On this day in comedy on November 3, 1978 Diff’rent Strokes premiered on NBC!
Here’s the story of a rich man of means who is white and adopts the Black sons of his dead maid (who was also Black). Conrad Bain played the rich, Mr. Drummond. Gary Coleman (Arnold) and Todd Bridges (Willis) played to two motherless boys and Dana Plato played rich Mr. Drummond’s daughter, Kimberly (who was also White). They all lived in a Park Avenue spread and got a new maid (Charlotte Rae, who got a spin-off).
The sitcom was from the era of sitcoms attacking social issues and Diff’rent Strokes got in its share. Dealing with drug abuse, racism, kidnapping, alcoholism, crime, sexual abuse of children and hitchhiking. The irony was that several of these societal maladies affects the cast of minors more than as television episodes. Bridges was a confessed drug addict. Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999 at the age of 34 after a long bout with substance abuse. Colman, the break out star with the catchphrase, “Whatchu talkin about, Willis?”, was abused by not only his parents, who pilfered all his earnings, but also the public at large, including women in his life.
By the end of its run, Diff’rent Strokes had aired on NBC from November 3, 1978-May 4, 1985 and ABC from September 27, 1985 until its swan song on March 7, 1986. Plato’s character was virtually written out of the show, Bridges was lessened and Colman became the focus as well as the marriage of Mr. Drummond and the blending of the two families. It packed in a load of prominent guest stars including Janet Jackson (who played Bridge’s girlfriend), Whitman Mayo, Gordon Jump and First lady Nancy Reagan, who appeared on a show of addicts with her naïve anti-drug campaign slogan, “Just Say No”. Really?! To paraphrase Arnold Drummond, “What’chu talkin’ about, Nancy?”
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: