"The Facts of Life"
The Facts of Life Theme
Final episode date
13 September 1988
Dick ClairJenna McMahon
Howard LeedsBen StarrJerry Mayer
Charlotte RaeJohn LawlorJenny O'HaraLisa WhelchelFelice SchachterJulie PiekarskiKim FieldsMolly RingwaldJulie Anne HaddockMindy CohnNancy McKeonPamela SegallMackenzie AstinGeorge ClooneyCloris LeachmanSherrie Krenn
Theme music composer
Al BurtonGloria LoringAlan Thicke
The Facts of Life is an American sitcom 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 after the second season, a dietitian as well) at the fictional Eastland School, an all-female boarding school in Peekskill, New York.
- Season 1
- Seasons 28
- Final season
- Recurring characters
- Celebrity guest stars
- Geri Jewell
- Broadcast history and Nielsen ratings
- Attempted spin offs
- The Facts of Life Goes to Paris
- The Facts of Life Down Under
- The Facts of Life Reunion
- International airings
- DVD and VHS releases
- Awards and nominations
A spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes, the series featured the Drummonds' housekeeper, Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) as the housemother of a dormitory at Eastland School, a private all-girls school. 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 originally aired as the last episode of Diff'rent Strokes' first season and was called "The Girls' School (aka Garrett's Girls)." The plotline 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 Nancy. 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, Cindy (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 troubles 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 Ms. 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 disorders, parental relationships, and peer pressure.
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 with a generally unseen headmaster named Mr. Harris. (Mr. Harris actually appeared in an early second-season episode, "Gossip", played by Kenneth Mars) and Mr. Parker for the rest of the series. 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 #1 comedy and #2 overall NBC program, beating out its predecessor, Diff'rent Strokes, for the first time.
In 1983, Jo and Blair graduated Eastland Academy in the highly anticipated season four finale "Graduation" (which placed #5 for the week). 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 (it placed #9 in the weekly ratings). The four girls would come 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 p.m., as a lead-in for the new series The Golden Girls at 9:00 p.m. In an attempt to refresh the "ratings work horse" and increase ratings, George Clooney (before he became famous) 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 band together to rebuild the store with a pop culture-influenced gift shop, called Over Our Heads. The changes proved successful as all 3 episodes placed in the top 10 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.'"
Charlotte Rae initially reduced her role in seasons six and seven, and later decided to leave the series altogether. 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. 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."
In the ninth and final season, the series aired on NBC's Saturday night lineup at 8:00 p.m. NBC still had confidence in the series, making it the 8:00 p.m. anchor, kicking off the network's second-highest rated night (next to Thursdays). For February sweeps, the writers created a 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 particular 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 Christian convictions. Whelchel appeared in every episode, but asked to be written out of "The First Time". The episode ran a parental advisory before starting, and placed 22nd in the ratings for the week.
With the show still comfortably winning its timeslot, NBC made plans to renew The Facts of Life for a tenth season, but two castmates—Mindy Cohn and Nancy McKeon—chose to leave at the conclusion of season nine.
A key recurring character was Geri Tyler (Geri Jewell), Blair's cousin who has cerebral palsy. 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 (Blair's mother was played by Pam Huntington in one episode during the first season); Tootie's parents, played by Kim Fields' real-life mother, actress Chip Fields, and Robert Hooks; and Natalie's parents, played by Norman Burton and Mitzi Hoag. (Natalie's grandmother was played by Molly Picon, and appeared in two episodes.) Hugh Gillin appeared in four episodes as Howard. Officer Ziaukus was played by Larry Wilmore, and appeared in 2 episodes. A 1984 episode was built around Natalie coming to terms with the sudden death of her father. Characters from Diff'rent Strokes also appeared in some episodes of both season one and season two. Shawnte Northcutte from The New Mickey Mouse Club appeared as Madge in the 1980 episode "Who Am I?".
