Diff'rent Strokes

Diff'rent Strokes Information

Diff'rent Strokes is an American television sitcom that aired on NBC from November 3, 1978, to May 4, 1985, and on ABC from September 27, 1985, to March 7, 1986. The series stars Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges as Arnold and Willis Jackson, two African American boys from Harlem who are taken in by a rich white Park Avenue businessman named Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), for whom their deceased mother previously worked. During the first season and first half of the second season, Charlotte Rae also starred as the Drummonds' housekeeper, Mrs. Garrett (who ultimately spun-off into her own successful show, The Facts of Life).

The series made stars out of child actors Coleman, Bridges, and Plato, and became known for the "very special episodes" in which serious issues such as racism, illegal drug use and child sexual abuse were dramatically explored. The lives of these stars were later plagued by legal troubles and drug addiction, as the stardom and success they achieved while on the show eluded them after the series was cancelled.


In pre-production, the original proposed title was 45 Minutes From Harlem. The series was originally devised as a joint vehicle for Maude co-star Conrad Bain (after Maude had abruptly finished production following an unsuccessful revamp earlier in 1978), and diminutive child actor Gary Coleman, who had caught producers' attentions after appearing in a number of commercials.

The sitcom starred Coleman as Arnold Jackson and Todd Bridges as his older brother, Willis. They played two children from a poor section of Harlem whose deceased mother previously worked for rich widower Philip Drummond (Bain), who eventually adopted them. They lived in a penthouse with Drummond, his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato), and their maid.

There were three maids during the show's run: Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae), Adelaide Brubaker (Nedra Volz), and Pearl Gallagher (Mary Jo Catlett). They lived in the Penthouse Suite at 697 Park Avenue in New York City. As Arnold, Coleman popularized the catchphrase "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" The ending often varied, depending on whom he was addressing.

Seasons 1-4

In Season 1, Charlotte Rae appeared in every episode as Edna Garrett, but she departed the show partway through the second season to star in her own spin-off, The Facts of Life. Following Rae's departure, Nedra Volz took over as the housekeeper, Adelaide Brubaker. Although she was not part of the official main cast and not added to the opening credits, Volz appeared as a frequent semi-regular character.

Seasons 5-6

In Season 5, Mary Jo Catlett portrayed Pearl Gallagher, the last of the three maids, and joined the cast as a series regular. Pearl appeared in almost every episode until the final season. Midway through Season 6, Dana Plato became pregnant and approached the producers of the show to include her pregnancy. Initially they agreed to add it, but they later recanted, with Plato's publicized brushes with substance abuse contributing to this decision, resulting in her dismissal from the series.

Plato's character, Kimberly, was written out of the story lines with the explanation that she moved to Paris to study abroad for a couple of years. Plato did not appear as a series regular in the final two seasons of the series, but she made several guest appearances.

At the same time, ratings were beginning to sag, so new characters were added to open up future storylines. Dixie Carter and Danny Cooksey portrayed recently divorced television aerobics instructor Margaret "Maggie" McKinney, and her son, Sam McKinney. Carter was introduced a way into the sixth season; after she left for California, Drummond (with family in tow) took off after her, during a two-part trip in February 1984, a storyline which also introduced Sam.

Phillip proposed to Maggie, and they married. Several past characters attended the wedding ceremony including Dudley, Aunt Sophia, Adelaide, and Mrs. Garrett.

Season 7

In the seventh season, Carter and Cooksey were added to the opening credits (with Carter getting special "and" billing, last in the order), and many new areas and ideas were explored in the storylines, as viewers now got to see Philip as happily married. Also, since there was a new fresh-faced kid in the house with Sam, Arnold now had his own little sidekick and was happy to be a "big brother" for a change, and with Willis being dropped into the background slightly, this new brotherly duo took center stage for many storylines. Additionally, stories focusing on Arnold's school life (featured occasionally in many previous seasons) were delved into much more. The ratings did not improve to NBC's hopes. Carter departed at the end of the seventh season.

