TITLE: DIFF'RENT STROKES - THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
DVD Release Date: September 14, 2004 (Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment)
color/Approx. 588 Minutes
Number of discs: 3
Number of episodes: 24
Languages and subtitles: English - Mono, Closed Captioned
Special features: "A Look Back at Diff'rent Strokes" featurette with
all new interviews from Todd Bridges, Conrad Bain and Charlotte Rae;
"Whatchoo Talkin' Bout?" featurette on Gary Coleman; 3 Audio Commentaries
with writer Fred Rubin
"Whatchoo talkin' bout, Willis?" When pint-sized Gary Coleman uttered that phrase
to his TV brother, played by Todd Bridges, audiences were hooked and a star
was born. But the show's popularity was based on more than the rise of the
diminutive, wisecracking Coleman. Diff'rent Strokes was a pop culture phenomenon
that broke through cultural barriers as well.
The story of two African-American kids from Harlem who move to Park Avenue to
live with a wealthy white widower (Conrad Bain) and his precocious
teenage daughter (Dana Plato) not only gave audiences lots to laugh about
but gave them something to talk about. Along with their no-nonsense housekeeper
(Charlotte Rae), this group was anything but average - but they reflected the
changing face of the American family and brought issues of race and class into
households across the nation.
Gary Coleman vaulted to network stardom after wowing producer Norman Lear with an unexpected, impromptu audition. Gary had done several TV commercials in Chicago when he was called to Hollywood in 1976 to do a commercial. Before returning home, he was summoned to Tandem Productions for a possible role in a proposed new "Little Rascals" series. Three episodes of "The Little Rascals" were filmed with Gary playing the role of Stymie, but no one bought the series. Lear then decided to groom Gary through guest appearances on such shows as The Jeffersons (he played George Jefferson's nephew Raymond) and Good Times (as an obnoxious kid named Gary Daniels from the Evans’ building).
Early in 1978, Tandem wanted to team Gary up with Conrad Bain, the urbane, middle-aged Canadian Scot who starred in "Maude". The producers came up with an idea that seemed to be workable. It was called '45 Minutes from Harlem,' and it was about a rich man in the posh suburban town of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., who adopts a black kid from the Harlem ghetto. Conrad Bain become involved in developing a different, better version of '45 Minutes from Harlem', and for the new show, Gary acquired a brother (Todd Bridges) and the rich man character (Bain) now was living on Park Avenue with his teenage daughter and a middle-aged housekeeper--all with the well defined, believable personalities. NBC liked their script reading so much, no pilot for Diff'rent Strokes was made, the first episode aired November 3rd.
Diff'rent Strokes became such a pop culture
phenomenon, in large part because of Coleman, a
two-time Young Artist Award Winner (1981 Best Young
Comedian, 1983 Best Young Actor in a Comedy Series),
whose charm and timing were flawless. The show wasn’t
afraid to tackle tough issues such as drug usage,
drunk driving and child abuse. Finally, its unique
combination of laughs and serious issues attracted a
wide diversity of guest stars such as Janet Jackson,
Reggie Jackson, Nancy Reagan, Mr. T, and Dallas Cowboy
Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Diff'rent Strokes also spawned
the popular spin-off series The Facts of Life. Diff'rent Strokes finished its first season with a viewing audience of over
41 million people. The series would run for 8 seasons and 189 episodes. The first 7 seasons
aired on NBC, with the show moving to ABC in 1985-86 for the final season.
Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:
Memorable first season episodes included "Movin' In" where Mr. Drummond welcomes Arnold and
Willis into his lavish penthouse. When Mr. Drummond tries to get Arnold and Willis into an exclusive prep school, it turns
out to be just a little too exclusive for everyone's tastes in the fourth episode "Prep School."
In "The Club Meeting," Willis invites his neighborhood club from Harlem to visit, but things get out of hand when he tries to
impress them with his new wealth. "The Trip" was the first of three hour-long crossover episodes with Hello, Larry.
Hello, Larry had the timeslot right after Diff'rent Strokes, and it was established that Philip Drummond and Larry Alder were old army buddies and Drummond's company purchased the radio station in Portland
where Larry worked. "The Girls' School" was the pilot episode for The Facts of Life.
Charlotte Rae was promised a smooth return back onto Diff'rent Strokes if her spin-off series had failed. It was renewed, and she left during the 2nd season of Dif'rent Strokes. It began a revolving door of housekeepers with Nedra Volz playing the somewhat grumpy Adelaide Brubaker from 1980-1982 and then Mary Jo Catlett playing the cheerful
Pearl Gallagher from 1982-1986.
