The 1980s started with the view of teen life according to girls at a private school: The Facts of Life.
A spinoff of sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, the show initially was the move of The Drummond Family housekeeper Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) to work at a girls’ school attended by Kimberly Drummond, but her character was never shown in the new series.
Initially the series had seven main characters of students – Blair, Natalie, Tootie, Molly, Cindy, Sue Anne and Nancy. Each one had her own flair and focus, as they dealt with school and life at the Eastland School. The series debuted in 1979 on NBC.
In the second year, the show was reworked, focusing on Mrs. Garrett and four students: Blair, Natalie, Tootie and new girl Jo. Because of a major infraction, the girls are forced to share a room next door to Mrs. Garrett and work in the cafeteria.
Each character had her own back story – Blair was a from a very wealthy family and was vain, while Tootie was African-American and the youngest, Natalie was the chubby and funny girl while Jo was a tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks who made it to the school on scholarship.
There were several reccuring characters in the series, including Blair’s cousin Geri, Miko, Boots, “Shoplifter” Kelly, and Princess Alexandra, all of which were girls who showed the main characters their strengths or weaknesses in addressing all kinds of issues from prejudice to peer pressure. Another notable character was George, played by George Clooney, a handyman at the school.
Despite its slow move with the ratings, this show became one of the top ranked sitcoms on NBC, finding its audience and by 1982, spawned a special with the girls going to Paris. Several spinoffs from the series were attempted, but nothing found its audience. I was a regular watcher of the series, liking Jo for her tough character and plain-talking spirit.
After eight seasons, the show had exhausted its storylines and its characters were now not in school – and the series was ended. But for its time in the 1980s, this show was popular, not just because of its silly humour and crazy antics of teen girls, but because with subtle humour it dealt with the pressures of being a teen girl – from sexuality to getting older to school stress.