13 Things You Might Not Know About Diff'rent Strokes

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iStock

If you were tuned in to a television anytime between 1978 and 1986, you were likely exposed to the phenomenon that was NBC’s Diff’rent Strokes. A star vehicle for precocious kid actor Gary Coleman, Strokes mined comedy from the odd coupling of millionaire Mr. Drummond (Conrad Bain) and his dead housekeeper’s orphaned children, Arnold (Coleman) and Willis (Todd Bridges).

The show ran for eight seasons and is likely as notable for the melodrama surrounding its young stars as it is for anything they did onscreen. Have a look at 13 facts Willis was, at some point or another, probably discussing.  

1. It Made the Schedule Because The Little Rascals Didn’t.

NBC President Fred Silverman knew he wanted to do something with Gary Coleman, the polished 10-year-old who had gotten attention for his commercial spots. (Coleman was so poised that at one point he was believed to be a little person.) The actor taped a pilot for a Little Rascals update in 1978, but the network declined to move forward. Still anxious to find a project, Silverman slotted him in a script about two brothers from Harlem who move into a posh Manhattan penthouse. While Bain was the ostensible star of the show, it was Coleman’s portrayal of Arnold that entertained audiences: The show never fell outside of the top 30 during its first three seasons.

2. White Supremacists Were Not Fans.

While Strokes was never a highly politicized series, some viewers were uncomfortable with the idea of a rich white millionaire adopting two black children. After the show premiered, Bain received letters from the Ku Klux Klan that were threatening in nature and sealed in wax by a Grand Dragon; Todd Bridges claimed he was also harassed by self-identified Klan members.  

3. The Title May Have Been Inspired by Muhammad Ali.

According to the Yale Book of Quotations, boxing great Ali (who made a cameo in a 1979 episode) was quoted by the Great Bend Daily Tribune in 1966 as saying, “Different strokes for different folks.” Musician Syl Johnson further popularized the phrase in a 1968 song. Prior to the stylized title, producers considered calling it 45 Minutes from Harlem.  

4. Gary Coleman Sat Out Episodes Over Money.

Despite being the main attraction of Strokes, Coleman was paid a fairly paltry $1,800 per episode when the show debuted. His parents—who also happened to be his managers—successfully argued for a raise to $30,000 per episode. By 1981, the promise of lucrative syndication money led to another request; this time the protracted contract negotiations had Coleman sitting on the sidelines for the first episodes of the fourth season. His salary was eventually increased to $70,000 per episode, making him NBC’s highest-paid comedic actor for a period of time.

5. Coleman Tweaked His Catchphrase.

According to series writer Ben Starr, the character of Arnold had a line that was scripted as, “What are you talking about, Willis?” When Coleman read it, he compressed it into what would become one of the most pervasive catchphrases of the 1980s: “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” The writers wanted to be careful to partition it out in future seasons so it wouldn’t wear out its welcome, but that wasn’t entirely successful: By the late 1990s, Coleman was so tired of the line he refused to say it.

6. It Cornered the Market on 'Very Special' Episodes.

Sitcoms tackled serious themes at least as far back as the 1970s, when Edith Bunker was assaulted in a particularly jarring episode of All in the Family. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that comedies regularly took movie-of-the-week themes and used them to garner press attention for a substantial bump in ratings. In 1983, Strokes aired a two-part episode about child molestation where Gordon Jump (later known as Maytag’s Lonely Repairman) attempts to seduce Arnold and his friend. The show was so successful that Very Special Episodes devoted to bulimia, epilepsy, alcoholism, and the dangers of hitchhiking followed; fittingly, Strokes' last-ever episode in 1986 was Very Special, featuring Arnold investigating a steroid scandal for the school newspaper.

