August of 1979 and ran until September of 1988. 209 (half-hour syndicated) episodes
Charlotte Rae reportedly had it in her contract that she would get her own series
near the end of the first year of Diff'rent Strokes. If it failed, she would have had a
safe passage back to Diff'rent Strokes. She played the Drummonds' housekeeper,
Felice Schachter auditioned for the role of Kimberly on Diff'rent Strokes but
didn't get the role as it eventually went to Dana Plato. The producers, however,
liked her and cast her in the spin-off, The Facts of Life. Felice was the first girl
to be cast in The Facts of Life and the first to be released when the show was re-tooled
and down-sized after the first season.
The first four episodes of The Facts of Life were the original episodes of what
was to be a short-lived late summer replacement for the NBC sitcom Hello, Larry.
Lisa Whelchel auditioned for and was offered the part of the older daughter (she
would have been Kim Richards' sister) on the second season of Hello, Larry. She had already
done the pilot for The Facts of Life and fortunately for her The Facts of Life was picked
up and ran for 9 seasons while Hello, Larry was gone after its' second season.
When the show began filming, Kim Fields was so short that the producers put Tootie in roller
skates to avoid difficult camera angles (she grew 3 inches by the 2nd season). Ironically, she had lost a role on Diff'rent Strokes
because she was too tall to play Gary Coleman's girlfriend.
Mindy Cohn got a part on the series when in the summer of 1979, she was taking an
advanced science course at the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles - a private
all-girls prep school, complete with uniforms, but where the girls went home at night.
. One day, completely unheralded actress Charlotte Rae showed up with the series' producers. They
wanted to interview private-school students to get ideas for scripts. "We weren't
looking for actresses," says Rae. But after she asked Mindy a few questions, something clicked. "I'd envisioned a character
called Natalie,"says Rae. "The best friend of the cutie-pie. Funny, down-to-earth. And Mindy was so adorable, I knew
she was right. The only question was: could she act?"
For the second season, the cast was trimmed down to include just Charlotte
Rae, three original girls and one new character. This newcomer, Nancy McKeon, was
suggested by a NBC chief Fred Silverman after he had seen the coming of age movie "Little
Darlings". She was brought in as Jo Polniaczek, a street-wise kid attending Eastland School
on a scholarship. The other three original girls were Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Kim
Nancy McKeon won the part of Jo over Kari Michaelson who later got the part of the oldest
daughter Katie Kanisky on Gimme A Break.
In 1983, Mindy Cohn was making $10,000 per episode.
When The Facts of Life ended its run in 1988, it had earned the distinction of
being the longest-running NBC prime-time series to date.
There were numerous spinoff attempts - all which were unsuccessful. In season 2,
there was the episode Brian and Sylvia with Richard Dean Anderson and Rosanne Caton as
an interracial couple. In season 3, there was The Academy and The Big Fight (seven boys at a military academy
near Eastland) and Jo's Cousin (Donnelly Rhodes as a gas station owner with three kids). In the 9th and final season,
there was Big Apple Blues (when Natalie decides to live in a loft in New York's SoHo to pursue
her writing career) and the final 2 episodes which were the pilot for a proposed
series with Lisa Whelchel running Eastland. Earlier in the series, there were thought of having Nancy
McKeon and Lisa Whelchel in their own series as their high-school graduation episode
was the highest rated episode of the 4th season.
Nancy McKeon missed the taping of the first two episodes of season six. The show's
producers, Embassy Television, slapped her with a breach-of-contract suit, and McKeon
suddenly showed up for work again. Embassy then dropped it's lawsuit.
Cloris Leachman wasn't signed until two weeks before production began when
she replaced Charlotte Rae who wanted to go on to other projects.
There are a variety of stories about the show's origins. One version has it that Fred Silverman, head of
NBC and a big fan of spin-offs, was anxious to create one from Diff'rent Strokes - his only hit
sitcom at the time - and that he suggested something along the lines of "Kotter girls" (a female
equivalent of the popular Welcome Back, Kotter). So the writers at Norman Lear's production
company, which produced Diff'rent Strokes, came up with the idea of an exclusive girls' school
with Mrs. Garrett as the focal point. Charlotte Rae didn't want to leave her current hit, however,
and Lear had to guarantee she would get her old role back if the new show died.
Ratings declined during the last two seasons (1986-1988), but only gradually. However, the network
that had done so much to support the show in its early years now had higher expectations. In 1985,
NBC had moved the show to Saturday night, against soft competition on CBS and ABC - shows
like Downtown, Life with Lucy and Once a Hero. NBC's own Saturday night lineup (227,
Golden Girls, Amen, Hunter) had become a powerhouse. Although The Facts of Life was the #1
show in its time period for its last three years, ironically it was the lowest-rated program in NBC's
Saturday lineup, presumably hurting the shows that followed it.
The original concept of The Facts of Life was not entirely new as their was
a short-lived CBS sitcom from August 8th, 1979 - August 24th, 1979 (4 episodes) with a similar
Dorothy Loudon and Linda Manz starred.
Fresh from winning a Tony Award for her role in the musical Annie, Dorothy Loudon turned
up on this summer comedy series as a divorced former showgirl who took a position as
music and drama teacher at the exclusive Hannah Hunt School for Girls, a rather stuffy
Eastern school. Her background and undisciplined approach to teaching were not always
appreciated by the administration, especially by headmaster Burton Foley. But the girls
were delighted, and Dorothy was tickled by the chance to do some of her routines for such an
appreciative (if underage) audience. Jack and Lorna were two other teachers at school.
*Percentage of all television homes in the U.S. that were watching, on
an average night.
The character of Natalie was named after one of Charlotte Rae's best
friends - the character was created specially for Mindy.
The character of Andy was named after Charlotte Rae's autistic son Andy.
The character of Beverly Ann (Mrs. Garrett's sister) was named after
Charlotte Rae's real-life sister Beverly Ann.
There have been Facts of Life references on Family Guy, Roseanne, Married with
Children, South Park, Living Single, Newhart, and The Simpsons among other shows. In
the movie The Cable Guy, Jim Carrey says: "I had to learn the facts of life by WATCHING The Facts of Life."
The Facts of Life was featured on TV Guide's Truth Behind the Sitcoms special
on May 4th, 2000 on FOX. Welcome Back, Kotter and Roseanne were featured as well.
(read transcript here)
In the episode where Natalie's father dies, Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) recounts
the death of her own father in the 1950's.
Charlotte Rae is from rural Wisconsin and her character was from Appleton,
An one-hour E! True Hollywood Story on the Facts of Life aired on 11/28/99 (and repeated on
8/9/00 and a few other times) - (read transcript here)
Charlotte Rae was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
at the 1982 Emmys but lost.
Alex Rocco who played Nancy McKeon's father on The Facts of Life also played
her father on the CBS sitcom 'Can't Hurry Love' and also has played her father
on the Lifetime series 'The Division'.
16 What kind of music do you like, Lisa?
Lisa The Doobie Brothers are the best - I'd love to meet Michael McDonald!
I even hung a 16 pin-up of him in "Blair's" room!
During season 6, Charlotte Rae's contract allowed her to miss a few episodes toward the end of the season. During
season 7, I believe she only signed for 13 episodes, which is why she's missing during the latter half of the season. Then she
left entirely after doing the first two episodes of season 8.
The exterior shots of Eastland were shot in Pomona, California.