Wednesday, August 8, 2018

“The Facts of Life”: A Real Beginning

When we last left off, NBC had renewed The Facts of Life against the wishes of its producer Norman Lear and despite its dismal ratings. Fred Silverman, the head of NBC programming at the time, saw some promise in the show provided it made some changes. He ordered just 16 episodes for season two and requested that the cast be slimmed down. Instead of seven main girls, he cut the cast down to four. Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields and Mindy Cohn stayed. The rest of the girls were fired. Nancy McKeon was brought in as the tomboyish Jo. Of course, the girls were all overseen by Mrs. Garrett.

Outsiders probably didn’t give the show much hope, but the changes worked extremely well. The Facts of Life went from NBC’s gutter to the very top, ranking among its top five shows. While Mrs. Garrett was a house mistress to the live-in girls at the school in season one, in season two she was a dietician who planned and supervised the preparation of the school’s meals. The four girls constituted her “staff”.

The show earned an easy renewal for season three. In fact, NBC had wished it had picked up the usual 24 episodes it usually ordered for its regular series. Despite the show’s newfound success, Norman Lear still refused to put his name on the series. Despite this, The Facts of Life would become one of his most profitable shows.