Diff'rent Strokes

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Diff'rent Strokes
Created byJeff Harris
Bernie Kukoff
Directed by
StarringConrad Bain
Gary Coleman
Todd Bridges
Dana Plato
Charlotte Rae
Mary Jo Catlett
Danny Cooksey
Dixie Carter
Mary Ann Mobley
Theme music composerAlan Thicke
Al Burton
Gloria Loring
Opening theme"It Takes Diff'rent Strokes" performed by Alan Thicke, Linda Harmon, Gloria Loring and Gene Morford
Ending theme"It Takes Diff'rent Strokes" (seasons 1–7; 1978–1985)
(instrumental in season 8; 1985–1986)
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes189 (list of episodes)
Executive producersBudd Grossman
(season 1)
Howard Leeds
(seasons 2–6)
Blake Hunter
(seasons 5–7)
Martin Cohan
(season 7)
Bob Brunner[1]
Ken Hecht
(season 8)
ProducersHoward Leeds
Herbert Kenwith
(season 1)
Martin Cohan
(seasons 1–6)
Ben Starr
(seasons 2–4)
Bruce Taylor
(season 7)
Al Aidekman
Richard Gurman
(season 8)
Production locationsMetromedia Square
Hollywood, California (1978–82)
Universal City Studios
Universal City, California (1982–85)
ABC Television Center
Hollywood, California (1985–86)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time24 minutes
Production companiesTandem Productions
Embassy Television
(season 8)
Original release
ReleaseNovember 3, 1978 (1978-11-03) –
May 4, 1985 (1985-05-04)
ReleaseSeptember 27, 1985 (1985-09-27) –
March 7, 1986 (1986-03-07)
The Facts of Life
Hello, Larry

Diff'rent Strokes is an American television sitcom, which aired on NBC from November 3, 1978, to May 4, 1985, and on ABC from September 27, 1985, to March 7, 1986.[2] The series stars Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold and Willis Jackson, respectively, who are two boys from Harlem taken in by a wealthy Park Avenue businessman and his daughter. Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) is a widower for whom their deceased mother previously worked; his daughter, Kimberly, is played by Dana Plato.[3][4] During the first season and the first half of the second season, Charlotte Rae also starred, as Mrs. Edna Garrett, the Drummonds' first housekeeper, who ultimately spun off into her own sitcom, The Facts of Life, as a housemother at the fictional Eastland School. The second housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker, was played by Nedra Volz. The third housekeeper, Pearl Gallagher, was played by Mary Jo Catlett, first appearing as a recurring character, later becoming a main cast member.

The series made stars of Coleman, Bridges, and Plato and became known for the "very special episodes", in which serious issues such as racism, illegal drug use, alcoholism, hitchhiking, kidnapping, and child sexual abuse were dramatically explored.


Diff'rent Strokes was initially devised to serve as a vehicle for both Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman. Bain had recently finished a six-year run co-starring as Dr. Arthur Harmon on the hugely successful Maude. When that series ended production following star Beatrice Arthur's decision to leave the show in the spring 1978, Tandem Productions producer Norman Lear was keen to find a suitable sitcom for Bain to star in. Ten-year-old Coleman, meanwhile, had caught producers' attention after appearing in a number of commercials and TV guest roles, and the previous year had starred in three pilot episodes by Lear that attempted to revive the Little Rascals film series of the 1920-40s. The pilots did not sell although they were later edited into a television film for some markets. Lear saw immense potential in Coleman and was determined to find him a suitable sitcom, and it was decided that Bain and Coleman would make a good, if unusual, pairing for the project.

With Bain himself having considerable input into the options available and directions they took, producers considered a number of settings and formats, including one in which Bain was a gumshoe, with Coleman as his young associate-come-informant.[5] The fictional detective Bulldog Drummond served as inspiration for what would have been Bain's character, and although this concept was ultimately dropped, the surname "Drummond" was retained to become the surname of Bain's character in Diff'rent Strokes.

Several such concepts were considered before a rough outline for the eventual series—in which Bain plays a wealthy businessman left to take care of his late housekeeper's son, the orphaned Coleman—was settled upon and given the working title 45 Minutes from Harlem (even though Harlem is only ten to fifteen minutes away from the Upper East Side by subway or taxi).[6] An alternate version of the basic scenario had a slightly harder-nosed Bain as a wealthy estate developer who finds that he can only purchase a potentially lucrative Harlem housing block for redevelopment if he also takes custody of the orphan, Coleman, who lives there; this version was nixed in favor of the former.

