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Diff'rent Strokes is an American television sitcom that aired on the NBC television network from November 3, 1978 to May 4, 1985, and on ABC from September 27, 1985 to March 7, 1986.


In pre-production, the original proposed title was 45 Minutes From Harlem. This sitcom starred Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson and Todd Bridges as his older brother, Willis. They played two black children from a poor Harlemmarker neighborhood whose deceased mother previously worked for a rich white widower, Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain), who eventually adopted them. They lived in a penthouse with Mr. Drummond, his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), and their maid.

There were three maids during the show's run: Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Adelaide Brubaker (Nedra Volz), and Pearl Gallagher (Mary Jo Catlett). They lived on Park Avenue in New York City. As Arnold, Coleman popularized the catch phrase "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" It often varied, depending on whom he was addressing: "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Kimberly?", "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Mr. D?", and later, "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Sam?", etc.

In Season 1, Charlotte Rae appeared in every episode as Edna Garrett, but she departed the show partway through the second season to star in her own spin-off, The Facts of Life. Following Rae's departure, Nedra Volz took over as the housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker. Although she was not part of the official cast in Season 2, Volz appeared several times.

In Season 5, Mary Jo Catlett portrayed Pearl Gallagher, the last of the three maids, and joined the cast as a series regular. Pearl appeared in almost every episode until the final season. Midway through Season 6, Dana Plato became pregnant and approached the producers of the show to include her pregnancy. Initially they agreed to add it, but they later recanted, resulting in her dismissal from the series. Plato's character, Kimberly, was written out of the storylines with the explanation that she moved to Paris to study abroad for a couple of years. Plato did not appear as a series regular in the final two seasons of the series, but she made occasional guest appearances. At the same time, ratings were beginning to sag, so new characters were added to open up future storylines. Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey portrayed recently divorced television aerobics instructor Margaret "Maggie" McKinney, and her son, Sam McKinney. The McKinneys made their debut in February 1984, during a three-part trip the cast took to Floridamarker. Philip and Maggie developed interest in each other; looking for a new life as well as a new love, Maggie, with Sam in tow, came home with the Drummonds, and started an affair with Philip. A few months later, at the end of the sixth season, Philip and Maggie were married, with special guest stars including Rae, Goodman, Volz and Jackson appearing at the wedding.

In the seventh season, Carter and Cooksey were added to the opening credits (with Carter getting special "and" billing, last in the order), and many new areas and ideas were explored in the storylines, as viewers now got to see Philip as a happily married husband. Also, since there was a fresh-faced new kid in the house, Sam, Arnold now had his own little sidekick. The ratings, unfortunately, did not take as much of a spike as NBC had hoped. Carter departed from the series at the end of the seventh season. In the spring of 1985, NBC canceled the series due to poor ratings. However, Diff'rent Strokes received a stay of execution, as ABC picked up the series for an eighth season. In what turned out to be the final season, Mary Ann Mobley replaced Dixie Carter as the new Maggie McKinney Drummond, and ABC aired the show on Friday nights. ABC canceled the series after 19 episodes, and aired its final episode on March 7, 1986. The show returned to ABC's schedule in June for two months of summer reruns, which ended on August 30, 1986.

Supporting characters

Outside of the Drummond household, there were a large number of supporting characters seen over the years. Philip's sister Sophia (Dody Goodman) was regularly seen in the fourth season, playing matchmaker for her brother in hopes of getting Philip to marry again. None of the women she set him up with lasted. Dudley Ramsey (Shavar Ross) showed up as Arnold's new best friend that year (though Dudley's first appearance was in the "Teacher's Pet" episode of Season 2), with whom he shared many memorable childhood scrapes. Some of these were important or serious storylines under the "very special episode" heading, which Diff'rent Strokes popularized (see below). Ted Ramsey (Le Tari) was Dudley's adoptive father, who turned up occasionally.

In the fourth season, Janet Jackson played Willis's steady girlfriend Charlene DuPrey. While she was only a regular cast member in the fourth season, Jackson continued doing guest appearances until the end of season six, when Charlene and Willis decided to break up.

Other classmates and friends of Arnold's seen over time included Robbie Jason (Steven Mond) and Lisa Hayes (Nikki Swasey), who was sweet on Arnold. Miss Chung (Rosalind Chao) was Arnold's homeroom teacher for a year. In the fall of 1985, when the series moved to ABC, Arnold, Dudley and Lisa entered high school, where they gained a new friend in Charlie (Jason Hervey).



