‘Live in Front of a Studio Audience’ Creator Talks Origin of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Special

by Josh Lanier

Expect some major changes to a few beloved 80s sitcoms when producers resurrect them for the new Live in Front of a Studio Audience. The special will bring back Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life with a twist.

While creating the special, Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and his producing partner Brent Miller decided to avoid casting for similarities to the original actors, Miller told TVLine. That opened up the possibility of hiring anyone they wanted for the roles.

So instead of Conrad Bain, Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, and Charlotte Rae, we’re getting John Lithgow, Kevin Hart, Damon Wayans, and Ann Dowd. Forget that Damon Wayans, who is 61, is playing a teenager.

The Facts of Life is also getting a big overhaul. The updated one-night version will star Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Tolman, and Gabrielle Union. Producers also cast Jon Stewart in a secret role for the special.

Miller said it was Kimmel’s idea to toss out convention while casting.

“It started with Jimmy [Kimmel] and his desire to have Kevin Hart play Arnold Jackson, the Gary Coleman role,” Miller told TVLine. “He had mentioned it when we were doing our second special, that the third one has to be Kevin Hart. 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.”

Miller was worried at first. But he sat in on a recent table read and realized the genius of these casting choices.

Live In Front of a Studio Audience airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Kimmel and Norman Lear will host.

‘Live In Front of A Studio Audience’ Resurrected 2 Other Classics

This isn’t the first time a classic sitcom is getting a one-night encore of sorts. The first Live In Front of A Studio Audience in 2019 brought back All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, Ellie Kemper, and Ike Barinholtz stepped in for the cast of All in the Family. Jesse Eisenberg and Kevin Bacon also performed in the show. Jamie Foxx, Wanda Sykes, Kerry Washington, and Will Ferrell rounded out the main cast for The Jeffersons in Live In Front of a Studio Audience.

Norman Lear created both of those shows. He said it was thrilling to step back in time to relive those memories.

“Other than with my family, there’s no place I’d rather be in my 100th year than on a soundstage at Sony with these glorious actors reliving what our company had produced all those years ago and sharing it with the millions of viewers who could use a little laughter,” Lear said in a press release.

More than 10 million watched the live broadcast of that special.