Don’t touch that dial it is almost time for another episode of Live in Front of a Studio Audience. This time Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Brent Miller are re-creating episodes from a pair of classic television series, The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes.
Kimmel recently discussed why they are bringing back the Emmy®-winning television special during ABC’s Midseason’s Greetings Panel. “I think it’s for the nostalgia and I think it’s for the novelty of seeing these characters that we all know so well, and we love so much and have had that, for a lot of us, raised us, as seeing these actors from today playing these parts.”
As hinted by Kimmel, some of casting this time around may have you asking “Wha’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” Because, instead of casting child actors for the younger roles, the modern cast looks like a who’s who of some of today’s most popular and respected actors.
The Facts of Life will feature Jennifer Aniston as Blair, Gabrielle Union as Tootie, Kathyrn Hahn as Jo, Allison Tolman as Natalie and Ann Dowd as Mrs. Edna Garrett. For Diff’rent Strokes, John Lithgow will play Mr. Drummond, Kevin Hart as Arnold, the role made famous by the late Gary Coleman, and Damon Wayans is Willis. No mention of the other Drummond sibling Kimberly at this time. Already announced in an undisclosed role is Jon Stewart.
Could we be in for more surprise guest casting? Kimmel was tight-lipped when asked, “I think we’re pretty comfortable sticking with the names that we’ve revealed. We’re not going to reveal any more of the names until the show. And I know that’s a little bit of a disappointment, but isn’t it more fun? I mean, don’t you want your presents wrapped on Christmas?” I guess we will have to tune in to find out.
For children of the 70s and 80s the characters revealed to this point hold a special place in our nostalgic hearts – something that was not forgotten when the producing trio was choosing which series to tackle next. “It has to be a show that people love,” said Kimmel. “It’s not just a show that was popular, but a show that they love and that means something to them. I think it’s important that the shows be shows that you know the names of every lead character without having to think about it, without having to look it up on Google.”
Kimmel explained the challenge of finding just the right episode, “Brent (Miller) did huge amount of work watching and going through all of these shows to try to figure out which one works best, which one has the most balance for the cast so that everybody has a part and it’s not one of these episodes that’s specifically focused on one cast member. Those special episodes, even though they’re the things you think of when you think of these shows, don’t work as well for our purposes with this one-time special.”
Much more goes into capturing the heart of these series than picking a script and a cast. The unsung heroes are the set builders who must be accurately recreate those sets we know so well. “The most magical thing is to be on the set, because for the most part that’s the only original character, only original character in this production, is the set, which our set builders just duplicate exactly. And it is such artistry, and it’s so amazing what they do in such a short period of time. When you walk onto that set, it really is overwhelming,” expressed Kimmel.
One may ask how do they lock in all these amazing actors and actresses to reshoot a thirty year old television show. Kimmel has a theory. “I ask actors to do things all the time. We do a show every night. We always have some idea for somebody and we probably have a 15 percent success rate when it comes to pitching things. But when you call somebody and you say, ‘Would you like to work with Norman Lear?’ It’s so funny and so different how much more enthusiastic they are about working with Norman than they are about working with me. For a lot of these people, I think they just want to meet Norman and spend time with him. And that’s how I feel about it too.”
Live in Front of a Studio Audience airs on ABC live Tuesday, December 7th.