7. Alan Thicke Co-Wrote the Theme Song.

Best known either for his role as affable dad Jason Seaver on Growing Pains or affable father of singer Robin Thicke, Alan spent time in the ‘80s composing a quantity of memorable television music. In addition to writing the theme song for The Facts of Life, Thicke sang on and co-wrote the music and lyrics to the Diff’rent Strokes theme. In 2012, an interviewer got Thicke's son to sing part of it.

8. Coleman Had A Kidney Transplant During Its Run.

Coleman’s short stature was the result of drugs given to the youngster to address a genetic birth defect: he was born with one atrophied kidney and the other already failing. By age five, he had received his first kidney transplant. After getting a second one in 1984 and facing another operation in 1986, Coleman opted for dialysis four times daily instead. Through it all, the drugs given to manage his condition resulted in a suppressed growth phase. By age 14, Coleman knew he wouldn’t grow beyond four feet eight inches. One episode of the series was even devoted to his character coming to grips with the same affliction.

9. Arnold Appeared on Other Shows.

With NBC executives eager to have Coleman use his magic on the rest of their schedule, Arnold was jettisoned to Silver Spoons, Strokes spinoff The Facts of Life, and even on the wholly-unrelated Steven Spielberg-produced anthology series Amazing Stories. In “Remote Control Man,” a henpecked husband is able to transform his domestic existence into something out of a sitcom, running into Arnold along the way.

10. Coleman Lobbied to Be Less of a Kid.

As he neared adulthood, a teenaged Coleman began to grow very weary of playing an adolescent Arnold. For the last season, he successfully petitioned the writers to place Arnold in high school in order to feed more mature plots like dating and driving, with less jumping into Mr. Drummond’s lap. He also convinced NBC to give him a dramatic role in 1985 as the lead in a TV movie, Playing with Fire, about a child arsonist who wants to set the family dog ablaze. Like his Very Special Episodes, it ends with a strong message for would-be firebugs: “Get therapy.” 

11. Todd Bridges Played a Guy Who Sold Drugs to a Younger Todd Bridges.

Life after Strokes was not kind to its juvenile performers. Dana Plato, who portrayed Kimberly Drummond, struggled with substance abuse and once robbed a convenience store before dying of a drug overdose in 1999. A near-unemployable Coleman died in 2010 of complications owing to a fall, and Bridges was involved in a series of drug-related incidents before settling down. For a 2000 Fox docudrama about the making of the show, Bridges plays a drug dealer who sells drugs to an actor playing his younger self. In a 2006 TV movie, his real-life sister, Verda, portrays his mother.    

12. Willis Won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.

A 2013 ad campaign for wish-fulfillment Publishers Clearing House used archival footage from old sitcoms to portray characters answering the door and seeing the “Prize Patrol.” In a spot fashioned out of Diff’rent Strokes footage, Arnold is chagrined to find out Willis has won the million-dollar prize.  

13. Coleman Said Goodbye to Arnold on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Despite being vocal about wanting to move on from the show, Coleman agreed to reprise the character of Arnold for the 1996 series finale of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. After the Banks clan decides to separate to pursue separate opportunities, Will (Will Smith) shows their home to prospective buyers, including Arnold and Mr. Drummond, who provides some meta commentary after Arnold deploys his catchphrase. “You know, Arnold,” he says, “those things were a lot funnier when you were still a little child.”  

7 Tasty Facts About Tater Tots

bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images

Whether you associate them with your school cafeteria, your childhood home, or your local dive bar, tater tots are ubiquitous. Creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the bite-sized pellets rival French fries for the title of most delicious potato product. But they’re more than just a tasty side dish—they’re also an upcycling success story, a casserole ingredient, and one of the few foods that’s more popular frozen than fresh. Here are some more facts about tater tots you should know.

1. The first Tater Tots were made from French fry scraps.

Brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg founded the Oregon Frozen Foods Company, later known as Ore-Ida, in Ontario, Oregon, in 1952. One of their first items was frozen French fries, and after seeing all the potato scraps they had leftover, they came up with an idea. By chopping up the potato parts, seasoning them, and molding them into pellets, they were able to create a new product. With help from a thesaurus, they landed on the name tater tot and debuted their creation in 1954.