Notable guest stars included some familiar faces from TV and movies. John Travolta's sister, Ellen Travolta,
appeared as the snooty Ms. Aimsly in "The Social Worker." Howard Morton guest starred as Miles Bordinay
in "Prep School." He would later be a regular on the NBC sitcom Gimme A Break as Officer Ralph Simpson.
Jack Riley set a first season record with three appearances as three different
characters: in "Goodbye Dolly" as Miles Monroe, in "The New Landlord" as Charles Sutton,
and as Mr. Crocker in The Facts of Life pilot episode "The Girls' School." Elinor Donahue
played an attractive widow named Diane Sloane that Drummond
intended to marry in "The Woman." La Wanda Page, best known for her hilarious role as Aunt
Esther on Sanford and Son, appeared as a long lost cousin of Willis and Arnold from
Detroit in "The Relative." McLean Stevenson, Kim Richards, and the other cast members
of Hello, Larry appeared in the one hour crossover episode "The Trip." Felice
Schachter, Kim Fields, Julie Piekarski, and Lisa Whelchel appeared in "The Girls' School"
and would move on to the main Facts of Life series.
This 3-disc set contains all 24 episodes from the first season (1978-1979).
The DVD cover art (pictured above) features a photo of the cast, with a larger
super-imposed photo of Gary Coleman and a background of New York City buildings.
The back of the box features four smaller photos of the cast and lists a short
summary and a listing of the special features and DVD specs.
There are three individual Nexpak snapcases that slide out from the DVD box.
All three cases have a different photo of Gary Coleman, wearing
a light blue jacket, with a different
pose and facial expression. There is the number of the disc in a large font in
the background. The back of the cases list the episode titles and short summaries with the writer and director credits. Inside the cases, there is no photo or additional information.
This seemed like a lost opportunity that they could have filled in. It would
also would have been a nice touch if they would have listed the original airdates.
The episodes are presented in their original airdate order.
The actual discs have the same photo that is pictured on their respective snapcase.
Disc 1 contains episodes 1-8, Disc 2 has episodes 9-17, and Disc 3 offers
Menu Design and Navigation:
Each DVD has a very simple menu that is easy to navigate. The main menu has the same
photo as the cover art, except it has a different background with other New York
City buildings pictured. There are Play All Episodes, Episode Selections,
and Commentaries buttons on the first two discs. The third disc includes
the Bonus Features and Previews. There is a highlighted bar under the button
when you make a selection. The Episode Selections sub-menus contain a photo
from the episode, as well as a larger photo of Gary Coleman on the right-hand side
of the screen.
Video and Audio Quality:
The video and audio quality was about what I expected. While the episodes look
better than the prints you saw on Nick at Nite/TNN in recent years or on the VHS tapes
released by Columbia House, the quality was only going to be as good as the original source
material which was shot on tape. The pilot episode especially looks darker than the other episodes, as it appears
the lighting wasn't very good or perhaps they used lower quality tape. They appeared
to fix the lighting problems in later episodes, so the colors appear much more
brighter and vibrant. The mono audio is typical of many other 70's sitcoms. I noticed
that the audio is usually lower when there are scenes in the living room, which was
a huge set when compared to the shots in the kitchen or the boy's bedroom. Closed
captioning is available on all of the episodes.
The episodes all appear to be unedited with running times around 24-25 minutes, with two notable exceptions. When I first saw the two original one-hour episodes, "Retrospective" and
"The Trip," listed as separate two part episodes, I was worried they might use shorter
syndication prints. My worst fears were realized. They have opening and
closing credits on each episode and they run around 22 minutes, 10 seconds.
We will have to wait for an official explanation on why they used the shorter
syndication prints for these two episodes. They may not have been able to locate
the original one-hour prints for them.
And now pavanbadal will provide an in-depth look at the special features.
The Diff'rent Strokes -- The Complete First Season DVD
set contains three extraordinary special features.
Two sets of interviews titled: "A Look Back at
Diff'rent Strokes" and "Whatchoo Talkin 'Bout?" The
third feature is three episode commentaries by Story
Editor, Fred Rubin. Columbia Tri-star Home
Entertainment is not known for special features on its
classic TV titles, but this set is pretty good and
does contain quality features.
