Kevin Hart nailed his role channeling Gary Coleman’s character Arnold in the special live reenactment of the classic sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” which gave American pop culture the phrase, “What you talkin’ ‘bout Willis?” The show debuted in 1978 and ran for eight seasons. The live special featured an all-star cast including Daymon Wayans and John Lithgow. Also celebrated in the special was “The Facts of Life,” in which Jennifer Aniston played Blair Warner.
Both shows come from the stable of Norman Lear, the legendary creator who was also a major TV mogul by the late 1970s. His Tandem/T.A.T. Communications was behind “Diff’rent Strokes,” which also yielded “Facts of Life” as a spinoff, and although Lear wasn’t credited as an executive producer on those shows, his imprint was still there. Lear was instrumental in casting Coleman in the show, for example: “It was so clear that he he belonged at the center of the show, that was he had a rare talent,” Lear recalled.
This edition’s cast boasts plenty of them — including Hart and Lithgow, as well as Damon Wayans as Willis on the “Diff’rent Strokes” portion, which airs during the second half of the 90-minute special. The night kicks off with “The Facts of Life,” featuring Jennifer Aniston as Blair, Kathryn Hahn as Jo, Gabrielle Union as Tootie and Allison Tolman as Natalie.
During the one-night only event, the cast recreated an episode from the first season of the show in 1978 titled “Willis’ Privacy,” with Hart wearing a cape and delivering the famous line — “what you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”
“It’s hard to believe that I walked through those doors 43 years ago, back when I had hair,” Bridges said. “Now in 1978, Diff’rent Strokes premiered and ran for eight seasons — which back then meant 169 episodes of television with… the late Conrad Bain, Dana Plato, Charlotte Rae and Gary Coleman. Now, I know that if my family was here, they would be just as proud as I am here, celebrating Diff’rent Strokes and Facts of Life.”