Season 8

In the spring of 1985, NBC canceled the series because of poor ratings. ABC picked up the series for an eighth season, and aired it Friday nights. In this season, which turned out to be the last, Mary Ann Mobley replaced Dixie Carter as Maggie McKinney Drummond (Carter had left and started work on Designing Women after NBC canceled Diff'rent Strokes; Mobley had previously played an unrelated, one-off love interest of Drummond's during the first season).

ABC canceled the series after 19 episodes, and aired its final episode on March 7, 1986. The show returned to ABC's schedule in June for two months of summer reruns, which ended on August 30, 1986. The final season ranked 76th out of 106 shows, and averaged an 11.5 household rating.


Main article: List of Diff'rent Strokes characters
  • Conrad Bain - Phillip Drummond
  • Gary Coleman - Arnold Jackson
  • Todd Bridges - Willis Jackson
  • Dana Plato - Kimberly Drummond (1978"1984, 1985-1986 recurring)
  • Charlotte Rae - Edna Garrett (1978"1979)
  • Nedra Volz - Adelaide Brubaker (1980"1982)
  • Janet Jackson - Charlene DuPrey (1980"1984 recurring)
  • Dody Goodman - Aunt Sophia (1981"1982 recurring)
  • Shavar Ross - Dudley Ramsey (1980"1986 recurring)
  • Le Tari - Ted Ramsey (1981"1985 recurring)
  • Mary Jo Catlett - Pearl Gallagher (1982"1986)
  • Rosalind Chao - Miss Chung (1982"1983 recurring)
  • Steven Mond - Robbie Jason (1980"1985)
  • Nikki Swasey - Lisa Hayes (1982"1986 recurring)
  • Dixie Carter - Maggie McKinney Drummond #1 (1984"1985)
  • Mary Ann Mobley - Maggie McKinney Drummond #2 (1985"1986)
  • Danny Cooksey - Sam McKinney (1984"1986)
  • Jason Hervey - Charlie (1985"1986 recurring)
Phillip Drummond is the only character to appear in every episode of the series. Arnold Jackson missed two episodes, both from the 1981-1982 season, "First Day Blues" and "The Team". Of the five primary cast members, only Bridges and Rae survive.

Supporting characters

Outside of the Drummond household, there were a large number of supporting characters seen over the years. Phillip's slightly dotty sister Sophia (Dody Goodman) was regularly seen in the fourth season, playing matchmaker for her brother in hopes of getting Philip to marry again. Dudley Ramsey (Shavar Ross) showed up as Arnold's new best friend that year (though Dudley's first appearance was in the episode "Teacher's Pet" in Season 2, where he was named Dudley Johnson, before being adopted), with whom he shared many memorable childhood scrapes. Some of these were important or serious storylines under the "very special episode" heading, which Diff'rent Strokes popularized (see below). Ted Ramsey (Le Tari) was Dudley's adoptive father, who turned up occasionally.

In the third season, Janet Jackson played Willis's steady girlfriend Charlene DuPrey. She was a frequent recurring character until season 6, when Charlene and Willis decided to break up, but remain friends.

Other classmates and friends of Arnold's seen over time included Robbie Jason (Steven Mond) and snobby Lisa Hayes (Nikki Swasey), who initially was sweet on Arnold, but later came to despise him, leading to hatred between the pair and many squabbles. Miss Chung (Rosalind Chao) was Arnold's homeroom teacher for a year. In the fall of 1985, when the series moved to ABC, Arnold, Dudley and Lisa entered high school, where they gained a new friend in Charlie (Jason Hervey).

An oft-mentioned character was "The Gooch", who was the bully at Arnold's school. While his name is mentioned in numerous episodes (and his bullying of Arnold the center of several plots), the character actually never appeared on screen.


