But before the reenactment got underway, original cast member Todd Bridges (aka Willis Jackson) entered the recreated Drummond penthouse set to introduce Boyz II Men, who performed the series’ iconic theme song. He also paid tribute to his late costars.
“It’s hard to believe that I walked through those doors 43 years ago, back when I had hair,” Bridges said. “Now in 1978, Diff’rent Strokes premiered and ran for eight seasons — which back then meant 169 episodes of television — with… the late Conrad Bain, Dana Plato, Charlotte Rae and Gary Coleman. Now, I know that if my family was here, they would be just as proud as I am here, celebrating Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life.”
Tuesday’s presentation — a reenactment of the Season 1 episode “Willis’ Privacy,” wherein Willis tires of having “Super Arnold” hang around him all the time — starred Kevin Hart as Arnold; John Lithgow (3rd Rock From the Sun) as Phillip; Damon Wayans (My Wife and Kids) as Willis; and Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) as Mrs. Garrett — a role she also played during the preceding reenactment of Facts of Life.
Snoop Dogg, whose casting was previously unannounced, played Willis’ friend Vernon.
The legendary Norman Lear — whose Embassy Television produced the original runs of Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life — served as host and executive producer, alongside Jimmy Kimmel. Addressing the decision to cast Actors of a Certain Age to fill pint-sized roles, Lear’s producing partner Brent Miller told TVLine, “It started with Jimmy [Kimmel] and his desire to have Kevin Hart play Arnold Jackson, the Gary Coleman role…. At the time, I didn’t know: Is he going to want to cast everybody old, or is he just going to have the joke be Kevin? But as we started talking through it, it made sense to be consistent with that conceit of having older people play kids.”
Added Lear: “I enjoyed [the table reads] as if I had never spent a day in show business.”
The inaugural Live in Front of a Studio Audience special aired in May 2019, and recreated episodes of All in the Family and The Jeffersons. That was followed by a second installment in December 2019, featuring a new reenactment of All in the Family and a classic episode of Good Times. A fourth installment has not yet been announced — but we’ve already got a few ideas.
Grade the Diff’rent Strokes portion of ABC’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience below, then drop a comment with your full review.