The Facts of Life (TV series)

Last updated
The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life.jpg
The Facts of Life title screen for season 1. A similar shot without students was used for seasons 2–4.
GenreSitcom
Created by
Developed by
Starring
Theme music composer
Opening theme"The Facts of Life"
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons9
No. of episodes201 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producers
  • 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)
Producers
  • Jerry Mayer (seasons 1–3)
  • Linda Marsh
  • Margie Peters (seasons 3–4)
  • Rita Dillon (seasons 5–9)
  • Kimberly Hill (season 6)
Camera setup Videotape; Multi-camera
Running time22 minutes
Production companies
Distributor Embassy Communications
Release
Original network NBC
Picture format NTSC (480i)
Audio format
  • Monaural (1979–1984)
  • Stereo (1984–1988)
Original releaseAugust 24, 1979 (1979-08-24) 
May 7, 1988 (1988-05-07)
Chronology
Followed by The Facts of Life Reunion
Related shows Diff'rent Strokes

The Facts of Life is an American television sitcom created by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon and a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes that originally aired on NBC from August 24, 1979, to May 7, 1988, making it one of the longest-running sitcoms of the 1980s. The series focuses on Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), as she becomes a housemother (and from the second season onward, a dietitian as well) at the fictional Eastland School, an all-girls boarding school in Peekskill, New York. [1]

Contents

Plot

Season 1

A spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes , the series featured the Drummonds' former housekeeper Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) becoming the housemother of a dormitory at Eastland School, a private all-girls school in Peekskill, New York. 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 was originally aired as the last episode of the first season of Diff'rent Strokes and was called "The Girls' School (a.k.a. Garrett's Girls)." The plot line for the pilot had Kimberly Drummond (Dana Plato) requesting that Mrs. Garrett help her sew costumes for a student play at East Lake School for Girls, the school Kimberly attended in Upstate New York, as her dorm's housemother had recently quit. Mrs. Garrett agrees to help, puts on a successful play and also solves a problem for the boyfriend-obsessed Nancy Olsen (Felice Schachter) as she also meets Blair, Tootie, the small-town girl from Kansas Sue Ann Weaver (Julie Piekarski), and the budding activist Molly Parker (Molly Ringwald). 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, athletic tomboy Cindy Webster (Julie Anne Haddock), and Mr. Bradley becoming part of the main group featured. Although Kimberly Drummond is featured as a student at East Lake, her character did not cross over to the spinoff series with Mrs. Garrett. In the show's first season, episodes focus on the issues 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 Miss 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 disorder, parental relationships and peer pressure.

Seasons 2–8

The producers felt that there were too many characters given the limitations of the half-hour sitcom format and that the plot lines should be more focused to give the remaining girls more room for character development. Four of the original actresses—Julie Anne Haddock (Cindy), Julie Piekarski (Sue Ann), Felice Schachter (Nancy) and Molly Ringwald (Molly)—were written out of the show, although the four did make periodic guest appearances in the second and third seasons and all, but Molly Ringwald appeared in one "reunion" episode in the eighth season. Mr. Bradley's character was also dropped and replaced by Mr. Charles Parker (Roger Perry). Mr. Parker appeared in episodes through the beginning of season 5. [2] In addition to being housemother to the remaining girls, Mrs. Garrett became the school dietitian as the second season began. Jo Polniaczek (Nancy McKeon), a new student 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. The season two premiere of the retooled series saw an immediate ratings increase. By its third season (1981–82), Facts of Life had become NBC's No. 1 comedy and No. 2 overall NBC program, beating its predecessor, Diff'rent Strokes, for the first time.[ citation needed ]

In 1983, Jo and Blair graduated Eastland Academy in the highly anticipated season four finale "Graduation". To keep the four girls under one roof, the hour-long season five premiere "Brave New World" saw Mrs. Garrett go into business for herself and open a gourmet food venture named Edna's Edibles. The four girls came to live and work with Mrs. Garrett in this new refreshed space. In September 1985, NBC moved the seventh season of the series to its burgeoning Saturday night lineup at 8:30, as a lead-in for the new series The Golden Girls at 9 pm. In an attempt to refresh the "ratings work horse" and increase ratings, George Clooney was added to the regular cast and Mrs. Garrett's store was gutted by fire in the season seven premiere "Out of the Fire". The follow-up episodes "Into the Frying Pan" and "Grand Opening" had the girls join together to rebuild the store with a pop culture-influenced gift shop, called Over Our Heads. The changes proved successful as all three episodes placed in the top ten ratings each week. 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.'" [3]

Charlotte Rae initially reduced her role in seasons six and seven and later decided to leave the series altogether, believing she had done all she could do with her character and desired to move on to other projects. [4] In season eight's heavily promoted one-hour premiere, "Out of Peekskill" Mrs. Garrett married the man of her dreams and joined him in Africa while he worked for the Peace Corps. Mrs. Garrett convinces her sister, Beverly Ann Stickle (Cloris Leachman), to take over the shop and look after the girls. The character of Beverly Ann had a similar personality to Leachman's previous Emmy-winning role as Phyllis Lindstrom on two 1970s CBS sitcoms – The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis . Beverly Ann later legally adopted Over Our Heads worker Andy Moffett (Mackenzie Astin) in the episode "A Boy About the House". Describing the new changes to The Facts of Life Brandon Tartikoff, NBC Entertainment President, said he "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." [5]

