You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have different strokes to move the world.
Two of the biggest sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s, Diff’rent Strokes and its spinoff The Facts of Life, will be brought back to television for one night only on the show Live in Front of a Studio Audience presented by Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear. This will be the show’s latest recreation of specific episodes of popular sitcoms from decades past, with previous specials tackling All in the Family, Good Times, and The Jeffersons, starring Marisa Tomei and Woody Harrelson as Edith and Archie Bunker, Wanda Sykes and Jaime Foxx as Louise and George Jefferson, and Viola Davis and Andre Bres Evans.
Tomei and Harrelson performed All in the Family, Jennifer Hudson performed The Jeffersons, and Patti LaBelle performed Good Times. Given the popularity of the theme songs for The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes – originally performed by Gloria Loring and Alan Thicke, respectively – it will be exciting to see who pops up to sing the opening titles this time.
Here’s a look at the two shows’ original casts, as well as who will be portraying them in this new special.
Diff’rent Strokes is the story of a wealthy white man and his daughter who take in their Black former housekeeper’s two sons after she suddenly dies. The sitcom ran from 1978 to 1986, with the final season jumping from NBC to ABC.
The younger of the two Jackson brothers adopted by Mr. Drummond, Arnold was a star-making role for Gary Coleman. His catchphrase “Whatchu talkin’ about, Willis?” is one of the most famous of all time. Coleman passed away in 2010 at the age of 42 following a lifetime of medical problems.
In this special, Arnold will be played by Kevin Hart, which is definitely an interesting choice as Coleman was 10 years old in the first season and Hart is 42. But Hart’s comedic talent and star power are sure to draw viewers.
Todd Bridges played Willis, the older Jackson brother who went through an array of typical teen problems. Willis was commonly heard saying “Say what?” although his catchphrase didn’t take off quite the same way Coleman’s did. Bridges still acts in film and TV, and is a voiceover artist in video games.
Willis will be portrayed by Damon Wayans in the 2021 version. Between starring roles on In Living Color and My Wife and Kids, among many other credits, Wayans is no stranger to television.
Phillip is the aforementioned rich guy who opened his heart and his doors to Arnold and Willis. Conrad Bain had been acting since the early 1950s when he landed his leading role in Diff’rent Strokes. His last television appearance was with Coleman on the series finale of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as prospective buyers of the Banks’ mansion. Bain passed away in 2013.
Mr. Drummond will be portrayed by John Lithgow. A two-time Tony winner and a six-time Emmy winner, including three for his lead role on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, it will be nice to see Lithgow return to comedy if only for one night.
Philip’s biological daughter, Kimberly, was played by Dana Plato, who tragically passed away in 1999 at the age of 34. The show had two more housekeepers, Adelaide and Pearl, played by Nedra Volz and Mary Jo Catlett after Mrs. Garrett left the show. Mr. Drummond also eventually reed Maggie who was played for one season by Dixie Carter and the following season by Mary Ann Mobley. Danny Cooksey also starred as Maggie’s son, Sam. And who could forget Willis’ girlfriend Charlene, played by none other than Janet Jackson?