NBC showed immediate interest and felt the format had potential; at their request the pitch was developed, with Coleman's character, Arnold, gaining an older brother, producers feeling Coleman would benefit from the addition of a second, slightly older child to interact with, and who could add a further dynamic to storylines. Producers immediately decided child actor Todd Bridges should play the older brother; he had appeared in a number of commercials and guest roles. The producers were also impressed by Bridges’ stint on the sitcom Fish, which had also been cancelled earlier in 1978. Bridges was offered the role without needing an audition. The pitch meeting to NBC took place on Friday May 9, 1978,[7] with NBC immediately ordering an optional 26 episodes.

A daughter to Bain's character and a housekeeper were added to the lineup. Producer Al Burton had spotted Dana Plato as part of a cheerleading team auditioning on The Gong Show and felt she had a spark about her, and recommended her for the role of Drummond's daughter Kimberly.[7] Producers were keen to cast Charlotte Rae as housekeeper Edna Garrett, feeling that her more "traditional sitcom" talents would work well for the unusual line-up and that as an older character she would have good chemistry with Bain. As with Bridges, Rae was offered the role without audition, but was locked into a contract with CBS; however, Lear was determined to have Rae for the role and used his influence to convince CBS to release her from her contract, freeing her up to be available for the role.[8] The title for the series eventually became Diff'rent Strokes, inspired by the phrase "Different strokes for different folks", popularized by boxer Muhammad Ali in 1966 (Ali himself makes a guest appearance in the second season).[9]

The sitcom stars Coleman as Arnold Jackson and Bridges as his older brother, Willis, two children from a poor section of Harlem whose deceased mother previously worked for rich widower Philip Drummond (Bain), and on her deathbed asked him to take care of her sons, their father already being deceased. They live in a penthouse with Drummond, his daughter Kimberly (Plato), and their housemaid. At the outset of the series, the role of housemaid is filled by Rae as Mrs. Garrett; when Rae departed for spin-off series The Facts of Life during the second season, she was replaced by Adelaide Brubaker (Volz), who in turn, was replaced by Pearl Gallagher (Catlett) from the fifth season until the end of the run. They lived in the penthouse suite at 697 Park Avenue in New York City. As Arnold, Coleman popularized the catchphrase "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?"[10][11] with the ending varying depending on whom he was addressing. Early episodes mostly address typical family sit-com issues, but as the series progresses, it sometimes focuses on more serious topics, including drug abuse, alcoholism, hitchhiking, child abuse and crime.

Seasons 1–2 (1978–80)[edit]

The first season aired at 8:00 pm ET on Friday nights. It dealt with common topics such as various growing-up and adjustment issues experienced by Arnold and Willis, and mild culture clashes. Plots that saw Mr. Drummond searching for love, and stories that mildly addressed racism were also sometimes featured.

Although billed on the opening credits of each episode, Plato appeared only semi-regularly for much of the first season. On-screen this was explained with her character often said to be away at her private school; in reality the producers were still undecided whether the character was extraneous to the format, with the option that she could simply be faded into the background and written out as away studying should they choose to drop her. But Plato and her character were well received by audiences, and the producers became convinced that her inclusion added an extra element of appeal to the audience, offering a female character for young girls and women to identify with. As a result, from the later first season and on into the second season, Plato became a regular character.

Charlotte Rae appeared as Edna Garrett in every first-season episode; the final broadcast episode of the first season, "The Girls' School", also known as "Garrett's Girls", sees her agreeing to accompany Kimberly to her private school, the fictional Eastland, in order to help with preparations for a play- in actuality, this episode acted as the backdoor pilot for the spin-off series The Facts of Life (Garrett's Girls being an early working title). Mrs. Garrett is present for the first 13 episodes of the second season of Diff'rent Strokes, with the character last seen in the episode "The Rivals", after which she leaves, offscreen, to take a permanent position at Eastland, The Facts of Life having by then been picked up for a full series. (Kimberly did not become a regular character in that series, although the two shows had a number of crossovers.)

Shortly after the second season began, the show was moved to Wednesdays in a less kid-friendly timeslot, 9:00 pm ET. Following Rae's departure midway through the second season, Nedra Volz took over as the housekeeper, the older and crankier Adelaide Brubaker, introduced in the episode "The Election". Volz appeared on a semi-regular basis, but was not added to the opening credits, instead always credited with the guest cast on the closing credits. The reason for this, in part, was that it was in Rae's contract that she be allowed to return to Diff'rent Strokes should The Facts of Life be canceled.

Also first appearing in the second season was Arnold's best friend Dudley Johnson (Shavar Ross), first seen in the episode "Teacher's Pet". Robbie Jason (Steven Mond), another recurring school friend, also makes his first appearance in that episode. Arnold and Dudley (and often Robbie) shared many childhood escapades together, and were featured in many episodes, school-based and otherwise, throughout the show's run. As part of this, Arnold's school life also gradually began to feature more in many episodes; this increased in subsequent seasons.