See List of Diff'rent Strokes episodes for more information

Very special episodes

Diff'rent Strokes was also known for its many "very special episodes", most notably an anti-drug episode ("The Reporter", in Season 5) that featured then-First Lady Nancy Reagan, who promoted her "Just Say No" campaign, and a two-part episode that guest starred Gordon Jump as a pedophile bicycle-shop owner, who attempted to sexually molest Arnold and Dudley.

Another episode involved a con artist (played by Whitman Mayo) posing as a relative of Arnold and Willis in an attempt to get access to the inheritance they were left by a former neighbor, and 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 an episode on the dangers of hitchhiking, Kimberly and Arnold (who were out in the cold weather and didn't have money for cab or bus fare) were abducted by a deranged man (played by Woody Eney), who initially acted as a good samaritan by giving the two of them a ride, and inviting them to his apartment. After the man's true nature became known, Arnold escaped to look for help, and it was implied the man had intentions of raping Kimberly until the police arrived to arrest him. At the end of the episode, Conrad Bain (in an out of character PSA) spoke about what to do if real life situations as the one portrayed on the show were to occur.

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) hoping to replace his own dead son.

In other notable episodes, the family discovered that Kimberly was suffering from bulimia after witnessing her eat an entire sheet cake, only to vomit right out. While in another Arnold and Sam met Karen, a street performer. After a performance, she has an epileptic seizure, and Sam is scared thinking she's dying. The boys then feel uncomfortable around her, and when they begin making jokes about her seizures (such as handing her a glass of milk to turn into a milkshake), they find out that housekeeper Pearl herself has epilepsy, but unlike Karen controls her seizures by taking medication.

Spin-off and crossovers

The Facts of Life (1979"1988) was a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes featuring Drummond's former maid Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae), who had accepted a job as the house-mother for a dormitory at an all-girls private school. In a late first season episode of Strokes (which served as the "backdoor pilot" of Facts), Drummond (along with Garrett) took Kimberly to the school hoping to enroll her there, and while there Garrett was offered (and accepted) the job as "dorm mother". The success of the spinoff led to several Strokes/Facts crossovers in the ensuing years.

While not a spin-off, Hello, Larry (1979"1980) had a connection to Strokes as it was established in a crossover episode that Philip Drummond and Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson) were old army buddies, and Drummond had bought the company that owned the radio station Larry worked at as a talk show host.

Additionally, Arnold appeared on the Silver Spoons episode "The Great Computer Caper" and the Amazing Stories episode "Remote Control Man".

Later appearances as the characters

In 1994, Coleman appeared in an episode of Married... with Children, playing a building code inspector whom Al Bundy called to report an illegal driveway. When Kelly recognizes him, he denies any connection to Arnold Jackson, but utters his catchphrase to Al, "What'chu talkin' about, Bundy?". Also, in 1996, Coleman and Bain reprised their roles for the series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled "I, Done Part 2". In their scene, they reference Willis by name before meeting Will Smith's character, leading to Coleman uttering a variation of his catchphrase, "What'chu talkin' about, Willis?".

Additional catchphrase references and appearances in pop culture

In 2004, Gary Coleman appeared on the second season of The Surreal Life and is pressured to quote his famous catchphrase by Vanilla Ice. He also guest-starred as himself on The Wayans Bros., The Ben Stiller Show, Drake & Josh, The Jamie Foxx Show, The Parkers, Robot Chicken, and The Simpsons.

Diff'rent Strokes curse

Following the cancellation of Diff'rent Strokes, the three child stars brought to fame by the show suffered from legal troubles and drug addictions, and were unable to retain the stardom they achieved on the show. Two of them,Plato and Coleman, have since died. This has become known as the "Diff'rent Strokes curse." Dana Plato went on to pose for Playboy, and also appeared in softcore films. She was later arrested twice (once for armed robbery, and for forging a prescription for Valium). She died of a drug overdose in 1999 at the age of 34.

