Things were rather crowded at Eastland School those first 13 episodes, with Felice Schachter, Julie Anne Haddock, Julie Piekarski, and Molly Ringwald (yes, that one) in the mix with the others. Before The Facts of Life began production, Charlotte Rae and some of the show’s producers visited Westlake School in Bel Air to observe real teens. The season finale of Diff’rent Strokes’ first season, “The Girls School,” had housekeeper Mrs. These were all what they call “backdoor pilots,” where an ostensibly normal episode of an existing show is really a tryout for a new series. In a 2013 interview with People, Whelchel and Cohn discussed the challenges producers faced in (in Whelchel’s words) “trying to figure out how to deal with our changing bodies.” “Weight was always an issue back then,” explained Cohn.
She was played by Geri Jewell, a comedian with cerebral palsy whom producer Norman Lear had seen perform at the Media Access Awards in 1980.
The jaunty opening tune, written by Alan Thicke, Gloria Loring, and Al Burton, only appeared in truncated form on the show.
But there were even more verses, as found in the published sheet music and on Loring’s 1984 album A Shot in the Dark. WHELCHEL, FIELDS, AND COHN DIDN’T KNOW THAT THE OTHER GIRLS HAD BEEN FIRED UNTIL THEY SHOWED UP FOR WORK ON SEASON TWO. Other not-yet-famous guest stars who appeared on the show include Helen Hunt, Juliette Lewis, Mayim Bialik, Seth Green, Richard Dean Anderson, Richard Grieco, Dennis Haysbert, Crispin Glover, David Spade, and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Cohn was one of several students who volunteered to meet with the TV people and answer their questions.

Garrett helping out at the private school Kimberly attended, and ended with her being offered a job as housemother. It ran on CBS for a total of four episodes in August of 1979, overlapping with the premiere of The Facts of Life by one week. BLAIR’S COUSIN GERI WAS THE FIRST DISABLED CHARACTER TO APPEAR REGULARLY ON A PRIMETIME TV SHOW. FOR AS LONG-LIVED AS IT WAS, AND AS FONDLY REMEMBERED AS IT IS, THE SHOW WAS NEVER A HUGE HIT. Streamlining the cast helped, and the show was popular from season two onward, especially among young viewers.
But when Whelchel auditioned, “There was one line in the script and I read it very snidely and condescendingly and sarcastically,” she recalled.
Predictably, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough for all of those characters to do, and the show’s ratings were lousy. For the second season, producers stripped it down to the elements that were working best, dumped everyone else, and brought in Nancy McKeon as tomboy, blue-collar Jo. So when Diff’rent Strokes premiered in the fall of 1978 and became a hit—it placed 27th for the season—NBC moved quickly to capitalize on its success. The Facts of Life premiered three months later, in August of 1979, for a four-episode trial run, then returned permanently in March of 1980.
Season three’s “The Academy” introduced an all-boys military school near our girls’ school; they showed up again in a season four episode.
But while the show often won its time slot and had occasional episodes crack the weekly top 20, the season average was never any higher than 24th place.

To make the journey even more edifying, here are some things you might not know about everyone’s favorite all-female ’80s sitcom.
It didn’t get much respect from the TV academy, either, earning just three Emmy nominations (no wins) over its entire run: one for hairstyling, one for technical direction, and one for Charlotte Rae as lead actress. Garrett continued to appear on season two of Diff’rent Strokes in the meantime before leaving the Drummonds for good. The season four finale “Graduation” tested the idea of sending Blair and Jo off on their own, now that they’d graduated from Eastland. And the series finale had Blair buying Eastland, making it co-ed, and essentially starting over as the new Mrs.
Garrett, in the hopes that NBC would greenlight The Facts of Life: The Next Generation (or something like that). True Hollywood Story that the producers asked her to quit it because so much of her character was tied into being fat.

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