Starting off on disc one, there are two episode
commentaries by Story Editor Fred Rubin. He comments
throughout the episode. The episodes are "Prep
School" and "The Trial." In "Prep School" he talks
during the opening credits about the theme song. The
studio audience loved the theme and would start
clapping when it was played during the tapings. He
mentions this episode had a special message, like most
Diff'rent Strokes episodes do. The message in this
episode was racism, as Mr. Drummond's old prep school
would not accept Arnold and Willis because they were
African American. During the end of the episode,
Arnold and Willis are eating a dessert, and Rubin
mentions that the kids really did like to eat, even
off camera. Rubin seems like a very nice man, but I
do have one complaint, he tends to not talk for a
while. Most commentaries I've seen usually they talk
on and on.
In "The Trial" he talks about his partner on the show,
Story Editor Al Rosen. Rosen attended UCLA and Rubin
went to the University of Illinois. Rubin also talks
about that Diff'rent Strokes had "softer" jokes,
nothing hard like shows like All in the Family.
The third commentary is on disc two. Rubin comments
on "Willis' Privacy." He mentions this is the third
episode he and Al Rosen wrote. They were brand new
writers just coming out of college, so this was big
for them to work on a hit show. This was there second
show they had done. They stayed on this show for 2
years or so, but Rosen says Diff'rent Strokes is the
show people always ask him about when they see his
resume. During the closing credits, Rubin shows off
his name in the credits and mentions Alan Thicke's
credit, who wrote the theme song.
The last disc, disc three, has the final two special
features -- both are interview pieces. "A Look Back
at Diff'rent Strokes" runs just under 22 minutes in
duration and is probably the best feature on this set.
Many people interviewed for this feature: Howard
Leeds (Executive Producer), Ben Starr (Executive
Script Consultant), Fred Rubin (Story Editor; who we
heard on the commentaries), Conrad Bain ("Mr.
Drummond"), Todd Bridges ("Willis"), Herbert Kenwith
(Director) and Charlotte Rae ("Mrs. Garrett").
Leeds talks about how he was producing The Brady Bunch
before to talking about the late Dana Plato. Starr
talks about how Fred Silverman wanted to do the show
fast, without seeing the pilot he ordered a full
season. So the show never really had a pilot test and
made it on the schedule without any tests. Rubin
talks about how he came on the show after college,
disco was popular, talks about other Norman Lear shows
like The Jeffersons and One Day at a Time -- they
taped very close by. Some images of the script of the
first episode are shown. Conrad Bain talks about how
Norman Lear brought Gary Coleman in. He also talks
about how the studio audience is vital in a situation
comedy. Todd Bridges spoke about the first episode,
particularly the balcony scene. He mentioned the cast
was very close. He talked a bit about racism, which
was still a hot topic in the late 70s. Kenwith talked
about the furniture on the set and how there was
always laughter on the set. He talked in detail about
the episode "Getting Involved" and how that was
important. Charlotte Rae mentions she was involved on
Diff'rent Strokes because of one reason -- Norman
Lear. She had guest starred on other shows of his,
like All in the Family.
This feature is very good and they talk mainly about
everything. It is a must to watch.
The second set of interviews is called "Whatchoo
Talkin 'Bout?" It runs just under 6 minutes and
features more interviews with: Conrad Bain, Howard
Leeds, Herbert Kenwith, Fred Rubin and Ben Starr.
They talk about Gary Coleman and how that catch phrase
of his came about actually. All fans should watch
this. Bain talks about how Coleman was great and he
knew what he was doing at such a young age. Leeds
mentions he is the most talented kid he has ever
worked with. He was very professional and always on
time. That catchphrase of his was created by
accident; you have to watch yourself to see how!
Kenwith talks about how Gary Coleman not only knew his
lines, but everyone else's, too! Rubin praises that
Coleman had the best comedic timing and how they
wanted to use that catchphrase of his towards the end
of the show, so they didn't want to waste it in the
beginning of the episode. Starr mentions that was just
a natural. Everyone had great things to say about
him. He was for sure a very bright kid.
Like all Columbia sets, they have previews as well --
Contemporary TV, TV Action and TV Comedy Favorites.
Diff'rent Strokes was one of my favorite sitcoms growing up. I would probably
have to rank it as my 2nd favorite, behind only Happy Days.
Overall, I was very pleased with this set. It is nice to have the episodes in the DVD
format, and the extras were interesting and added to the value of the set. The fact
that two of the episodes are apparently from syndication prints was disappointing, but I
would still recommend this set to any fan of the show as it's filled with lots of laughs
and will bring you some good memories.
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):
Video quality: 4.3/5
Audio quality: 4.4/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5
-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller and pavanbdal (extras) on 08/31/04
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