Final season

In the ninth and final season, the series aired on NBC's Saturday lineup at 8 pm, NBC still had confidence in the series, making it the 8 p.m. anchor, kicking off the network's second-highest rated night (next to Thursdays). For February Nielsen rating sweeps, the writers created a controversial 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 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 religious convictions. Whelchel appeared in every episode but asked to be written out of "The First Time". [6] The episode ran a parental advisory before starting and placed 22nd in the ratings for the week. [7] With the show still easily winning its timeslot, NBC had made plans to renew The Facts of Life for a 10th season but two castmates – Mindy Cohn and Nancy McKeon – chose to leave at the conclusion of season nine. [8]

Cast

Main characters

Main cast of The Facts of Life
ActorCharacterSeasons
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Charlotte Rae Edna Garrett Main Guest Absent
John Lawlor Steven Bradley Main Absent
Jenny O'Hara Emily Mahoney [note 1] Main Absent
Lisa Whelchel Blair Warner Main
Felice Schachter Nancy Olsen Main Recurring Absent Guest Absent
Julie Piekarski Sue Ann Weaver Main Recurring Absent Guest Absent
Kim Fields Tootie Ramsey Main
Molly Ringwald Molly Parker Main Guest Absent
Julie Anne Haddock Cindy Webster Main Recurring Absent Guest Absent
Mindy Cohn Natalie Green Main
Nancy McKeon Jo Polniaczek Absent Main
Pamela Segall Kelly Affinado Absent Main Absent
Mackenzie Astin Andy Moffett Absent Recurring Main
George Clooney George Burnett Absent Main Recurring Absent
Cloris Leachman Beverly Ann Stickle Absent Main
Sherrie Krenn Pippa McKenna [note 2] Absent Main

Recurring characters

A key recurring character was Geri Tyler (Geri Jewell), Blair's cousin who has cerebral palsy. Jewell's character primarily was created in order to show Blair's more sympathetic side but Cousin Geri eventually inspired many other differently abled people interested in the entertainment industry. Other recurring characters included the judgment-impaired Miko Wakamatsu (Lauren Tom), the delivery boy Roy (Loren Lester) who was enamored with Jo, the royal princess Alexandra (Heather McAdam) and the snobbish Boots St. Clair (Jami Gertz). Shoplifter Kelly (Pamela Segall) was billed as a regular during the fifth season. Other guest roles included the boyfriends of the girls; Jo's parents, played by Alex Rocco and Claire Malis; Blair's parents, played by Nicolas Coster and Marj Dusay; Tootie's parents, played by Chip Fields (Kim Fields' real-life mother) and Robert Hooks and Natalie's parents, played by Norman Burton and Mitzi Hoag. Characters from Diff'rent Strokes also appeared in some episodes of both season one and season two. Other recurring characters included Tootie's boyfriend Jeff Williams (Todd Hollowell), Blair's boyfriend Cliff (Woody Brown) and Charles Parker (Roger Perry), who served as headmaster of Eastland following Lawlor's exit from the show.

Production

Development

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

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 and the original cast, differed from those that followed, later sung by Loring. 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.

Episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
Pilot May 4, 1979 (1979-05-04)
1 13August 24, 1979 (1979-08-24)June 11, 1980 (1980-06-11)
2 16November 19, 1980 (1980-11-19)June 3, 1981 (1981-06-03)
3 24October 28, 1981 (1981-10-28)May 5, 1982 (1982-05-05)
4 24 + movieSeptember 25, 1982 (1982-09-25)May 4, 1983 (1983-05-04)
5 26September 21, 1983 (1983-09-21)May 9, 1984 (1984-05-09)
6 26September 26, 1984 (1984-09-26)May 15, 1985 (1985-05-15)
7 24September 14, 1985 (1985-09-14)May 10, 1986 (1986-05-10)
8 24 + movieSeptember 27, 1986 (1986-09-27)May 9, 1987 (1987-05-09)
9 24September 26, 1987 (1987-09-26)May 7, 1988 (1988-05-07)
Reunion November 18, 2001 (2001-11-18)

Television films

The Facts of Life Goes to Paris

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. It scored 18.1/31 in the Nielsen Ratings. The movie was later added to the American syndication package, separated into four half-hour episodes; however, the original cut of the film appears on the Season 4 DVD set in 2010. The TVmovie was film director by Asaad Kelada. [9]

The Facts of Life Down Under

The Facts of Life Down Under , another two-hour TV movie, aired Sunday February 15, 1987 placing a strong No. 13 for the week garnering 21.4/32. [10] This was strategic counterprogramming by NBC, which placed the movie against the conclusion of ABC's highly publicized miniseries Amerika . The Telemovie was also syndicated as four half-hour episodes in later U.S. airings. [11]

The Facts of Life Reunion

The Facts of Life Reunion , a two-hour TV movie reunion aired on ABC November 18, 2001, in which Mrs. Garrett and the girls are reunited in Peekskill, New York, for the Thanksgiving holiday. It airs occasionally in the United States on ABC Family. Nancy McKeon (Jo) did not appear in this movie; her character's absence is explained as being on assignment as a police officer.