The first and second season also included three hour-long crossover episodes (edited into two-part format for syndication and overseas broadcasts) with NBC sitcom Hello, Larry, which had been moved to the slot immediately following Diff'rent Strokes in an effort to boost its ratings (an effort that ultimately failed; it was canceled after the end of its second season).

Seasons 3–4 (1980–82)[edit]

The third and fourth seasons had some of the show's highest ratings[citation needed] and continued much of the themes of the first two seasons, but also gradually saw the introduction of some more serious topics into storylines. Beginning with the third-season episode "Count Your Blessings" and also touched upon in several other episodes is the fact that Arnold will never grow much taller, reflecting Gary Coleman's real-life medical condition. This same episode introduces wheelchair-aided Melanie Watson, born with osteogenesis imperfecta, as Kathy Gordon, who continued to guest-star one episode per season until Season 6. Also, shortly after Season 4 started, the show kept the same 9:00 pm ET timeslot, but moved from Wednesday to Thursday.

Also introduced in the third season is Philip's dotty and eccentric sister Sophia (Dody Goodman), in the episode "Junk Food Junkie". Appearing on a semi-regular basis, she effectively filled the same function as Adelaide as the older female character in many stories, and is present in many third and fourth season episodes.

Other recurring characters introduced over the third season included Le Tari as Dudley's adoptive father, Ted Ramsey (in the episode "Football Father"), Janet Jackson as Willis's girlfriend Charlene DuPrey and, in the fourth season episode "Kathy", Arnold's teacher Miss Chung, played by Rosalind Chao, who had played a different character in the third-season episode "Almost American", in which the regular cast only have minor roles, which served as the backdoor pilot for a potential sitcom focusing on the students of an immigration and naturalization class. The pilot was not picked up for a series, and was the only time the characters and setting appeared in Diff'rent Strokes.

Due to a pay dispute involving Coleman and his parents—who acted as his managers—over the latter's demand to increase his salary from $1,800 to $30,000 per episode, which resulted in Tandem suing them for breach of contract,[12][13][14] Coleman did not appear in the first four filmed episodes of the fourth season ("The Ski Weekend", "First Day Blues", "The Team" and "Hello Daddy?"), with a separately filmed cameo tagged on to the end of one episode explaining that he was away in the country visiting some of Mr. Drummond's relatives. The final two episodes produced for the third season ("Growing Up" and "The Model") had originally been postponed due to a writer's strike,[citation needed] and the interspersing of these two episodes with the ones without Coleman taped at the start of the fourth season allowed the span of his absence to be broken down onscreen. When the dispute was ultimately settled, Coleman returned to the series, missing only two more episodes (season 7's "The Gymnasts" and "Baseball Blues").

Due to the popularity of Coleman's character, a spin-off series was briefly considered, to be titled Arnold and focusing on the character's school life[citation needed]. But the idea was dropped, both due to producers not wanting to water down the character's appeal in the main series, and deciding that the additional workload would be too much for Coleman.[citation needed].

Seasons 5–6 (1982–84)[edit]

The fifth season saw a day and timeslot move, to Saturdays at 8:00 pm ET (with the new comedy Silver Spoons following at 8:30). The second episode of the fifth season, "In The Swim", introduced Mary Jo Catlett as the rotund, ever-cheerful Pearl Gallagher, the last of the Drummond household's three maids. Catlett joined the main cast, appeared in almost every episode until the end of the show's run, and was billed on the opening credits from the sixth season onward. "In The Swim" also saw the move of Kimberly from her private school, to the one attended by Willis—a move brought about in part at Plato's suggestion, with it being felt it might open up potential new storylines.

The fifth season also introduced a new recurring character in Arnold's class at school, that of Lisa Hayes (Nikki Swasey). Although in her first appearance, in the episode "Cyrano De Jackson", she is sweet on Arnold, in subsequent appearances, the pair were enemies, often squabbling and trading insults, a recurring theme until the end of the series (although Lisa's final appearance, in the penultimate episode of the show's run, "The Photo Club", sees the pair addressing their differences and striking a truce of sorts).

The fifth season also continued the upturn of many more storylines dealing with serious topics, becoming the epitome of the "Very Special Episode" concept employed by 1980s sitcoms,[citation needed] a trend that continued until the end of the show's run; the best-known example[15] being the fifth season two-parter "The Bicycle Man" (originally broadcast on February 5 and 12, 1983), in which Arnold and Dudley are lured in by pedophilic bicycle shop owner Mr. Horton (Gordon Jump) who attempts to molest the boys.

