".[5]

In an article titled "Ratings Top with Teens" appearing in the January 19, 1988 edition of USA Today, The Facts of Life was ranked as one of the top 10 shows in a survey of 2,200 American teenagers.[6]

Cast[edit]

Casting[edit]

Actress Geri Reischl ("Fake Jan" of The Brady Bunch Hour) was given the role of Blair Warner in the television pilot Garrett's Girls (later renamed The Facts of Life), but was forced to give it up due to her contract with General Mills.[8]

Recurring characters[edit]

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 snobbish Boots St. Clair (Jami Gertz), and the royal princess Alexandra (Heather McAdam). Shoplifter Kelly (Pamela Segall) was billed as a regular during the fifth season. Other guest roles included the boyfriends 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, and Robert Hooks; and Natalie's parents, played by Norman Burton and Mitzi Hoag. (Natalie's grandmother was played by Molly Picon, and appeared in two episodes.) A 1984 episode was built around Natalie coming to terms with the sudden death of her father. 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?".

Controversy[edit]

Geri Jewell[edit]

The Facts of Life was one of the first television shows to feature a person with cerebral palsy as a recurring character.[9] Indeed, actress Geri Jewell was the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a prime time series.[10] In an interview as part of an episode of E! True Hollywood Story, Jewell stated that she believed her character "cousin Geri" 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 that reason.

Weight[edit]

Another issue during the show's early seasons concerned the stars' appearances. Lisa Whelchel has stated in various interviews, including on E! True Hollywood Story, that the cast 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; the producers eventually restricted what the actors could eat while on set, and in an April 2011 interview, Lisa Whelchel stated that the producers sent her to various weight loss programs in an effort to help her lose weight.

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 due to an interest in dancing, and the producers asked her to stop because much of her character's identity hinged on the fact that she was 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.

Ratings[edit]

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 #74 out of 79 shows on the air in the year-end Nielsen ratings, and was NBC's lowest-rated series. The show was retooled in hiatus and brought back in a Wednesday time slot, where it flourished in its second season, ranking a respectably moderate #26 in the ratings. At the time, it was NBC's fourth highest-rated scripted series, after Little House on the Prairie, Facts' parent series Diff'rent Strokes, and CHiPs.[11]

The show ranked in the mid- and upper-20s in the ratings for its entire run. For its 7th season, it was moved to Saturdays at 8:30 PM, to bolster the premiering series The Golden Girls at 9 PM. The following season, the series was moved back a half-hour to the toughest time slot on television - Saturday at 8 PM, which brought the ratings down to #31 in 1986–87 and #37 in 1987–88 - but Facts still easily won its timeslot.

  • 1) 1979–80: #74 (4.5 million viewers)[12]
  • 2) 1980–81: #26 (19.3 million viewers)[13]
  • 3) 1981–82: #24 (19.1 million viewers)[12]
  • 4) 1982–83: #32 (17.1 million viewers)[13]
  • 5) 1983–84: #24 (17.3 million viewers)[12]
  • 6) 1984–85: #24 (16.3 million viewers)[12]
  • 7) 1985–86: #27 (17.7 million viewers)[12]
  • 8) 1986–87: #31 (16.3 million viewers) [13]
  • 9) 1987–88: #37 (14.6 million viewers) [13]

Attempted spin-offs[edit]

The various attempts at spin-offs were backdoor pilots, which were shown as episodes of The Facts of Life.

  • "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 (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.[14] The episode never developed into a series, and in the season five episode "Crossing the Line", Tootie mentions Brian's and Sylvia's interracial marriage, and says that the two have since gotten divorced.
  • "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.
  • "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.
  • "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."
  • "Graduation" — This spinoff was to revolve around Blair and Jo's life at Langley.
  • "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.
  • "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.

Production notes[edit]

The Facts of Life was produced first by T.A.T. Communications Company, later known as Embassy Television (Norman Lear's production companies), and then as Embassy Communications, and Columbia Pictures Television (through ELP Communications) on January–May 1988 episodes of the series. Sony Pictures Television currently owns the distribution rights to the sitcom.

From 1979 to 1982, the show was produced at Metromedia Square in Los Angeles, California. In 1982, production moved to Universal City Studios and then to Sunset Gower Studios in 1985.

Theme music[edit]

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, you take the bad..." 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.

Television films[edit]

The Facts of Life Goes to Paris[edit]

The Facts of Life Goes to Paris, a two-hour TV movie in which Mrs. Garrett and the girls travel to France, aired September 25, 1982. The movie 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 DVDs (the syndicated versions do not).

The Facts of Life Down Under[edit]

The Facts of Life Down Under
Directed by Stuart Margolin
Produced by Rita Dillon
Michael Lake
Written by Gordon Colter
Starring Mario Van Peebles
Noel Trevarthen
Joss McWilliam
Jay Hackett
Cinematography Ron Hagen
Studio Embassy Communications
Release dates 1986
Running time 95 mins

The Facts of Life Down Under, another two-hour TV movie, aired Sunday February 15, 1987 placing a strong #13 for the week garnering 21.4/32.[15] This was strategic counterprogramming by NBC, which placed the movie against the conclusion of ABC's highly publicized mini-series Amerika.

The Telemovie was also syndicated as four half-hour episodes in later U.S. airings.[16]

The Facts of Life Reunion[edit]

On November 18, 2001, The Facts of Life Reunion aired, in which Mrs. Garrett and the girls are reunited 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 has being on assignment as a police officer.