Celebrity guest stars
Celebrities who made guest appearances on the show included Helen Hunt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jermaine Jackson, Eve Plumb, Jean Smart, John Astin, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Dick Van Patten, Penelope Ann Miller, Doug Savant, Dennis Haysbert, Lois Nettleton, Richard Moll, David Spade, Richard Grieco, Juliette Lewis, Seth Green, Mayim Bialik, Deborah Harmon, Irene Tedrow, El DeBarge, Joyce Bulifant, and Anne Jackson.
The Facts of Life was one of the first television shows to feature a person with cerebral palsy as a recurring character. Indeed, actress Geri Jewell was the first person with a disability to have a regular role on a prime time series. In an interview as part of an episode of E! True Hollywood Story, Jewell stated that she believed her character "cousin Geri" was going to continue as a recurring character on the show during the sixth season, but the producers offered her only one episode for the season because viewers would immediately assume that any episode with cousin Geri would be a "very special episode". Jewell stated that she stopped appearing on the show for that reason.
Another issue during the show's early seasons concerned the stars' appearances. Lisa Whelchel has stated in various interviews, including on E! True Hollywood Story, that the cast spent a lot of time on set doing nothing, so the natural inclination for many of them was to eat, as food was readily available all over the set. This noticeably affected the girls' appearances, leading Joan Rivers to dub them "The Fats of Life" during the cast's appearance at the Emmy Awards; the producers eventually restricted what the actors could eat while on set, and in an April 2011 interview, Lisa Whelchel stated that the producers sent her to various weight loss programs in an effort to help her lose weight.
Mindy Cohn, in the E! True Hollywood Story, stated that the situation was the exact opposite for her. She had been losing weight during this period due to an interest in dancing, and the producers asked her to stop because much of her character's identity hinged on the fact that she was overweight. Cohn said the producers compromised with her regarding her weight by dressing her in baggy clothing to make her appear heavier than she was.
Broadcast history and Nielsen 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 out 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 #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.
By the third season, the series moved time slots to 9:00 p.m. Wednesdays, and soon became NBC's highest-rated comedy series, and NBC's #2 overall series, after Real People. For its seventh season, it moved to Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., to bolster the premiering series The Golden Girls at 9:00 p.m. in the newly formed Saturday night comedy block.
At the start of the eighth season, the series was moved back a half-hour to the toughest time slot on television—Saturday at 8:00 p.m., which brought the ratings down from its season seven high. Still, the series easily won its time slot, and garnering 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 #19 for the week with a 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.
The various attempts at spin-offs were backdoor pilots, which were shown as episodes of The Facts of Life.
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 U.S. syndication package, broken up into four half-hour episodes; however, the original cut of the film appears on the 2010 Season four DVD set. The television movie was directed by Asaad Kelada.
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 #13 for the week garnering 21.4/32. This was strategic counterprogramming by NBC, which placed the movie against the conclusion of ABC's highly publicized mini-series Amerika.
The Telemovie was also syndicated as four half-hour episodes in later U.S. airings.
The Facts of Life Reunion
On November 18, 2001, The Facts of Life Reunion aired on ABC, in which Mrs. Garrett and the girls are reunited in Peekskill, New York, for the Thanksgiving holiday. It airs sporadically in the U.S. on ABC Family. Nancy McKeon does not appear in this movie. Her character is explained as being on assignment as a police officer.
NBC aired daytime reruns of The Facts of Life from December 13, 1982 until June 7, 1985 at 10:00 AM (and later 12:00 noon) on the daytime schedule. Episodes aired on various television stations from September 15, 1986 to September 10, 1993, then aired on the USA Network on and off from September 13, 1993 to September 11, 1998. In August 1994, the network celebrated the show's 15-year 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 controversial content during prime time (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.
On March 12, 2012, Teen Nick added the series to their morning line-up; however, the series' addition to the channel was short-lived, as it left the schedule on April 3, 2012. The series premiered on The Hub on April 2, 2012, where it played through the end of March 2013. The show aired on Logo in 2015. Currently the series airs on FamilyNet.
DVD and VHS releases
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 Show 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.
In 2010, Shout! Factory acquired the rights to the series and released the fourth season on Region 1 DVD on May 4, 2010. 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.
Mill Creek Entertainment re-released the first and second seasons on DVD on May 20, 2014. 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. 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 is yet to be released on DVD.