Inside the dress rehearsal “Live in front of a studio audience”

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If the idea of ​​Kevin Hart as Arnold Jackson – the 8-year-old played by Gary Coleman in “Diff’rent Strokes” – sounds perfect on paper, wait until you see “Live in Front of a Studio Audience ” from this evening. When the 5’4 “Hart stands next to 6’4” John Lithgow – who fills the role of Conrad Bain as Arnold’s adoptive father, Mr. Drummond – the cast is about as precise as everything “Live” has done in the past.

And then, when Hart jumps into Lithgow’s lap at one point, expect the live studio audience to erupt. At least they did it Monday night at a dress rehearsal for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience”. Variety was there to witness the staging of the first episodes of “The Facts of Life”, which aired on NBC from 1979 to 1988, and “Diff’rent Strokes”, which aired from 1978 to 1986.

Both shows originate from the stable of Norman Lear, the legendary creator who was also a big television mogul in the late 1970s. His Tandem / TAT communications were the origin of “Diff’rent Strokes”, which also produced “Facts of Life” as a spin-off, and although Lear was not credited as an executive producer on those shows, his imprint was still there. Lear was instrumental in choosing Coleman for the series, for example: “It was so clear that he belonged to the center of the series, that he had a rare talent,” remembers Lear.

Lear and Jimmy Kimmel are back to host the third ‘Live’ and Lear – even wearing a pandemic hip ponytail as he prepares to celebrate his 100th birthday next year – praises Kimmel for having pitched the idea of ​​taking classic scripts from his library with modern superstars.

There are plenty of them in this edition’s cast – including Hart and Lithgow, as well as Damon Wayans as Willis on the “Diff’rent Strokes” section, which airs during the second half of the 90-minute special. The evening kicks off with “The Facts of Life”, starring Jennifer Aniston as Blair, Kathryn Hahn as Jo, Gabrielle Union as Tootie and Allison Tolman as Natalie.

But the real MVP of the night has to be Ann Dowd, who plays Mrs. Edna Garrett in “Facts” and “Strokes”. An almost perfect channeling of Charlotte Rae’s vocal inflections as the wise but often exasperated Mrs. Garrett, Dowd nails it. So did the hair, makeup and wardrobe teams, who found the perfect wig for Dowd. Close your eyes and you’ll swear you’ll watch the original series every time Dowd opens his mouth.

An accomplished pro, Dowd didn’t let her character down even during commercial breaks as she continued to keep busy, as Ms. Garrett would, even during a hiatus from the action.

This edition of “Life In Front of a Studio Audience” is also chock-full of major celebrity roles that producers and ABC have asked us not to reveal. Ditto who interprets the thematic songs of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes”. But fans of the original “Facts” will be especially elated at the start of the show when they hear who breaks into “You take the right, you take the wrong.”

The idea of ​​making “Diff’rent Strokes” and therefore “The Facts of Life” had been in the works for years and hinged on one thing: Hart’s availability. “Jimmy had tried, almost three or four years ago, he wanted to approach Kevin Hart about it, because he just thought he would make the perfect Gary Coleman,” said executive producer Brent Miller, who runs the production company Lear’s Act III. “And we’ve been talking with his team for a few years about when Kevin would take a break. So we waited until we got his schedule and then we built from there.

The pandemic, of course, also put an end to production plans for the third installment of “Live” in 2020, as initially planned. And once it was time to go, the producers decided to step away from the vanity of the first two editions – which picked up episodes from “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times” that touched on the social problems of the time which are still relevant today. This time, “we were looking for light and funny things. And not the world’s problems in this case, ”Lear said.

These aren’t Christmas episodes, but beyond that, Lear, Miller, and ABC have asked attendees to keep details of each episode a secret. But we can confirm that these are memorable, but light-hearted episodes of the series on both shows (in other words, they are not “very special episodes,” a genre that shows like “Diff’rent Strokes’ and ‘The Facts of Life’ helped popularize in the early 1980s).

Miller added, “As Norman said, we just went through two difficult years. And rather than focusing on episodes that were relevant, problem-wise, to some of the time periods we’re in, we really wanted to make them relevant for a good while. Where we would have fun and where the audience could have fun.

As usual, the public will likely be in awe of the perfect recreations of Mr. Drummond’s Park Avenue penthouse, as well as the Eastland School cafeteria. “They are identical to what we remember from that time,” Miller said. “And when you take the stage to see them, especially if you’ve grown up with them like me, it’s a moment.”

Kimmel also told the crowd that it felt good to be back in production on “Live” after a long hiatus. “We’re all together in one room again,” he marveled. The party atmosphere on set included a DJ playing tunes from the late 1970s and early 1980s during commercial breaks – at one point Aniston, Hahn, and Union were spotted dancing to ” Let’s Groove ”from Earth, Wind and Fire between acts.

Nine cameras are used to capture the live broadcast from all angles (slightly more than the four normally used on a multi-camera recording). And at least during the dress rehearsal, the stars seemed to remember most of their lines – or at least hid the blunders well. Expect some improvisation, especially during “Diff’rent Strokes”. (And yes, the stars have found a way to humorously and subtly underscore the fact that it’s adults – Hart has a full beard, after all – who play kids.)

Viewers should be cautioned not to jump quickly into commercials, as there are special comedy spots for real products – in some cases, 1980s parody ad campaigns – dotted throughout the evening. But again, details of these ads remain heavily embargoed until after airing.

“Live from a Studio Audience” won Emmys for its first two installments, and Kimmel credits the success of the specials to a tribute to the television we all grew up on.

“It’s funny, there are friends that I have since I was in college that I can’t remember the children’s names, and yet I know it’s Mr. Drummond, Mrs. Garrett, Arnold, Willis “Kimmel said. “I know it’s Tootie. It’s Jo. It’s Blair. It’s Nathalie. It’s just funny how important these characters are, how much brain space they take up. If it’s a show that’s iconic and when I say iconic I mean a show that’s unique, it’s loved and it’s funny. This is the kind of show that we are looking for.

(Pictured: Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel, and Kevin Hart)


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