TORONTO — Two stars from “The Facts of Life” say they don’t have any direct knowledge of a rumoured reboot, but if it were to happen, it would need to capture the same “lightning in a bottle” of the beloved 1980s sitcom.
Kim Fields and Lisa Whelchel were in Toronto Thursday for the launch of Bell Media’s two new free, video-on-demand offerings, CTV Movies and CTV Throwback, which have dozens of titles including “The Facts of Life.”
The ad-supported channels are available only on CTV digital platforms (CTV.ca and the CTV app on iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire Stick).
In August, Deadline reported that the production companies of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jessica Biel were in talks with Sony Pictures Television to reboot “The Facts of Life,” about a group of students and their housemother at an all-female boarding school.
But Whelchel, who played preppy and vain teen Blair on the show, says the cast only heard about a reboot “through the grapevine.”
And Fields, who played young roller-skating Tootie, cautions it would need to be made under the right circumstances.
“There’s a lot that goes into making magic,” Fields, 49, said in an interview. “You don’t just haul off and say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to reboot this.’ Not if you want success, and not if you don’t want your audience to feel betrayed.
“‘Facts of Life’ is very near and dear to a great many generations around the world, and so however you do any reboot, you better do it right and you better service the brand.”
If a reboot does happen with the original cast included, the stars already have a name for it.
“Geri Jewell — who played Blair’s cousin, who had cerebral palsy — she’s a comedian and she proposed a title called ‘The Change of Life’ for the reboot,” Whelchel, 55, said with a laugh.
A spinoff of “Diff’rent Strokes” that originally aired on NBC from 1979 to 1988, “The Facts of Life” was set in a dormitory at a private school in Peekskill, N.Y. The catchy theme song, by Gloria Loring and Alan Thicke, began with the moral lesson: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have, the facts of life.”
Charlotte Rae, who died in August, played housemother Edna Garrett in a cast that also included Mindy Cohn as Tootie’s best friend Natalie, and Nancy McKeon as motorcycle-riding tomboy Jo.
Both Fields and Whelchel said the show was a “foundational” part of their lives, noting they grew up on the set.
They got to cover some heavy topics on the show that touched many fans’ lives around the world, they said.
“It dealt with teenage suicide, it dealt with date rape, it dealt with issues but not gratuitously and it was in service of the audience, not in service of the show,” said Whelchel, who has numerous acting credits as well as a Grammy-nominated Christian album to her name.
Being an African-American girl/young woman on network TV in that era also made a big impact, added Fields.
“People will still tell me to this day, if they meet me or on social media, they wanted to wear their hair like Tootie (or) they had never seen a little girl (like Tootie) on a show,” said Fields, whose other major credits include the Fox sitcom “Living Single,” which is now on Hulu.
“When I met Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi for the first time and she said, ‘In Africa we were astonished that a little black girl was living with these white girls and was treated completely as an equal.’
“It’s not something that I really sit down and think about and talk about at great length but it’s a tremendously surreal impact, to have women of colour let me know how much of an impact that show and that character had for them, growing up.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press