Midway through the sixth season, Plato became pregnant with her first child, and approached the producers of the show to incorporate her pregnancy into Kimberly's plotline. Initially they agreed to add to Plato's suggestion, but later reversed course. (Incidentally, a Season 3 episode, "Little Mother", had tackled a similar theme, involving a friend of Kimberly who discovers she is pregnant and, because of a misunderstanding, the rest of the family is led to think that Kimberly is pregnant before finding out the truth.) Plato's publicized brushes with substance abuse contributed to this decision, resulting in her dismissal from the series at the end of the sixth season.

Although still pulling in reasonable viewing figures by this time, ratings were beginning to fall, so producers decided to add several new characters to the cast to freshen the series up and open up future storylines. Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey were cast to portray recently divorced television aerobics instructor Margaret "Maggie" McKinney and her son Sam, respectively.[16] Carter was introduced midway into the sixth season (in the episode "Drummond's Lady"); after she abruptly left for California, Drummond and the family took off after her, in the two-part story "Hooray for Hollywood", a storyline that also introduced Sam, Maggie's son from her previous marriage. Phillip proposed to Maggie, and they married in the episode "The Wedding" (first broadcast on February 25, 1984). Several past characters attended the wedding ceremony, including Aunt Sophia, Adelaide, and Mrs. Garrett.

Season 7 (1984–85)[edit]

For 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, as viewers now got to see Philip as a happily married man.

Due to Plato's pregnancy and publicized substance abuse issues, she had been dropped from the regular cast at the end of the previous season. Kimberly was written out of the show with the explanation that she moved to Paris to study for a couple of years, but returned as a guest star for the season finale "A Special Friend", after Plato gave birth.

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. With Willis shifted into the background slightly, this new brotherly duo took center stage for many storylines. In the season, Bridges continued as a main cast member, but was absent in several episodes. Additionally, stories focusing on Arnold's school life, which had featured occasionally in many previous seasons, were delved into much more.

Season 8 (1985–86)[edit]

The introduction of Maggie and Sam had not improved ratings, which continued to decline over the course of the 1984–85 season; as a result, in the spring of 1985, NBC decided to cancel Diff'rent Strokes after seven seasons. However, Embassy Television subsequently reached a deal with ABC to pick up the series for an eighth season; the network change saw Strokes move back to its original night, Friday, airing at 9:00 pm ET. With this move, the show's recognizable theme song was re-recorded, updating it into a then-more modern pop style. (Fellow Embassy sitcoms and former NBC stablemates The Facts of Life and Silver Spoons—respectively entering their seventh and fourth seasons—also debuted similarly updated versions of their theme songs for the 1985–86 season.) Arnold's "What'choo talkin' 'bout?" catchphrase—which was gradually directed less towards Willis and more to other characters over the course of the series; the oft-quoted Willis variant not being used at all during Season 7—was retired, reportedly as Coleman had grown tired of using the line.

Dixie Carter opted not to return to the series. It was said that she had left to star in her own series, Designing Women, however she and Coleman had often clashed, leading to tension and animosity on-set.[13] She was replaced in the role by Mary Ann Mobley, who had previously played an unrelated, one-off love interest of Drummond's in the second-season episode "Teacher's Pet". She had been considered for Maggie when the role was created, but was not chosen in part due to the age disparity between her and Bain (the two actors were born 15 years apart, with Bain being the elder).[17]

In this final season, Jason Hervey joined the semi-regular cast as Charlie, another of Arnold's school friends. First seen in the episode "Bully For Arnold", a number of storylines focus on Arnold, Dudley, Robbie and Charlie as a quartet. Plots focusing on Arnold and Sam also continued to feature prominently, with Willis by this stage appearing on a secondary, semi-regular basis.

After her guest appearance at the end of the previous season, Plato made several guest appearances in the final season, being billed alongside the guest cast as a "special guest star". (Despite not being a regular, Plato also appeared at the end of that season's opening credit sequence with the rest of the main cast.) Her final appearance, in the episode "Bulimia" (originally aired on January 17, 1986), dealt with the revelation of Kimberly's eating disorder, and won praise both for Plato's performance and the sensitivity of the writing.

ABC canceled the series after 19 episodes of the proposed 22-episode season were produced, a result of low ratings and a feeling that the series had run its course; although it was also observed that by this time, the once joyous Coleman, now 17, was looking angry and haggard,[14] a combination of his ongoing medical issues and a bitter financial dispute with his parents.

