Arnold Jackson's question "Watchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" was ranked #17 in TV Guide's list of "TV's 20 Top Catchphrases" (21-27 August 2005 issue). It was never intended as a catch phrase; the writers simply made it so after the positive reaction to Coleman's delivery in the premiere. Towards the end of the show's run, Coleman had become so tired of it that he demanded it be retired; he has not uttered it publicly since his 1999 cameo as himself on The Simpsons (1989).
Dana Plato was written out of the series when she became pregnant in 1984, and it was agreed that it would be out of character for the same to happen to Kimberly Drummond. However, she was allowed to return for guest appearances after the birth of her son.
In addition to the spin-off series The Facts of Life (1979), characters from this show also made crossovers onto Hello, Larry (1979) and Silver Spoons (1982), thereby implying that all four shows exist in the same universe.
Dixie Carter was said to frequently clash with Gary Coleman on the set, and largely found her experience doing the show to be unpleasant. After leaving the show, Carter refused to talk about it while being interviewed.
When Conrad Bain signed on to do Maude (1972), the production company promised him his own show when that one ended. By then, 'Gary Coleman' was also signed to the company. When the planned updating of The Little Rascals (1955), which Coleman would have been in, was aborted, they paired them and decided to come up with a suitable premise.
The original concept for the show was different from what would come on the air. The working title was "45 Minutes from Harlem." It would have been on ABC and set in a mansion in the upscale Westchester County town of Hastings on Hudson, not in a Manhattan penthouse. There was no older brother, originally, and the housekeeper would have been younger and sexier. The production company balked at the changes the network suggested, and ABC lost interest.
Janet Jackson was in the early stages of her music career when playing the recurring role of Willis Jackson's girlfriend Charlene Duprey. Jackson did sing in one episode, and found it awkward to perform as such while filming the episode. Charlene was gradually phased out of the series as Jackson began to devote more time to furthering her musical career.
When ABC picked up the show, the producers contacted Dixie Carter to return to play Maggie Drummond, but she was unavailable because shortly after NBC canceled, she had landed her role on Designing Women (1986), so Maggie was recast with Mary Ann Mobley.
Mary Ann Mobley played Conrad Bain's love interest twice: first she played Arnold's teacher Ms. Osbourne, who dates Mr. Drummond in the second season; then she replaced Dixie Carter as Maggie Drummond towards the end of the series.
To help promote the series before its debut, Gary Coleman made appearances on The Tonight Show. NBC used clips of Coleman from those appearances as promotional spots announcing the coming of the series. The network primarily aired them during their coverage of the 1978 World Series.
Arnold Jackson's schoolyard bully Stewart the Gooch was frequently referenced to and spoken of, but was never actually seen in any episodes. In a least one episode however, The Gooch's voice was heard over the telephone.
Although it had an adjoining bathroom with Arnold and Willis Jackson's room, (in season 7 only part of the adjoining bathroom was seen)Kimberly Drummond's bedroom was never seen on the show. Mr. Drummond's bedroom was only very rarely seen.
Gary Coleman's parents actually took all of his money that he made from this show. By the time he sued his parents, they had no money left. Coleman ended up working as a security guard for the final years of his life.
When the show premiered, the cast received hate mail not only from racist whites who were upset about the idea of a biracial TV sitcom family where physical affection was openly displayed, but from blacks who had similar objections.
A number of changes were made for the final season. The change of networks necessitated the overhauling of existing sets, and construction of newer ones, as well as a revamping of the theme song. In addition, Arnold Jackson was established as a more mature high school student. The move was pushed by Gary Coleman who wanted the character to be closer to his own age, and be involved with more substantive and relatable plotlines.
Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman appeared on the final episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" as Phillip Drummond and Arnold Jackson respectively, looking at the Banks mansion as they shop for new homes in Los Angeles.
In a case of life imitating art, Todd Bridges dated his onscreen girlfriend Janet Jackson while he costarred with her on Diff'rent Strokes. He also admitted to having a couple flings with Dana Plato in his autobiography.
According to his autobiography, Todd Bridges talked to John Hughes when Diff'rent Strokes was still on the air, circa 1984 or 1985, about appearing in The Breakfast Club, or another one of his movies. But when Bridges met with Hughes' people again to discuss this formally, they told him that they "didn't know how to write for black people". If Bridges had appeared in The Breakfast Club it would have been a Diff'rent Strokes reunion with Molly Ringwald.
