We were hoping that Norman Lear’s 100th birthday year would bring about a live staged revival of “Maude” for his Jimmy Kimmel-produced renaissance.
Instead, we’re getting live versions of two lesser shows, “Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” Each of these NBC series from the 80s was pretty awful. Lear’s company, Tandem, produced them but his name never appeared on them. They were never nearly as important as “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Good Times,” all of which have had live revivals and won awards.
I asked Lear a couple of years ago who he wanted to play Bea Arthur’s “Maude.” He told me Meryl Streep was his number 1 choice. But Streep doesn’t do TV, and it appears even Lear had no luck in this case. I think Christine Baranski would have been perfect.
But “Maude” is not coming next. Instead we’re getting the very fine actress Ann Dowd to play Charlotte Rae’s Mrs. Garrett in these connected series. A major star, John Lithgow, will play Mr. Drummond, who adopts a pair of young Black kids and brings them to his Park Avenue apartment. In the original show, Gary Coleman — who was small for his age (four foot eight) and eventually died young from kidney disease — played Arnold. Todd Bridges, who had many legal issues after the show ended, played Willis.
Now Kevin Hart will play an adult Arnold and Damon Wayans will be Willis in what will be a much different “Diff’rent Strokes.” I guess adults will look more palatable than children. But they’ll still have Mrs. Garrett. No mention has been made of who would play Dana Plato’s role. Plato was Mr. Drummond’s daughter, Kimberly. In real life Plato, like Coleman, died young after a very troubled life.
Then Dowd will also appear as Mrs. Garrett when she was spun off of “Diffrent Strokes” to watch a bunch of girls in a boarding school in “Facts of Life.” No info yet on who will play the girls, but it would be amusing if George Clooney popped in. He played a handyman on 17 episodes of the sitcom. I’ll bet Lear and Kimmel are trying to get him. Clooney should play an ER doctor. Now that would be very ‘meta’.
The shows will air on ABC on December 7th.