In 1989, Coleman sued his parents and his former manager over misappropriation of his trust fund. Although he was awarded over $1,000,000 in the decision, he filed for bankruptcy in 1999. In 1998, Coleman was charged with assault after he punched a woman while working as a security guard at a shopping mall. In 2001, Coleman (still working as a security guard) was videotaped trying to stop a vehicle from entering the mall. The driver ridiculed him, and released the tape to be broadcast on numerous television shows. In the mid-2000s, Coleman lent his voice and likeness to the controversial videogame Postal 2. In 2007, Coleman was cited for disorderly conduct in Provo, Utah for having a "heated discussion" with a woman. On May 26, 2010, Coleman was admitted to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo after falling and hitting his head, and was announced to be in critical condition with a minimal chance of survival. Coleman was then placed on life support after suffering an intracranial hemorrhage, and died the next day from complications of his injury at the age of 42.

Todd Bridges was arrested in 1994 after allegedly ramming someone's car after an argument. He also had issues with illegal drugs for several years, but has given up the habit. He has since traveled across the U.S.A., touring schools and discussing the dangers of drug use. He also enjoyed semi-regular guest spots on Everybody Hates Chris as Monk, a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran, conspiracy theorist, and nephew of Chris' boss Doc.

Bridges stated in an interview with Meredith Vieira that while he was questioning his sexual orientation, he and Plato had sexual relations during the production of the show, which he says Plato did to help him identify his sexuality. He also stated that Plato started him out with drugs, giving him cannabis at age 14. Plato denied both of these claims.


Two unofficial docudramas were produced about the show:

  • In 2000, Fox broadcast a one-hour television movie, After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped. This film, which starred unknown actors, focused on Dana Plato's life after the show, leading to her death. Todd Bridges guest starred in this film as a drug dealer who sold drugs "? to a younger Todd Bridges.
  • On September 4, 2006, NBC aired a television drama entitled Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff'rent Strokes. The film, which chronicles the rise and decline of the sitcom's child stars, also features recent interview clips with Coleman and Bridges. The two also star in the movie as themselves (briefly) in the final scene, standing by Plato's grave.

International show titles

Overseas Titles for Diff'rent Strokes

Country Show Title
Arnold (70-80s on Flemish state television BRT)
Diff'rent Strokes (2009-2010 on Flemish commercial television vtm) (All seasons of Diff'rent Strokes 2011 vtm)
Arnold et Willy (Arnold and Willy)
Arnold el travieso (Arnold the Mischievous One)
Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
Blanco y Negro (White and Black)
Harlem contro Manhattan (Harlem v. Manhattan) (1980"81)
Il mio Amico Arnold (My Friend Arnold) (1981"1986)
Arnold (after 1988)
Minha Família é uma Bagunça (My Family is a Mess) (2006"2007) - Nickelodeon
Arnold (2009"2012) - SBT
"????"??"?"???"?"? (Anorudo boya wa ninkimono, Little Boy Arnold is Popular)
??? (Little Rascal)
?? ??? "??? ??"? (About Taste and Smell)
Noch Fragen Arnold? (Any More Questions Arnold?)
"???"???"??? (The Funny Midget)

DVD releases

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released Seasons 1 and 2 of Diff'rent Strokes on DVD in Region 1 & 4. Season 1 was also released in Regions 2 & 5 on October 6, 2008. On September 29, 2009, a "Fan Favorites" DVD was released. This is a one disc compilation consisting of eight episodes from Season 2.

On April 6, 2012, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series; they subsequently released the third season on DVD on July 17, 2012. Season 4 was released on November 20, 2012.

DVD Name Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 4
The Complete First Season 24 September 14, 2004 November 22, 2006
The Complete Second Season 26 January 31, 2006 November 4, 2008
The Complete Third Season 22 July 17, 2012 N/A
The Complete Fourth Season 26 November 20, 2012 N/A

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