When Kimberly first appears in blackface in the "Skin Deep or True Blue" episode the audience claps. Ironically, Kimberly is appearing in blackface to expose another character's racism, but the blackface prank in this episode wound up being an infamously racist moment in the series itself.
The building that was filmed in the 1st season opening credits is called Park 900 Condominiums , and located at the corner of Park Ave. and 79th St. in Manhattan. The reason it was only featured during the first season was because they never got permission from the building, let alone pay them. And there are no penthouses in the building, as it says on the show. Also in the show, they say that they live on the 30th floor, but the building actually has 28 floors.
Both Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life were Norman Lear productions but for some reason he didn't put his name on the credits, opting for "Tandem Productions" (which is his production company) instead.
According to Todd Bridges, "Diff'rent Strokes" shut down production because producers and Gary Coleman's agents couldn't come to a consensus about what his salary would be during contract negotiations. According to Gary Coleman it was just "played out" and got canceled due to sagging ratings.
Todd Bridges starred in "Fish" another show about an interracial family, before starring on "Diff'rent Strokes." In fact, "Fish" was the first sitcom to air on television (beyond the pilot) about an interracial family, and "Diff'rent Strokes" was the second.
Todd Bridges has dismissed talk of the so called Diff'rent Strokes Curse, believing what happened to him Gary Coleman and Dana Plato was a tragic series of coincidence. Bridges also pointed out that a majority of the show's cast members continued their lives and careers without any major scandals or personal tragedy.
Janet Jackson was supposed to sing Ebony and Ivory along with Willis and Kimberly in one episode, but was so shy and soft spoken she barely whispered the lyrics when they had to perform. Ironically, just a couple years later she became one of the most successful female rock performers in history when she released "Control" her multi platinum hit album in 1985.
There was a Silver Spoons/Diff'rent Strokes crossover episode (called "The Computer Caper" which aired on Silver Spoons in 1982). There was also a Diff'rent Strokes /Fresh Prince of Bel-Air crossover episode, there was a Fresh Prince/Jeffersons crossover episode, there was a Jeffersons/All in the Family crossover episode, there was Fresh Prince/Blossom crossover episode; there was a Fresh Prince crossover with an Out All Night episode, there's a Fresh Prince crossover with an In the House episode , All in the Family had crossover episodes with Maude, which in turn spunoff Good Times, there was a crossover episode on The Wayans Brothers featuring the characters of Good Times , there was a crossover episode with Different Strokes and Amazing Stories, All in the Family had crossover and spinoff episodes with Gloria, All in the Family had crossover and spin-off episodes with Archie Bunkers Place, All in the Family also spunoff 704 Hauser, Diff'rent Strokes had spinoff and crossover episodes with Facts of Life, Diff'rent Strokes also had a crossover episode with Hello Larry, The Jeffersons had a crossover episode with E/R, and the Jeffersons had crossover and spinoff episodes with Checking In. That means Amazing Stories, All in the Family, The Wayans Brothers, In the House, 704 Hauser, Out All Night, Hello Larry, E/R, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude, Checking In, Silver Spoons, Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life, Blossom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Gloria and Archie Bunkers Place all exist in the same universe! And Gary Coleman has appeared in eight of these shows (Amazing Stories, Good Times, Hello Larry,The Jeffersons, Diffrent Strokes, Facts of Life, Silver Spoons and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) as three different characters! He appeared as the Arnold Jackson character in 6 different shows! (Diffrent Strokes, Facts of Life, Hello Larry, Silver Spoons, Amazing Stories and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). And he appeared on Good Times and The Jeffersons as two other random characters. Infact, many of the cast members have played multiple different roles on these different shows, including Alfonso Ribeiro, George Clooney, John Amos, Rue McClanahan, Conrad Bain, Kim Fields, Marcia Rodd, Will Smith, Grant Wilson and Janet Jackson.
Conrad Bain had been in purgatory for many years with Norman Lear's Tandem Productions; i.e. he was paying his dues so that he could get a starring role. Diff'rent Strokes was sort of Conrad Bain's payoff for playing the villain and the also-ran on Maude for 6 years. In Maude he definitely wasn't the star. And he played a very bigoted, unpleasant character, Dr. Arthur Harmon, who was basically a rich, white collar version of Archie Bunker, and who was there for Maude to spar with and tell off. Now, in Diff'rent Strokes, Bain got to play the good guy; Phillip Drummond is the hero of the show; an updated, hip, liberal version of Daddy Warbucks to Coleman's Little Orphan Annie/Oliver Twist type character. He is strong, generous, good heart-ed and successful, and the center of the show-along with Coleman.
