Diff'rent Strokes

Diff'rent Strokes
Diff'rent Strokes
Title screen
Format Sitcom
Created by Jeff Harris
Bernie Kukoff
Written by Ben Starr
Budd Grossman
Howard Leeds
Martin Cohan
Directed by Herbert Kenwith
(season 1)
Gerren Keith
Starring Conrad Bain
Gary Coleman
Todd Bridges
Dana Plato
Charlotte Rae
Mary Jo Catlett
Danny Cooksey
Dixie Carter
Mary Ann Mobley
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 189 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Budd Grossman
(season 1)
Howard Leeds
(seasons 2-6)
Blake Hunter
(seasons 5-7)
Martin Cohan
(season 7)
Bob Brunner
Ken Hecht
(season 8)
Producer(s) Howard Leeds
Herbert Kenwith
(season 1)
Martin Cohan
(seasons 1-6)
Ben Starr
(seasons 2-4)
Bruce Taylor
(season 7)
Al Aidekman
Richard Gurman
(season 8)
Running time 30 minutes
(with commercials)
Production company(s) Tandem Productions, Inc. (1978–1986)
Embassy Television (1985–1986)
Original channel NBC (1978–1985)
ABC (1985–1986)
Original run November 3, 1978 (1978-11-03) – March 7, 1986 (1986-03-07)
Related shows The Facts of Life
Hello, Larry

Diff'rent Strokes is an American television sitcom that aired on NBC from November 3, 1978 to May 4, 1985, and on ABC from September 27, 1985 to March 7, 1986. The series stars Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold and Willis Jackson, two African American boys from Harlem who are taken in by a rich white Park Avenue businessman named Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), for whom their deceased mother previously worked.[1][2] During the first season and first half of the second season, Charlotte Rae also starred as the Drummonds' housekeeper, Mrs. Garrett (who ultimately spun-off into her own successful show, The Facts of Life).

The series made stars out of child actors Coleman, Bridges, and Plato, and became known for the "very special episodes" in which serious issues such as racism, drug use and child molestation were dramatically explored. The lives of stars Coleman, Bridges and Plato, however, were later plagued by legal troubles and drug addiction, as the stardom and success they achieved while on the show eluded them after the series was cancelled.



In pre-production, the original proposed title was 45 Minutes From Harlem.[3] The series was originally devised as a joint vehicle for Maude co-star Conrad Bain (after Maude had abruptly finished production following an unsuccessful revamp earlier in 1978), and pint-sized child actor Gary Coleman, who had caught producers' attentions after appearing in a number of commercials.

The sitcom starred Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson and Todd Bridges as his older brother, Willis. They played two children from a poor section of Harlem whose deceased mother previously worked for rich 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 in the Penthouse Suite at 297 Park Avenue in New York City. As Arnold, Coleman popularized the catchphrase "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" The ending often varied, depending on whom he was addressing.

Seasons 1-4

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 main cast and not added to the opening credits, Volz appeared as a frequent semi-regular character.

Seasons 5-6

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, with Plato's publicised brushes with substance abuse contributing to this decision, 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 later made several 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.[4] Carter was introduced a way into the sixth season; after she left for California, Drummond (with family in tow) took off after her, during a two-part trip in February 1984, a storyline which also introduced Sam.

Phillip proposed to Maggie, and they married. Several past characters attended the wedding ceremony including Dudley, Aunt Sophia, Adelaide, and Mrs. Garret.

Season 7

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 new fresh-faced kid in the house with Sam, Arnold now had his own little sidekick and was happy to be a "big brother" for a change, and with Willis being dropped into the background slightly, this new brotherly duo took centre stage for many storylines. Additionally, stories focusing on Arnold's school life (featured to an extent occasionally in many previous seasons) were delved into much more. The ratings, however, did not improve to NBC's hopes. Carter departed at the end of the seventh season.

Season 8

In the spring of 1985 NBC canceled the series because of poor ratings. ABC picked up the series for an eighth season, and aired it Friday nights. In this season, which turned out to be the last, Mary Ann Mobley replaced Dixie Carter as Maggie McKinney Drummond. (Carter had left and started work on Designing Women after NBC cancelled Diff'rent Strokes; Mobley had previously played an unrelated, one-off love interest of Drummond's during the first season.)

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. The final season ranked 76th out of 106 shows, and averaged an 11.5 household rating.


Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) is the only character to appear in every episode of the series.

Supporting characters

Outside of the Drummond household, there were a large number of supporting characters seen over the years. Phillip's slightly dotty 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 episode "Teacher's Pet" in Season 2, where he was named Dudley Johnson, before being adopted), 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 third season, Janet Jackson played Willis's steady girlfriend Charlene DuPrey. While she was only a (semi) regular cast member in the fourth season, Jackson continued doing odd guest appearances until the end of Season 6, when Charlene and Willis decided to break up, but remain friends.

Other classmates and friends of Arnold's seen over time included Robbie Jason (Steven Mond) and Lisa Hayes (Nikki Swasey), who initially was sweet on Arnold, but soon suffered a character change and came to despise him, leading to neutral hatred between the pair and many squabbles. 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).

An oft-mentioned character was The Gooch, a bullying classmate of Arnold's. While his name is mentioned in multiple episodes (and his bullying of Arnold the center of several plots), the character actually never appeared on screen.


Very special episodes

Nancy Reagan on the set of Diff'rent Strokes

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 a two-part episode that guest starred Gordon Jump as a pedophile bicycle-shop owner, who attempted to sexually molest Arnold and Dudley.