Syndication[edit]

NBC aired daytime reruns of The Facts of Life from December 13, 1982 until June 7, 1985 at 10:00 AM (and later 12:00 noon) on the daytime schedule. Episodes aired on various television stations from September 8, 1986 to September 10, 1993, then aired on the USA Network on and off from September 13, 1993[17] to September 11, 1998.[18] In August 1994, the network celebrated the show's 15-year anniversary with a day-long marathon of 14 episodes featuring new interviews with Rae, Whelchel, and Cohn.

Episodes aired on Nick at Nite from September 4, 2000 to June 28, 2001, although the network did not air certain episodes that contained highly controversial content during prime time (including the first season episode "Dope"), instead opting to air episodes with more serious topics at late night/early morning times. 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 to November 1, 2002. Episodes were available on Comcast's Video-On-Demand service from August 8, 2005 to July 31, 2006 and again from the August 6, 2007 until Tube Time's shutdown date on December 31, 2009.

On July 16, 2008 full episodes and short "minisodes" of The Facts of Life became available online via Hulu.[19]

On March 12, 2012, Teen Nick added the series to their morning line-up; however, the series' addition to the channel was short-lived, as it left the schedule on April 3, 2012.[20] The series premiered on The Hub on April 2, 2012, where it played through the end of March 2013. It currently is not airing on any US stations.[21]

International airings[edit]

  • In Brazil, the show aired on Nick at Nite as Vivendo e Aprendendo (Living and Learning, in English).
  • 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, which means apple tree (the word 'apple' is popularly used euphemistically in Italian as a reference to teenage girls).
  • In France, seasons two and three (dubbed in French and titled Drôle de Vie) aired in 1987 on the terrestrial TV La Cinq, and seasons one, eight and nine aired on TF1.
  • In Canada, The Facts of Life aired on CTS, a Christian-based network, from September 2006 to 2009. Beginning on September 15, 2007, The Facts of Life aired weekends at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm on CanWest's digital specialty channel, DejaView, which later moved it to weekdays at 4:00 pm and 4:30 pm in March 2010.

DVD and VHS releases[edit]

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 first-season regulars Felice Schachter and Julie Anne Haddock. To promote the DVD's release, McKeon, Whelchel, and Cohn appeared together on various TV shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Today Show and CNN Showbiz to reminisce about their time on the show and talk about their lives presently; unfortunately, Fields was unable to take part due to other commitments. The third season was released on October 24, 2006. This release failed to match the success of the first and second seasons, sales-wise.

The first and second seasons were also released in Region 4 on March 7, 2007.[22]

On January 26, 2010, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the show (under license from Sony Pictures) and subsequently released the fourth season on Region 1 DVD, May 4, 2010.[23] Special features include The Facts of Life Goes To Paris, a made-for-TV-movie, which originally aired a few days prior to the fourth season debut, and a "Know The Facts: Trivia Game." The fifth season was officially released on November 2, 2010.[24] It is as yet unknown if the remaining four seasons will be released.

On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including The Facts of Life.[25] On March 27, 2014, it was announced that they will re-release the first season on DVD on May 20, 2014.[26]

DVD Name Ep # Release date
The Complete First and Second Seasons 29 May 9, 2006
May 20, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Third Season 24 October 24, 2006
The Complete Fourth Season 23 May 4, 2010
The Complete Fifth Season 26 November 2, 2010

On April 21 and 22, 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). With the advent shortly thereafter of TV on DVD and Columbia House's eventual move from the direct marketing model of exclusive series, the tapes were discontinued.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 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".
  • TV Land Award Won for Pop Culture Icon in 2011.

References[edit]

  1. ^ New York Times
  2. ^ TV Guide July 5–11, 1985
  3. ^ Variety March 4, 1987, Weekly Ratings Scorecard, page 93
  4. ^ "Web Brass Dissect Past Season" Variety April 22, 1987
  5. ^ Whelchel, Lisa (2001). The Facts of Life: And Other Lessons My Father Taught Me. Multnomah Books. pp. 35–37. ISBN 1-576-73858-2. 
  6. ^ USA Today Information Network, Jan 19, 1988 When teenagers watch TV, they like to laugh.
  7. ^ "TV Playbook: Let's Add a Kid!". IGN. Retrieved 2010-08-15. 
  8. ^ Love To Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story Of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. ECW Press. 2009. p. 267. ISBN 978-1-55022-888-5. 
  9. ^ "Geri Jewell – Biography @imdb". Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  10. ^ http://www.greatwomenspeakers.com/Pages/speaker-pages/geri-jewell/Geri-Jewell.htm
  11. ^ 1980-81 television ratings
  12. ^ a b c d e [1]
  13. ^ a b c d http://www.televisionhits.com/factsoflife/ratings.html#overall
  14. ^ ""The Facts of Life" Brian and Sylvia (1981)". Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  15. ^ Variety Feb 18 1987, Weekly Ratings Scorecard, page 112
  16. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p55
  17. ^ The Intelligencer – September 13, 1993
  18. ^ TV Guide – September 5–11, 1998
  19. ^ "Hulu—The Facts of Life". Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  20. ^ http://blog.sitcomsonline.com/2012/04/facts-of-life-removed-from-teennick.html
  21. ^ http://blog.sitcomsonline.com/2012/03/facts-of-life-coming-to-teennick-nbc.html
  22. ^ "Facts Of Life, The: The Complete First And Second Seasons". Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  23. ^ "The Facts of Life - Shout! Takes the Good, and There Ya' Have...Season 4 on DVD!". January 26, 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  24. ^ "The Facts of Life - The Complete 5th Season Official: Date, Cost and Package Art!". 28 July 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2010. 
  25. ^ Mill Creek Entertainment Signs Deals With Sony Pictures Home Entertainment To Expand Their Distribution Partnership
  26. ^ Package Art for Mill Creek's DVD Re-Releases in May

External links[edit]