Several veterans from other Norman Lear productions made appearances on Diff'rent Strokes. Stars Conrad Bain, Charlotte Rae and Gary Coleman were all Norman Lear productions alumns, appearing on Maude, All in the Family and Good Times, respectively. Sanford and Son stars Whitman Mayo and Lawanda Page both made appearances on Diff'rent Strokes. Janet Jackson, who played Willis' girlfriend Charlene Dupree on Diff'rent Strokes also played Penny Woods on Good Times. And Kim Fields who made an appearance on Good Times also made appearances on Diff'rent Strokes as Tootie Ramsey.
While he was on Diff'rent Strokes Gary Coleman starred in "The Kid With the Broken Halo" (1982). This led to a Saturday morning cartoon called "The Gary Coleman Show" which ran for one season while Diff'rent Strokes was still on the air.
Some people, particularly some activists within the black community, complained that Coleman was playing out jive-talking pickaninny stereotypes with his slang, broken English "watch you talkin bout Willis?" catchphrase.
David Coburn would play Jimmy, Willis's friend in the Different Strokes/Facts of Life crossover episode "The Slumber Party". That same season he would play Tootie's friend and dance partner Carl on Facts of Life. Years later he would play Captain Planet on the Captain Planet TV series, co-starring Whoopi Goldberg.
In the Different Strokes/Facts of Life crossover episode "Slumber Party" Gary Coleman is wearing the same futuristic costume which he wore when he guest starred on "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" that same season; playing the 492 year old president on an alien planet who gets kidnapped. On "Different Strokes" the futuristic space man suit is clearly supposed to be Arnold's pajamas.
Mary Jo Catlett, who played the Drummond housekeeper Pearl for several seasons, also appeared as one of the nurses on MASH. She also appeared on Sponge Bob, as well as one of the famous Black Flag commercials where she announced "Roaches check in but they don't check out".
Dana Plato claims she was offered the lead in The Exorcist but her Mom made her turn the role down, fearing she would be typecast if she accepted the role. Exorcist writer and producer William Peter Blatty denies this however. Dana does appear in Exorcist 2: The Heretic as a possessed girl who is counselled by Regan.
Grant Wilson plays Roger, Kimberly's racist boyfriend in the "Skin Deep or True Blue" episode . (This is the infamous episode where Kimberly dons blackface in one scene to teach him a lesson). Wilson goes on to play Harrisson, a similarly sleazy character on the "Facts of Life" episode "Double Standard", where he cheats on girlfriend Blair, and makes sexual overtures to Jo.
Allegedly, in the early 80s when they were starring on Diffrent Strokes and the Facts of Life, Kim Fields was interested in Todd Bridges, but at the time he was seriously dating his onscreen girlfriend Janet Jackson.
Even though they're both adults, even though they live together, have known eachother for years and even though they're about the same age, Phillip and Edna counterintuitively refer to each other as "Mr. Drummond" and "Mrs. Garrett."
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The Bicycle Man" was one of the first shows ever to address the issue of pediophilia. The critics were not kind to this episode, questioning whether it was right for Norman Lear to address this serious issue of sexual abuse in such a flip, sitcom-y format, intermixed with lame jokes, a laugh track, and slapstick buffoonery. (Much as Lear was criticized for addressing the issue of racism in a sitcom format ten years earlier on "All in the Family".) These days the episode is considered a camp classic, and is celebrated by bloggers who collect hilariously bad "very special episodes" of the eighties. Derided as it is, at least it broke the tabboo for talking about this issue, and paved the way for telejournalists like Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue to do specials on it; opening the door for celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell, Roseanne Barr, Corey Feldman and Tyler Perry to discuss their own experiences with this issue; and helping us all shine a light on a dangerous problem which needs to be stopped.
Diff'rent Strokes had the Diff'rent Strokes curse cause Todd Bridges had a huge drug problem and was always in trouble with the law. Gary Coleman parents stole the money that earned from the show causing him to sue them years later and winning but still not getting any of it causing Gary Coleman to work as a security guard in a arcade to the fact that they spent it all and several years after the show ended Dana Plato tried to rob a video store before dying from a drug overdose in 1999