“Living in Front of a Studio Audience” gently revisits the twins of the 1970s-80s, “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts Of Life”

SPOIL ALERT: This article contains some spoilers on Live in front of a studio audience, which aired live on the East Coast on ABC.

After four decades the cameras have again turned to classic 70s / 80s comedies, Different shots and The facts of life, as part of the ABC Live in front of a studio audience this evening.

Broadcasting live on the east coast, the telecast went smoothly, with no major line interruptions and only a few patchy moments, which passed quickly. Television legend Norman Lear, nearly 100 years old, appearing with Jimmy Kimmel, who produced the third release of the Live series, dropped an f-bomb that must have been beeping. The swear word to the top of the show seemed to be a staged item, albeit a fun one.

Ahead of the main event, Deadline took a peek behind the curtain during Monday night’s rehearsal with a cast of new players and plenty of surprise guest appearances from the past.

The star of the evening was unmistakably Ann Dowd, who duplicated both shows as Edna Garrett. Garrett, originally played by the late Charlotte Rae, was the governess of the Drummond family on Different strokes before taking on the new role of mother at Eastland School in the spin-off, The facts of life.

Ann Dowd and Jon Stewart
Christophe Willard / ABC

Not only did Dowd capture the essence of Rae in every scene, she never broke the character when the cameras stopped rolling. She even got the approval of the show’s original cast, Lisa Whelchel and Mindy Cohn, who opened Live with their interpretation of the Facts of life theme song. Kim Fields joined Whelchel and Cohn at the concert but was absent during rehearsals.

Mrs. Garrett doesn’t get angry often, but when she does in Live in front of a studio audience – in the story of the Season 3 episode, “Kids Can Be Cruel” – it turns out hard not to imagine her going all Aunt Lydia over Blair (Jennifer Aniston), Tootie (Gabrielle Union), Jo ( Kathryn Hahn) and Natalie (Allison Tolman), who was berated for being mean in a slam book.

Their harsh reviews were primarily aimed at Carl “Rocky” Price, a shy boy with a mouth full of metal braces played by Jon Stewart. And the odds rose when the guys from neighboring Bates Academy arrived to help Eastland set up their charity box auction.

Blair’s beau Dink Lockwood and his pal Tim Holyfield really didn’t care about Carl, and Mrs. Garrett didn’t care. Audiences might remember the actors who played Dink and Tim as they played brothers in Development stopped: Will Arnett and Jason Bateman. Arnett and Bateman were inseparable even when the cameras stopped recording, a familiarity that comes from all their years of friendship.

Even a pro like Stewart couldn’t help but break character while interacting with the pair, especially since he struggled to spell out his lines while wearing Rocky’s elaborate headgear.

But it was dear Carl who emerged victorious at the end of the episode, winning not only the lunch with her crush Blair, but also the satisfaction of knowing that she found him interesting once she passed the surface. . They don’t leave at sunset or anything, but it’s always nice to remember not to judge a book by its cover or you might miss a gem.

Ms Garrett returned to the big city and the Park Avenue apartment she had lived in for years for the second half of the show focused on Different shots. The production change was announced with a rendition of the show’s theme song by Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men.

But before Kevin Hart made his big debut as little Arnold Jackson – in superhero pajamas, no less – the last surviving main actor of the original series, Todd Bridges, shared a heartwarming appreciation for the fans who continue to show love for their work after so many years while remembering his series co-stars Rae, Gary Coleman, Conrad Bain and Dana Plato.

Truth be told, Hart’s performance as an 8-year-old really gave Dowd a run for her top spot. In the reimagining of the Season 1 episode “Willis’ Privacy”, Arnold often interacted with his adoptive father, Mr. Drummond (John Lithgow), including the stealing moment of scene he laid on his knees of Lithgow who deserved an Emmy nomination.

The surprise addition of Snoop Dogg as Vernon, Willis’ best friend in Harlem added to the height disparity favoring tall people. The couple are working on a photo project together and can’t seem to get rid of Arnold long enough to develop high-grade photos.

Arnold’s constant need for affection and Willis’ need for more privacy causes a split that divides the room in two. But it would take more than a failed photo development to tear these sweet brothers apart.

Woven into the night, remakes of classic ’80s commercials starring Jennifer Beals and Alfonso Ribeiro – a new element that was not in the first two Live in front of a studio audience specials.

Before the lights went out again, the two actors gathered around the Different shots salon to pay tribute to legendary producer Norman Lear.

A replay of the special will be available via Hulu on Wednesday.

Dade Hayes contributed to this report.

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