The final episode, "The Front Page" (originally aired on March 7, 1986), involves Arnold writing an investigative report for his school newspaper on student athletes using anabolic steroids. It was in many respects a standard episode, with no indication that it would be the series finale due to the show's abrupt cancellation. Bridges, Plato and Catlett were all absent from the episode, and several cast members later voiced their disappointment that they had not realized it would be the final episode, and would have liked to have been present to mark the end of the series onscreen more adequately.[citation needed]

Following its cancellation, the show was brought back onto ABC's schedule in June 1986 for three months of Summer reruns, airing on Saturdays at 8:00 pm ET until August 30 of that year (airing opposite The Facts of Life which was on NBC). The final season ranked 69th out of 106 shows, and averaged an 11.5 household rating.[18]



  • Conrad Bain as Phillip Drummond (1978–86)
  • Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson, Willis's younger brother and Phillip's adoptive son (1978–86)
  • Todd Bridges as Willis Jackson, Arnold's older brother and Phillip's adoptive son (1978–86)
  • Dana Plato as Kimberly Drummond, Phillip's biological daughter (1978–84, 1985–86 recurring)
  • Charlotte Rae as Edna Garrett, Phillip's first housekeeper (1978–79, 1984 guest)
  • Mary Jo Catlett as Pearl Gallagher, Phillip's third housekeeper (1982–86)
  • Danny Cooksey as Sam McKinney, Maggie's son and Phillip's stepson (1984–86)
  • Dixie Carter as Maggie McKinney Drummond #1, Phillip's second wife (1984–85)
  • Mary Ann Mobley as Maggie McKinney Drummond #2 (1985–86) and as Ms. Osborne (1980)


Phillip Drummond is the only character to appear in every episode of the series. Arnold Jackson missed five episodes, two from the fourth season in 1981–82 (“First Day Blues" and "The Team") and three from the seventh season in 1984–85 ("The Gymnasts", "Sam Adopts a Grandparent" and "Baseball Blues").

Supporting characters[edit]

Outside the Drummond household, there were a large number of supporting characters over the years. In the third season, Janet Jackson played Willis's girlfriend, Charlene DuPrey. She was a frequent recurring character until the sixth season, when Charlene and Willis break up but remain friends. Mr. Drummond's dotty sister Sophia (Dody Goodman) was regularly seen in the fourth season, playing matchmaker for her brother in hopes of getting him to remarry.

Dudley Johnson (Shavar Ross) was Arnold's best friend, who, like Arnold, was adopted, and 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. Ted Ramsey (Le Tari) was Dudley's adoptive father, who turned up occasionally.

Other classmates and friends of Arnold 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 teacher. In the fall of 1985, when the series moved to ABC for the seventh season, Arnold, Dudley and Lisa entered high school, where they gained a new friend in Charlie (Jason Hervey).

An oft-mentioned character spanning the entire show's run, was "The Gooch", a notorious bully at Arnold's school. First mentioned in the first-season episode "The Fight," which revolves around his bullying of Arnold, he is mentioned in numerous episodes (and his bullying of Arnold returned as the center of several plots), with Arnold's frequent descriptions of him as a burly and troublesome brute, forever looking for trouble but not very smart. The character never appeared onscreen. In the seventh season, after years of harassing Arnold (and later Sam), the Gooch was finally defeated by Arnold's neighbor and nemesis (and eventually friend) Carmella, a foreign exchange student.


SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast airedNetwork
124November 3, 1978 (1978-11-03)May 4, 1979 (1979-05-04)NBC2719.9
226September 21, 1979 (1979-09-21)March 26, 1980 (1980-03-26)2620.3
322November 12, 1980 (1980-11-12)May 13, 1981 (1981-05-13)1720.7 [a]
426October 29, 1981 (1981-10-29)May 20, 1982 (1982-05-20)36
524October 2, 1982 (1982-10-02)May 14, 1983 (1983-05-14)51
624October 1, 1983 (1983-10-01)May 12, 1984 (1984-05-12)5015.1 [b] [19]
724September 29, 1984 (1984-09-29)May 4, 1985 (1985-05-04)3714.7
819September 27, 1985 (1985-09-27)March 7, 1986 (1986-03-07)ABC6911.5

Very special episodes[edit]

Nancy Reagan on the set of Diff'rent Strokes in 1983

Diff'rent Strokes was also known for its many "very special episodes," most notably an anti-drug episode ("The Reporter") that featured First Lady Nancy Reagan, who promoted her "Just Say No" campaign, and "The Bicycle Man", a two-part episode that guest starred Gordon Jump as a pedophile who lures Arnold and Dudley into his bicycle shop and attempts to molest them. 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.