Syndication

NBC aired daytime reruns of The Facts of Life from December 13, 1982 until June 28, 1985 at 10 a.m. (and later noon) on the daytime schedule. Episodes aired on television stations nationwide from September 15, 1986 to September 10, 1993, then aired on the USA Network on and off from September 13, 1993 [12] to September 11, 1998. [13] In August 1994, the network celebrated the show's 15th 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 mature content during primetime (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. [14] On March 12, 2012, TeenNick added the series to their morning lineup; however, the series' addition to the channel was short-lived, as it left the schedule on April 3, 2012. [15] The series premiered on The Hub on April 2, 2012, where it rerun until March 31, 2013. The most recent home for "The Facts of Life" was Logo TV. Antenna TV started airing "The Facts of Life" on January 2, 2020.

International airings

Reception

Ratings

The Facts of Life was originally not a ratings winner on Friday nights in its summer debut in 1979 or in its second tryout in the spring of 1980. It ranked 74th of 79 shows on the air in the year-end Nielsen ratings and was NBC's lowest-rated series. The show was put on hiatus and extensively retooled in preparation for season two. In November 1980, season two of The Facts of Life premiered in a Wednesday 9:30 p.m. time slot, where it immediately flourished, peaking in January 1981 with a 27.4 rating and 41 share; it ranked No. 4 for the week. The program became NBC's fourth highest-rated scripted series, after Little House on the Prairie, Diff'rent Strokes and CHiPs. [16] By the third season, the series moved time slots to 9:00 pm. Wednesdays and soon became NBC's highest-rated comedy series and NBC's No. 2 overall series, after Real People . [17] For its seventh season, it moved to Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., to bolster the premiering series The Golden Girls at 9 p.m. in the newly formed Saturday night comedy block. At the start of the eighth season, the series was moved forward a half-hour to the toughest time slot on television – Saturday at 8 pm, which brought the ratings down from its season seven high. Still, the series easily won its time slot and garnered high numbers in the coveted teen and 18–49 demographics. One of the highest rated season eight episodes saw the original season one cast return for a mini-reunion. Titled "The Little Chill", it placed No. 19 for the week with an 18.2 rating and 31 share. In the article "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. [18]

Nielsen Ratings

Awards

Home media

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. 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 , 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. [19] In 2010, Shout! Factory acquired the rights to the series and released the fourth season on Region 1 DVD on May 4, 2010. [20] 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." They have subsequently released seasons five through nine on DVD. [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] Mill Creek Entertainment re-released the first and second seasons on DVD on May 20, 2014. [26] It is unknown as to whether or not Mill Creek will release any further seasons. On January 13, 2015, Shout! Factory released The Facts of Life – The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1. [27] The 26-disc set contains all 201 episodes of the series as well as the two made-for-TV films ( The Facts of Life Goes to Paris and The Facts of Life Down Under ) and other bonus features including an all-new cast reunion. The Facts of Life Reunion film is not included in this collection and has yet to be released on DVD.

DVD NameEp #Release date
The Complete First and Second Seasons29May 9, 2006
May 20, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete Third Season24October 24, 2006
The Complete Fourth Season23May 4, 2010
The Complete Fifth Season26November 2, 2010
The Complete Sixth Season26June 9, 2015
The Complete Seventh Season24October 20, 2015
The Complete Eighth Season24January 26, 2016
The Complete Ninth Season24May 17, 2016
The Complete Series201January 13, 2015

Attempted spin-offs

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

Notes

  1. O'Hara's character was dropped after the fourth episode, "I.Q."
  2. Krenn was introduced in "Up from Down Under", the sixth episode of season 9, as a recurring character. She was promoted to the main cast beginning with the episode "Something in Common".

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References

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  3. TV Guide July 5–11, 1985
  4. Bobbin, Jay (October 17, 1986). "Charlotte Rae Leaves Series Life Behind". Orlando Sentinel . Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  5. "Web Brass Dissect Past Season" Variety April 22, 1987
  6. Whelchel, Lisa (2001). The Facts of Life: And Other Lessons My Father Taught Me. Multnomah Books. pp. 35–37. ISBN   1-576-73858-2.
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  11. Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970–1995, Oxford University Press, 1996 p55
  12. The Intelligencer – September 13, 1993
  13. TV Guide – September 5–11, 1998
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  16. "ClassicTVHits.com: TV Ratings > 1980's".
  17. http://www.classictvhits.com/tvratings/1981.htm 1981–82 television ratings
  18. USA Today Information Network, Jan 19, 1988 When teenagers watch TV, they like to laugh.
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