While the episodes chosen from All in the family, The Jeffersons and Good time for the first episodes of ABC Live in front of a studio audience, which aired in 2019, were chosen to reflect the topicality of politics and social issues of the 1970s, an entirely different topical phenomenon dictated the theme of the television special 2021 from executive producers Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel. “We had all just come out of a two-year pandemic. It was an exhausting time and we just wanted to have fun,” says executive producer Brent Miller of the decision to recreate episodes of the classic NBC sitcom. Different strokes and its fallout The facts of life. (Sony Pictures Television Studios, which owns the rights to both series, was a producing partner.) “The episodes we chose were intentionally lighter. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were in front of a live studio audience again, even if they were masked.
For episodes — The facts of life“Children can be cruel” and Different strokes‘ ‘Willis’ Privacy’ – an impressive all-star ensemble cast has been assembled, including Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Hart, Jon Stewart, Ann Dowd, John Lithgow and Snoop Dogg. Miller says top players are committed to Live is rarely more than a matter of planning. “Jimmy would tell you that everyone wants to work with Norman Lear. Norman would tell you that everyone wants to work with Jimmy Kimmel. I just appreciate being able to throw out both of their names, and usually they’ll say yes,” he says.
That said, in December 2021, Miller’s biggest concern was bringing down an irreplaceable star with the novel coronavirus. “I was a little nervous because it’s a live show, and if someone tested positive, what were we going to do?” said Miller. “It’s not a cheap thing to do, far from it. It’s unique, and it’s expected. I can’t say there was no anxiety for the 10 days leading up to the last day. We just kept staying positive – not literally, of course – and hoping for the best.
To prepare for all possible scenarios, costume designer Keri Smith outfitted each actor and one stunt double with identical costumes. “We had two of everything,” Smith says. “It didn’t have to match exactly, but it still had to represent the characters. We’ve never had to use it, but it’s extra pressure to do Live.”
The pandemic also affected what was already a complex job for production designer Stephan Olson. “There were supply problems, construction materials were more expensive, it was difficult to find labour. Sourcing everything ended up being a problem, and we didn’t have a lot of time,” says Olson, who had five weeks to complete two sets for a single soundstage. “We had scenic artists working on the marbling for weeks. It took over a week to put up the wallpaper. It was down to the wire, but it looks fantastic.
In fact, Olson managed to recreate the iconic sets to the point where even the original actors couldn’t tell the difference. “When Different strokes“Todd Bridges first came out on this set, and so does The facts of life’Like Kim Fields, Lisa Whelchel and Mindy Cohn, they were blown away by how much it took them back to when they were actors on those shows,” Miller says.
For the producer, it is important that those who are behind these shows are part of the specials. “As we jump into the world they grew up with, it wouldn’t make sense not to include them,” he says, adding that the entire series is about honoring the sitcoms that uplifted a generation of viewers.
“These shows aren’t easy to do, and we’re not necessarily making a lot of money from these things. It’s more about the nostalgia, the fun and the celebration of the creators, the writers, the actors, the producers, everyone who came before us, and celebrating them.
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.