List of Diff'rent Strokes episodes

Spin-off and crossovers

As a result of the overnight success of Diff'rent Strokes, an impoverished NBC commissioned another new Tandem Productions series on their schedule, Hello, Larry, to establish a connection with Strokes via an hour-long crossover episode. In this telecast ("The Trip", aired March 30, 1979), it was explained that Philip Drummond had a friend in former army mate Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson), the Portland, Oregonmarker radio show host who was the title character in Hello, Larry. The episode centered around Philip and his family flying out to Portland to visit Larry and his kids, especially so the two men could catch up and reminisce. Ultimately, Philip ends up buying the radio station Larry works at, in order to prevent troubled management from cutting Larry's gig. All principal characters on Hello, Larry appeared in this episode, and some of its writers and producers contributed to the crossover storyline. The Alders and Larry's radio colleagues would go on to appear in two more crossover episodes with Diff'rent Strokes, in the hour-long installments "Feudin' and Fussin'" (aired October 26, 1979) and in "Thanksgiving Crossover" (January 9, 1980). Done as what seemed a surefire way to generate big ratings for Hello, Larry, the crossovers between the two series did little to guarantee it long-term success; after two seasons, Hello, Larry folded.

The television sitcom The Facts of Life (1979 – 1988) was a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes, involving Mr. Drummond's former maid, Mrs. Garrett, as the house-mother for a dormitory at an all-girls private school, East Lake Academy. The series was introduced in the first season Diff'rent Strokes episode "The Girls School". There were a number of changes made for the actual series, including the name of the school, which became Eastland Academy; and Kimberly (featured in "The Girls School" as a student) did not appear in the spin-off. In addition, Charlotte Rae was guaranteed that she could return to Diff'rent Strokes, should the new series fail. When The Facts of Life proved to be a success, a number of its characters made guest appearances on Diff'rent Strokes.


Diff'rent Strokes was in the top 30 of the TV ratings for its first three seasons. This is a list of the ratings:
  • 1978–1979: #3
  • 1979–1980: #5
  • 1980–1981: #11
  • 1981–1982: #7
  • 1982–1983: #13
  • 1983–1984: #9
  • 1984–1985: #6
  • 1985–1986: #11

Post-show troubles

Three of the child stars ended up having problems after the show ended. Dana Plato went on to pose for Playboy, and also appeared in softcore films. She was later arrested twice (once for armed robbery, again for forging a prescription for Valium). She died of a drug overdose in 1999 at the age of 34.

Todd Bridges was arrested in 1994 after allegedly ramming someone's car after an argument. He also had issues with illegal drugs for several years, before turning his life around. He has since traveled across the U.S.A., touring schools discussing the dangers of drug use. He also enjoyed semi-regular guest spots on Everybody Hates Chris as Monk, a shell-shocked Vietnammarker veteran, conspiracy theorist, and nephew of Chris' boss Doc.

In 1989, Gary Coleman sued his parents and his former manager over misappropriation of his trust fund. Although he was awarded over $1,000,000 in the decision, he filed for bankruptcy in 1999. Coleman was charged with assault in 1998 after he punched a woman while he was working as a security guard at a shopping mall. In 2001, Coleman (still working as a security guard) was videotaped trying to stop a vehicle from entering the mall. The driver ridiculed him, and released the tape to be broadcast on numerous television shows. In the mid-2000s, Coleman lent his voice and likeness to the controversial videogame Postal2. In 2007, Coleman was cited for disorderly conduct in Provo, Utahmarker for having a "heated discussion" with a woman.

Later appearances

In 1996, Gary Coleman and Conrad Bain reprised their roles for the series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled "I, Done Part 2". In their scene, they reference Willis by name before meeting Will Smith's character, leading to Coleman uttering a variation of his catchphrase, "What'chu talkin' about, Will?". Also, in 1994, Coleman appeared in an episode of Married... with Children, playing a building code inspector whom Al Bundy called to report an illegal driveway. When Kelly recognizes him, he denies any connection to Arnold Jackson, but utters his catchphrase to Al, "What'chu talkin' about, Bundy?".

Very special episodes

Diff'rent Strokes was also known for its many "very special episodes", most notably an anti-drug episode ("The Reporter", in Season 5) that featured then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, who promoted her "Just Say No" campaign, and an episode that guest starred Gordon Jump as a pedophile bicycle-shop owner, who attempted to sexually molest Arnold and Dudley. The sexual abuse episode was credited somewhat for bringing the crime of child molestation (and its warning signs) more into the public eye.