Another episode ("Skin Deep or True Blue") is about Kimberly's new boyfriend, Roger Morehouse (played by Grant Wilson), not allowing his sister, Emily (Melora Hardin), to go to their school's costume ball with Willis because he is black. A more humorous episode on pollution and the environment ("Green Hair") had Kimberly's hair turning green from acid rain.

In a two-part episode on the dangers of hitchhiking ("The Hitchhikers"), Kimberly and Arnold (who were out in the cold weather and didn't have money for cab or bus fare) were abducted by a serial kidnapper-rapist (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 the man nearly raped Kimberly before the police arrived to arrest him. At the end of the episode, 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.

Two notable episodes dealt with the consequences of alcoholism. In the first, season 5's "A Growing Problem," Willis moves out of the penthouse to live with Jerry (Lawrence Monoson) who abuses alcohol. In the second, season 7's "Cheers to Arnold," Arnold must deal with Ricky (Robert Jayne), a classmate whom he catches drinking a thermos of alcohol in the school bathroom.

In the final season (when the sitcom moved from NBC to ABC), the one-hour season opener ("Sam's Missing") revolved around Sam being kidnapped by Donald Brown (Royce D. Applegate), a bereaved father hoping to replace his own dead son, Tommy.

Other notable episodes included season 8's "Bulimia," in which the family discovered that Kimberly was suffering from bulimia. In season 7's "A Special Friend," Arnold and Sam met Karen, a street performer. After a performance, she has an epileptic seizure and Sam thinks she's dying. The boys then feel uncomfortable around her and when they begin making jokes about her seizures, they find out that housekeeper Pearl herself has epilepsy but, unlike Karen, controls her seizures with medication.

Spin-off and crossovers[edit]

The Facts of Life (1979–1988) is a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes featuring Drummond's former housekeeper, Mrs. Garrett, who had accepted a job as the housemother for a dormitory at Eastland, an all-girls private school that Kimberly was attending. In a late first-season episode of Strokes ("The Girls School", which served as the backdoor pilot of Facts), Mrs. Garrett took Kimberly to the school with the intent of helping her sew costumes for a school play. While there, Mrs. Garrett met Kimberly's classmates and was offered the job as "dorm mother." She declined, but come fall, she had a change of heart. The Diff'rent Strokes cast appeared in the first episode of The Facts of Life (at one point, Drummond asks Mrs. Garrett "Are you sure we can't change your mind to come back to us?"). The success of the spin-off 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 where Larry worked as a talk show host.

The episode "Almost American" (aka "Night School"), was the pilot for a potential spin-off series, which ultimately was not picked up for a full series.[20]

In addition, whilst not official in-universe cross-overs, two sixth season stories saw characters meeting stars of two of NBC's other biggest shows: the episode Mr. T and mr. t sees Mr. T guest starring when the apartment block is used to film a (fictional) episode of The A-Team; and in the two-part "Hooray for Hollywood," Arnold and Dudley sneak onto the set of a (fictional) episode of Knight Rider in hope of meeting series star, David Hasselhoff. (Although Hasselhoff, in his costume as Michael Knight appears, the voice of K.I.T.T. is not provided by William Daniels, who voices K.I.T.T. in the television series, but by an uncredited voice actor who voiced the car for various Universal Studios promotions.)

Additionally, Arnold appeared on the Silver Spoons episode "The Great Computer Caper" and the Amazing Stories episode "Remote Control Man".

Later appearances as the characters[edit]

In 1994, Coleman appeared in an episode of Married... with Children ("How Green Was My Apple"), playing a building code inspector whom Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) called to report an illegal driveway. When Kelly (Christina Applegate) recognizes him, he denies any connection to Arnold Jackson, but utters his catchphrase to Al, "What'cha talkin' about, Bundy?"

In 1996, Coleman and Bain reprised their roles for the series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled "I, Done Part II", where they consider buying the Banks mansion. They reference Willis by name before meeting Will Smith's character, leading to Coleman uttering a variation of his catchphrase, "What'cha talkin' about, Will?"

Additional catchphrase references and appearances in popular culture[edit]

In 2004, Coleman appeared on the second season of The Surreal Life and was pressured to quote his famous catchphrase by Vanilla Ice.[21][22] 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.