Another episode involved 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.

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 Phillip Drummond had a friend in former Army mate Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson), the Portland, Oregon radio show host who was the title character in Hello, Larry. The episode centered around Phillip and his family flying out to Portland to visit Larry and his kids, especially so the two men could catch up and reminisce. Ultimately, Phillip 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 appeared 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, where Kimberly attended. 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.

Later appearances of the characters

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, Willis?". 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?".


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: #27
  • 1979–1980: #26
  • 1980–1981: #19
  • 1981–1982: #N/A
  • 1982–1983: #N/A
  • 1983–1984: #50
  • 1984–1985: #33
  • 1985–1986: #69

Diff'rent Strokes curse

Following the cancellation of Diff'rent Strokes, the three child stars brought to fame by the show suffered from legal troubles and drug addictions, and were unable to retain the stardom they achieved on the show. Two of them (Plato and Coleman) are deceased. This went on to become known as the "Diff'rent Strokes curse." 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.[5]

Coleman in 2007
Plato in 1983
Bridges in 2008
Conrad in 1983

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.[6] In the mid-2000s, Coleman lent his voice and likeness to the controversial videogame Postal 2. In 2007, Coleman was cited for disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah for having a "heated discussion" with a woman.[7] On May 26, 2010, Coleman was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah, after falling and hitting his head, and was announced to be in critical condition with a minimal chance of survival. Coleman was then placed on life support after suffering an intracranial hemorrhage, though he died the next day from complications of his injury at the age of 42.[8]

Todd Bridges was arrested in 1994 after allegedly ramming someone's car after an argument.[9] He also had issues with illegal drugs for several years, but has given up the habit. He has since traveled across the U.S.A., touring schools and discussing the dangers of drug use.[10] He also enjoyed semi-regular guest spots on Everybody Hates Chris as Monk, a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran, conspiracy theorist, and nephew of Chris' boss Doc.

Bridges stated in an interview with Meredith Viera that while he was questioning, he and Plato had sexual relations during the production of the show, which he says Plato did to help him identify his sexuality. He also stated that Plato started him out with drugs, giving him marijuana at age 14. Plato denied both of these statements.

Music connection

The name of the show was derived from a popular catchphrase, "diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks", popularized by rock band Sly and the Family Stone with their 1968 hit "Everyday People". The show's theme song was written and sung 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.[11]
  • 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

Overseas Titles for Diff'rent Strokes
Country Show Title
 Spain Arnold
 Uruguay Arnold
 Belgium Arnold (70-80s on Flemish state television BRT)
Diff'rent Strokes (2009-2010 on Flemish commercial television vtm) (All seasons of Diff'rent Strokes 2011 vtm)
 France Arnold et Willy (Arnold and Willy)
 Venezuela Arnold el travieso (Arnold the Mischievous One)
 Argentina Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
 Mexico Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
 Guatemala Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
 Costa Rica Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
 Italy Harlem contro Manhattan (Harlem v. Manhattan) (1980-81)
Il mio Amico Arnold (My Friend Arnold) (1981–1986)
Arnold (after 1988)
 Brazil Minha Família é uma Bagunça (My Family is a Mess) (2006–2007) - Nickelodeon
Arnold (2009-present) - SBT
 Japan アーノルド坊やは人気者 (Anorudo boya wa ninkimono, Little Boy Arnold is Popular)
 Taiwan 小淘氣 (Little Rascal)
 Israel על טעם ועל ריח (About Taste and Smell)
 Germany Noch Fragen Arnold? (Any More Questions Arnold?)
 Thailand ตลกคนแคระ (The Funny Midget)

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. On September 29, 2009, a "Fan Favorites" DVD was released. This is a one disc compilation consisting of eight episodes from Season 2.[1]. At this point, it is unknown if the remaining six seasons will be released.

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'chu 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."


  1. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes: Complete First Season". DVD Talk. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/12268/diffrent-strokes-complete-first-season/. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  2. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes: The Complete Second Season". DVD Talk. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/20017/diffrent-strokes-the-complete-second-season/. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  3. ^ Weiner, Ed; Editors of TV Guide (1992). The TV Guide TV Book: 40 Years of the All-Time Greatest Television Facts, Fads, Hits, and History. New York: Harper Collins. p. 174. ISBN 0-06-096914-8. 
  4. ^ "TV Playbook: Let's Add a Kid!". IGN. http://uk.tv.ign.com/articles/935/935812p2.html. Retrieved 2010-08-15. 
  5. ^ "Child star Dana Plato's life ends with overdose". CNN.com. 1999-05-09. http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/News/9905/21/showbuzz/#story1/. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  6. ^ Murphy, Daniel (2008-03-21). "The Five Lowest Moments of Gary Coleman's Career". esquire.com. http://www.esquire.com/the-side/video/gary-coleman-moments. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  7. ^ "Former Child Star Gary Coleman Cited for Disorderly Conduct in Parking Lot Spat". FoxNews.com. 2007-08-01. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,291645,00.html. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  8. ^ "Gary Coleman critically hurt after falling and hitting his head". The Sydney Morning Herald. May 27, 2010. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/people/gary-coleman-critically-hurt-after-falling-and-hitting-his-head-20100528-wiab.html. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Todd Bridges arrested, charged after tiff involving vehicle". Jet. 1997-02-10. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n12_v91/ai_19114168. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  10. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes Facts of Life: Where Are They Now?". abcnews.go.com. http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/popup?id=4947300&contentIndex=1&page=4&start=false. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  11. ^ longisdlandpress.com

External links

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