Next week, Live in Front of a Studio Audience returns to ABC with recreations of two beloved late 1970s/early 80s sitcoms: The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes. As announced Thursday, The Facts of Life will feature more star power in its cast with Jon Stewart taking on a “surprise role” in The Facts of Life segment, which stars Jennifer Aniston as Blair, Gabrielle Union as Tootie, Allison Tolman as Natalie, Kathryn Hahn as Jo, and Ann Dowd as Mrs. Garrett. The original series centered on four girls at Eastland School in Peekskill, New York who bonded under the tutelage of Mrs. Garrett.
During a Television Critics Association presentation the same day about the upcoming special, Kimmel told reporters that there will be more surprise guests during the telecast, but he decline to reveal them. “It’s fun to have a few items as surprises when the show airs, but I think it will deliver,” he said. Although, when the topic of the theme song performance came up, he mentioned Martin Short — who performed the The Facts of Life theme as a joke in the 2019 Live special — is a “great Canadian” just like the late Alan Thicke, who wrote the themes songs for both The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes.
One thing he was quick to reveal was the almost immediate decision to cast Kevin Hart and Damon Wayans as Arnold and Willis Drummond (née Jackson) in the Diff’rent Strokes segment. The original series told the story of Arnold and Willis, two Black kids adopted by a rich, white industrialist. In the Live recreation, John Lithgow plays the industrialist, Mr. Drummond. Dowd will also appear as Mrs. Garrett as the character first appeared on Diff’rent Strokes as the family housekeeper.
In choosing shows to recreate, Kimmel said “It has to be a show that people love.” While there are many popular shows in television history, the common thread in the Live specials is an “iconic” quality. “It’s also important that you know all the lead characters without looking it up on Google. It’s funny how much brain space they take. It [has to be] a show that unique, beloved, and funny. That’s the show we want to settle on,” he said. And although he enjoys to opportunity to work with legendary television producer Norman Lear on these specials, he would be willing to recreate a non-Lear show at some point.
Lear also said he would be interested in bringing a series outside his library of programs into the project.
Kimmel was also asked about the surviving members of the original Facts of Life cast — Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields, Mindy Cohn, and Nancy McKeon — and whether or not the Live team considered bringing them back. “I think you could do that,” he said. “The idea of this show is different actors. We always like to make sure the originals are included in some way if possible. I think that the actresses who played the parts are all excited to see it and are flattered by the talent involved.”
The live program is produced by Kimmelot, ACT III Productions, Gary Sanchez Productions, D’Arconville, Simpson Street and Sony Pictures Television. Lear, Kimmel, Brent Miller, Kerry Washington, Will Ferrell, Justin Theroux and Jim Burrows will executive produce. Burrows and Andy Fisher are set to direct the live show.
Live in Front of a Studio Audience airs Tuesday on ABC and on Hulu the next day.