After Diff'rent Strokes ended[edit]

Following the cancellation of Diff'rent Strokes in 1986, Coleman, Bridges and Plato faced immense struggles in landing other 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 cast's personal problems and faltering careers on what was eventually dubbed the "curse of Diff'rent Strokes" by various tabloids.[23]

Gary Coleman[edit]

In 1989 three years after the series ended, Coleman sued his parents and his former manager over misappropriation of his trust fund. Although he was awarded over $1 million in the decision, he filed for bankruptcy in 1999. In 1998, Coleman was charged with assault after he punched a woman harassing him and demanding an autograph 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.[24] In 2007, Coleman was cited for disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah, for having a "heated discussion" with a woman.[25] 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 on May 28 from complications of his injury at age 42.[26]

Dana Plato[edit]

During the series' sixth season, Plato became pregnant and her character was written out of the series (though she would go on to make guest appearances for the final two seasons). In 1984, she married the father of her child, musician Lanny Lambert, but the couple divorced in 1990. Due to financial difficulties and her severe addiction to drugs and alcohol, Plato relinquished custody of her son, Tyler, to Lambert. 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.[23] 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 cleaning store.[27] 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.[28] In 1998, she appeared in a softcore pornographic film entitled Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill...and Jill, which was intended to capitalize on her Diff'rent Strokes fame.[23] After her arrests, Plato publicly admitted that she struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol.[29] Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999 at age 34. Her death was ruled a suicide.[30] Her son, Tyler, died by suicide in 2010.

Todd Bridges[edit]

After the series ended 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.[31] Bridges was also arrested on a concealed weapon charge and possession of cocaine.[23] In 1994, he was arrested after allegedly ramming someone's car after an argument.[32] After years of battling drug addiction, Bridges became sober in the early 1990s.[33] He has traveled across the United States, touring schools and discussing the dangers of drug use.[34] Bridges has continued acting in films and television. Bridges's more high-profile role was as Monk, a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran, conspiracy theorist, and nephew of Chris's boss Doc on the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris.[35] Since Charlotte Rae's death in 2018 at the age of 92, Bridges remains the sole living member of the original cast.


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 Plato's life after the show, leading to her suicide. Bridges guest starred in this film as a drug dealer who sold drugs to a younger version of himself.[36]
  • On September 4, 2006, NBC aired a television drama titled Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes. This film, which chronicles the rise and decline of the sitcom's child stars, also features recent interview clips with Coleman and Bridges. The two briefly appear in the movie's final scene, standing by Plato's grave.[37]

Home media[edit]

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (formerly Columbia TriStar 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.[38] On September 29, 2009, a "Fan Favorites" DVD was released. This is a one disc compilation consisting of eight episodes from Season 2.[39]

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.[40] Season 4 was released on November 20, 2012.[41] Season 5 was released on April 4, 2017.[42] Season 6 was released on July 25, 2017.[43] Season 7 was released on February 27, 2018.[44] Season 8 was released on May 29, 2018.[44]

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 Diff'rent Strokes.[45] They subsequently re-released the first and second seasons on DVD on July 15, 2014.[46]

The series had graded its audio tracks to AAC 2 Channels.[clarification needed]

DVD name No. of
Release dates
Region 1 Region 4
The Complete First Season 24 September 14, 2004
July 15, 2014 (re-release)
November 22, 2006
The Complete Second Season 26 January 31, 2006
July 15, 2014 (re-release)
November 4, 2008
The Complete Third Season 22 July 17, 2012 N/A
The Complete Fourth Season 26 November 20, 2012 N/A
The Complete Fifth Season 24 April 4, 2017 N/A
The Complete Sixth Season 23 July 25, 2017 N/A
The Complete Seventh Season 24 February 27, 2018 N/A
The Complete Eighth Season 19 May 29, 2018 N/A