Other episodes involved Arnold and Willis being rejected by Mr. Drummond's old prep school because they didn't meet the criteria of the entrance exam, a con artist (played by Whitman Mayo) posing as a relative of Arnold and Willis in an attempt to get access to the inheritance they were left by a former neighbor, and Kimberly's new love Roger (who turns out to be racist) not allowing his sister to go to their school's costume ball with Willis because of his race.

In another episode on the dangers of hitchhiking, Kimberly and Arnold were abducted by a deranged man (played by Woody Eney), who initially acted as a "Good Samaritan" and a very nice guy by giving the two of them a ride, and inviting them to his apartment. At the end of that episode, Conrad Bain spoke these words as a Public Service Announcement, "If you know of a case of sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault, please contact your local law enforcement agency or emergency medical facility."

In the final season (when the show moved from NBC to ABC), the one-hour season opener revolved around Sam being kidnapped by a bereaved father (played by Royce D. Applegate) to replace his own dead son. In yet another episode, the family discovered that Kimberly was suffering from bulimia after witnessing her devour an entire sheet cake, and then go to the bathroom to vomit.

Another very special episode dealt with Arnold and Sam meeting a street performer. After a performance, she has an epileptic seizure, and Sam is scared and thinks she is dying. The boys feel uncomfortable around Karen, the performer, and when they are making jokes about her seizures, they find out that housekeeper Pearl herself has epilepsy, but, unlike Karen, has control of her seizures by taking medications.

Music connection

The name of the show was derived from a popular catch phrase, "diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks", popularized by rock band Sly & The Family Stone with their 1968 hit "Everyday People". The show's theme song was written by Al Burton, Alan Thicke, and Gloria Loring.


Two unofficial docu-dramas were produced about the show:
  • In 2000, Fox broadcast a one-hour television movie, After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped. This film, which starred unknown actors, focused on Dana Plato's life after the show, leading to her death. Todd Bridges guest starred in this film as a drug dealer who sold drugs — to a younger Todd Bridges.
  • On September 4, 2006, NBC aired a television drama entitled Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes. The film, which chronicles the rise and decline of the sitcom's child stars, also features recent interview clips with Coleman and Bridges. The two also star in the movie as themselves (briefly) in the final scene, standing by Dana Plato's grave.

International show titles

The show was also known as:

Country Show Title
Spain Arnold
France Arnold et Willy
Venezuela Arnold el travieso
Argentina Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
Mexico Blanco y Negro (White and black)
Costa Rica Blanco y Negro (White and black)
Italy Harlem contro Manhattan (1980-81), Il mio Amico Arnold (1981-1986), Arnold (after 1988) (Harlem v. Manhattan; My friend Arnold)
Brazil Minha Família é uma Bagunça (1980s)(Nickelodeon), Arnold (after 2009)(SBT)
Japan Arnold boya wa ninkimono (アーノルド坊やは人気者)(Arnold is popular)
Israel על טעם ועל ריח

DVD releases

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released Seasons 1 and 2 of Diff'rent Strokes on DVD in Region 1 & 4. Season 1 was also released in Region 2 on October 6, 2008. Further season releases have yet to be announced. On September 29, 2009, a "Fan Favorites" DVD was released. This is a one disc compilation consisting of eight episodes from Season 2.[7511]

DVD Name Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Complete First Season 24 September 14, 2004 October 6, 2008 November 22, 2006
The Complete Second Season 26 January 31, 2006 TBA November 4, 2008
Fan Favorites 8 September 29, 2009 N/A N/A

Avenue Q

The Broadway musical Avenue Q, which began its run in 2003, contains a character named Gary Coleman, who, in the opening song "It Sucks To Be Me," sings "I'm Gary Coleman from TV's Diff'rent Strokes. I made a lot of money that got stolen by my folks. Now I'm broke and I'm the butt of everyone's jokes—but I'm here, the superintendent, of Avenue Q", to which the rest of the cast responds (in song) "It sucks to be you!" Before this line, when the character enters, the music plays "Now the world don't move..." which is the first five notes of the Diff'rent Strokes theme song. Dialogue references to Diff'rent Strokes, such as "What'choo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" are also included in the musical. The character of Gary Coleman was originally portrayed by actress Natalie Venetia Belcon. When the real Gary Coleman was asked about the Avenue Q character, Coleman responded, "I wish there was a lawyer on Earth that would sue them for me."

See also



External links

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