‘The Facts of Life’: Lisa Whelchel Was ‘Shocked’ to Discover Her Co-Stars Had Been Fired
The Facts of Life first premiered in the summer of 1979. The NBC sitcom — which was a spin-off of another NBC TV show entitled Diff’rent Strokes — would go on to run for nine seasons spanning more than 200 episodes.
By the time the series finale aired in May 1988, the show had picked up numerous Emmy Award nominations and generated multiple TV films, including 1982’s The Facts of Life Goes to Paris and 1987’s The Facts of Life Down Under. While the show proved to be a success, most of its initial stars didn’t get to enjoy that success.
In fact, The Facts of Life‘s producers made a surprising decision to fire most of the show’s main cast early on. And no one was more surprised than one of the stars who survived the cut.
‘The Facts of Life’ was one of the longest-running sitcoms of the 1980s
Diff’rent Strokes was a very popular NBC sitcom that ran from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s and followed the lives of two boys who were taken in by the wealthy Drummond family. One of the side characters, a housekeeper named Edna Garrett (played by actress Charlotte Rae), proved to be very popular with fans.
NBC gave the character her own spin-off series, and The Facts of Life was born.
The show follows Garret’s life as she works as a housemother at a private all-girls boarding school in New York.
The core group of girls under her care included spoiled, wealthy Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), gossipy Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey (Kim Fields), naive Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn), boy-obsessed Nancy Olsen (Felice Schachter), small-town girl Sue Weaver (Julie Piekarski), and social activist Molly Parker (Molly Ringwald).
But less than half of those girls lasted past the first season of The Facts of Life.
The first season did not perform well
NBC chose to air the first season of the sitcom on Friday nights, and audiences did not engage with it right away. In fact, of the 79 different TV shows running during that season, The Facts of Life ranked nearly dead-last in the Nielsen ratings at number 74.
NBC took swift action to correct the lack of viewers.
“When the show failed to crack the top 30 in the first season, all the writers were fired,” reports IMDB. But that wasn’t the only sweeping, drastic change the TV studio made.
Going into the show’s second season, the producers at NBC also felt that there were too many characters for audiences to keep track of. The problem was compounded by the sitcom format, and the fact that the show only had 30 minutes to work with. The producers hypothesized that the overwhelming amount of girls might be one reason why audiences weren’t tuning in.
Four of the original actresses (Haddock, Piekarski, Schachter and Ringwald) were immediately written off of the sitcom, leaving behind only Whelchel, Fields and Cohn.
“Schacter was the first girl cast,” explains IMDB. “The…producers promised her a role after she was turned down for the Kimberly Drummond role on Diff’rent Strokes. She was also the first girl who was fired when the show was retooled the second season.”
The surviving cast didn’t know about the firing
When NBC began filming season two of The Facts of Life, Whelchel, Fields and Cohn showed up to the studio. That’s when they realized something was very different: Most of their former coworkers were not there.
“Everybody was shocked,” Whelchel said in a recent interview, as quoted by Mental Floss. “Nobody knew—that I know of—that they were going to make this major cut.”
Although Ringwald never returned to The Facts of Life, the other fired actresses did make occasional guest appearances throughout seasons two and two, as well as in one episode of the eighth season.
In the end, The Facts of Life‘s second season came in at #26 in the Nielsen ratings — a significant improvement over season one.