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Bob Brunner, 'Happy Days' writer, dies". Variety. 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2012-11-27.
  2. ^ "BBC - Comedy Guide - Diff'rent Strokes". January 17, 2005. Archived from the original on 2005-01-17.
  3. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes: Complete First Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  4. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes: The Complete Second Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  5. ^ Gary Coleman (opening interview) (2006). Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Diff'rent Strokes' (TV Movie, Docudrama). NBC.
  6. ^ Weiner, Ed (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.
  7. ^ a b Conrad Bain (interview clip) (1998). E! True Hollywood Story: Season 2: Episode 25 - 'Diff'rent Strokes' (Documentary series, Biography). E! Network.
  8. ^ Charlotte Rae. Television Academy Foundation - Charlotte Rae (interview) (Video). Television Academy Foundation. Retrieved 10 March 2010.
  9. ^ Keith, Gerren (1979-10-24), Arnold's Hero, Diff'rent Strokes, Conrad Bain, Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, retrieved 2024-04-19
  10. ^ "The Accident". Diff'rent Strokes. 3 December 1980. American Broadcasting Company.
  11. ^ Hart, Kevin. "Kevin Hart's 'What You Talkin' 'Bout, Willis?' - Live in Front of a Studio Audience: The Facts of Li". YouTube. American Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  12. ^ "Child star Gary Coleman has settled his pay dispute". United Press International. November 12, 1981.
  13. ^ a b "AnoMama - 17 Fascinating Facts about the Beloved 'Diff'rent Strokes' Fans Might Not Know". Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Los Angeles Times - A Tale of a Falling Star : For eight seasons Gary Coleman --of 'Diff'rent Strokes'-- was at the top of the world. When the laugh track stopped, he had to scrounge for work. Now, his main role is in the courtroom, in a pathetic fight against his own parents". Los Angeles Times. May 20, 1990. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  15. ^ A. Robinson, Mark (October 15, 2019). Sitcommentary: Television Comedies That Changed America. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 102. ISBN 9781538114209. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  16. ^ "TV Playbook: Let's Add a Kid!". IGN. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
  17. ^ "The Durant Daily Democrat – Google News Archive Search". google.com. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  18. ^ 100 Most Popular Television Series by Sony Pictures Television. Focus On. December 2017.
  19. ^ "The TV Ratings Guide: 1983-84 Ratings History".
  20. ^ Almost American at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  21. ^ "Ron Jeremy: Gary Coleman Hated Saying "Whatchu Talkin' Bout" Line". US Magazine. 30 May 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  22. ^ "Vanilla Ice – I'm Going to Gary Coleman's Memorial". tmz.com. 29 May 2010. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  23. ^ a b c d Sporkin, Elizabeth (March 25, 1991). "Diff'rent Strokes, Fallen Stars". People. 35 (11). ISSN 0093-7673.
  24. ^ Murphy, Daniel (2008-03-21). "The Five Lowest Moments of Gary Coleman's Career". Esquire. Archived from the original on 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  25. ^ "Former Child Star Gary Coleman Cited for Disorderly Conduct in Parking Lot Spat". Fox News. 2007-08-01. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  26. ^ "Gary Coleman critically hurt after falling and hitting his head". The Sydney Morning Herald. May 27, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2010.
  27. ^ Gliatto, Tom (May 24, 1999). "Little Girl Lost". People. 51 (9). ISSN 0093-7673.
  28. ^ "Dana Plato, 34, Star of 'Diff'rent Strokes'". The New York Times. May 10, 1999. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  29. ^ "The 'Diff'rent Strokes' curse isn't a joke". Los Angeles Times. May 28, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  30. ^ "Child star Dana Plato's life ends with overdose". CNN.com. 1999-05-09. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  31. ^ "Jury Acquits Todd Bridges Of Charges Of Attempted Murder, Manslaughter". Jet. 77 (8). Johnson Publishing Company: 36–67. November 27, 1989. ISSN 0021-5996.
  32. ^ "Todd Bridges arrested, charged after tiff involving vehicle". Jet. 1997-02-10. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes Facts of Life: Where Are They Now?". abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
  35. ^ Bauder, David (May 31, 2010). "Troubled lives for 'Diff'rent Strokes' stars". today.com. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  36. ^ "Long Island News from the Long Island Press". Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  37. ^ McDonough, Kevin (September 4, 2006). "Refried nostalgia, overcooked comedy". recordonline.com. Archived from the original on September 3, 2014. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  38. ^ Diff'rent Strokes – Complete Season 1
  39. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes – Front/Rear Box Art, Episode List for Sony's 'Diff'rent: Fan Favorites' DVD". TVShowsonDVD.com. Archived from the original on September 3, 2009. Retrieved August 31, 2009.
  40. ^ Lambert, David (April 6, 2012). "Diff'rent Strokes – 'Season 3' DVDs! Whatchoo Talkin' 'Bout, Shout! Factory?". tvshowsondvd.com. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  41. ^ Lambert, David (August 13, 2012). "Diff'rent Strokes – 'The Complete 4th Season' is Scheduled by Shout! for DVD". tvshowsondvd.com. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  42. ^ Lambert, David (January 6, 2017). "Diff'rent Strokes – And Together We'll Be Fine!: 'The Complete 5th Season' on DVD". tvshowsondvd.com. Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2017.
  43. ^ "DVD Calendar Feature Articles - Metacritic". www.metacritic.com. Archived from the original on April 6, 2017.
  44. ^ a b "DVD Calendar Feature Articles - Metacritic". www.metacritic.com. Archived from the original on 2018-04-03. Retrieved 2023-02-18.
  45. ^ "Site News DVD news: Mill Creek Licenses 52 TV Shows from Sony for Low-Cost DVD Release - TVShowsOnDVD.com". tvshowsondvd.com. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  46. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes DVD news: Box Art for Diff'rent Strokes - Seasons 1 & 2 - TVShowsOnDVD.com". tvshowsondvd.com. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.

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