“A Very Special Episode”: Diff’rent Strokes

In honor of Conrad Bain, here is a repost of a Diff’rent Strokes article I wrote on June 9, 2010, just a couple of weeks after Gary Coleman died (Wow, almost 3 years already!!). Part 2 will follow.

Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum,
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
A man is born, he’s a man of means.
Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.
But they got, Diff’rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.
Everybody’s got a special kind of story
Everybody finds a way to shine,
It don’t matter that you got not alot
So what,
They’ll have theirs, and you’ll have yours, and I’ll have mine.
And together we’ll be fine….
Because it takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.
Yes it does.
It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.

Dana Plato’s son had a tragic death when he committed suicide On May 6. And as we know, almost two weeks ago Gary Coleman had an untimely death. The controversy surrounding his death is still going strong. So, instead of focusing on the tragedy and troubles of the cast members of Diff’rent Strokes, let’s return to a happier time…

Diff’rent Strokes premiered on NBC on November 3, 1978. Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges starred as Arnold and Willis Jackson, two orphaned children from Harlem who are taken in by rich Park Avenue businessman Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly. Willis and Arnold’s decased mother had worked for Mr. Drummond. The show also starred Charlotte Rae as the Drummonds’ housekeeer, Edna Garrett. Partway through the second season, Charlotte Rae left the show to star in the spinoff The Facts of Life.
Following Rae’s departure, Nedra Volz took over as the housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker. In season 5, the last of the three maids joined the show – Pearl Gallagher played by Mary Jo Catlett.

The show was a hit, mostly due to the extraordinary talent of Gary Coleman. He was THE child TV star of the late ’70s and early ’80s. He was confident, had a great personality, and had awesome comic timing – especially for somebody as young as he was. Every week, you could count on his catchphrase “What’chu talkin’ about, Willis?”, or “What’chu talkin’ about,” to whoever he was talking to.

Everybody played off of Gary Coleman very well, though. It was fun watching Arnold and Willis getting into trouble, and being taught life’s lessons. The show was also an influence on the TV show Webster (about a little African-American boy being taken in by a rich couple), and was even an influence on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (a teenage boy from a bad neighborhood being raised by a rich family).

Diff’rent Strokes was also known for its “very special episodes.” People remember “very special episodes” of shows such as Blossom and Family Ties, but I believe that these types of episodes were started by Diff’rent Strokes. The most famous of these episodes were the 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. There was also the episode where 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.

Even those tough episodes were funny.

Then the show “jumped the shark” after NBC canceled the show, and then was picked up by ABC. Dana Plato was pregnant, and was forced to leave the show. And then Maggie and her son Sam became regulars on the show. Sam was brought in to bring in the “cute” factor now that Gary Coleman was getting older. But he was horrible in comparison to Coleman. The show ended on March 7, 1986.

It was a great run, and was great television throughout the ’80s.

5 thoughts on ““A Very Special Episode”: Diff’rent Strokes”

  1. Let’s tip our hats to Gary Coleman (Arnold Jackson), Conrad Bain (Phillip Drummond), Dana Plato (Kimberly Drummond), Dixie Carter (Maggie Drummond #1), Mary Ann Mobley (Maggie Drummond #2), Nedra Volz (Adelaide Brubaker), Le Tari (Ted Ramsey), Dody Goodman (Sophia Drummond), and singer Alan Thicke have gone to the great Park Avenue in the sky!

  2. Now, let’s tip our hats to Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Edna Garrett), and she had gone to the great Park Avenue in the sky.

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