2. Tater Tots are the main ingredient in Hotdish casserole.

Hotdish casserole with tater tots.
ALLEKO, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but in certain states, they’re part of the main course. Hotdish follows the long Midwestern tradition of tossing whatever’s in the kitchen into a casserole. It’s made by mixing together ground beef and frozen vegetables and topping it with a layer of tater tots before baking the whole dish in the oven. It’s a hearty match for Midwestern winters, plus, it’s a way to sneak more tots into your diet.

3. The name Tater Tot is trademarked.

If the golden nugget of potato-y goodness you’re eating is not Ore-Ida brand, it’s not really a tater tot. The Grigg brothers trademarked the catchy name shortly after developing the product, and Ore-Ida still holds its trademark on tater tots today. This doesn’t stop people using it as a catch-all term for the generic version of the food. Ore-Ida tried to combat this in 2014 by running an ad campaign warning customers not to “be fooled by Imi-taters.”

4. Tater Tots have different names around the world.

The all-American tater tot has spread around the globe, but it’s usually sold under a different name abroad. Tot-lovers in New Zealand and Australia may refer to them as potato gems, potato royals, potato pom-poms, or hash bites. The food is so popular in New Zealand that Pizza Hut launched a pie with a hash bite crust there in 2016. In Canada, they’re called tasti taters or spud puppies, and they’ve been labeled oven crunchies in the UK.

5. Homemade tater tot recipes may not be worth it.

Tater tots on a plate served with ketchup.
MSPhotographic, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are the ultimate convenience food—unless you try making them from scratch at home. Recipes online involve peeling and grating pounds of potatoes, frying them once, chilling them overnight, and then shaping them into tots and frying them a second time. Without the streamlined method and equipment of a factory, the process can take 12 hours. Even fine restaurants that feature tater tots on their menus often prefer the taste (and convenience) of the frozen stuff.

6. Idaho praised Napoleon Dynamite for featuring Tater Tots.

Napoleon Dynamite takes place in Idaho, and one of the ways the 2004 film pays tribute to the state is by prominently featuring the tot. The State of Idaho passed a resolution in 2005 commending the makers of the film, specifically thanking them for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.”

7. The birthplace of the Tater Tot is hosting a Tater Tot festival.

Nearly 70 years after tater tots were invented there, Ontario, Oregon, is honoring its patron potato product by dedicating an entire festival to it in August 2020. The Tater Tot Festival will feature games, food vendors, and a Ferris wheel, plus special events like a tater tot-eating contest and a tater tot-themed play. The fair will end with the crowning of the tater tot festival king and queen.

17 Animated Facts About BoJack Horseman

Netflix
Netflix

BoJack Horseman, which is getting ready to debut its final episodes on Netflix at the end of January, surprised viewers and critics with its gradual dive into the depression of an anthropomorphic horse that used to be the star of a banal, early 1990s, TGIF-type sitcom. On the series, the town of Hollywoo is made up of both humans and talking animals full of hopes, dreams, and regrets.

Will Arnett stars as the voice of the titular equine who, at the beginning of season 3, is faced with the consequences of getting what he wants: legitimate acting recognition for playing the lead in a movie about his hero, Secretariat. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays BoJack's human roommate, Todd; Amy Sedaris stars as BoJack's agent, Princess Carolyn; and Alison Brie portrays BoJack's ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen.

1. BoJack Horseman’s creator and production designer have been friends since high school.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the after party for Netflix's "Tuca & Bertie" Tribeca Film Festival Premiere at American Cut Tribeca on May 01, 2019
Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Netflix

BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and production designer/producer Lisa Hanawalt met in a high school theater class, coming up with ideas for TV shows. Even while still in high school, Bob-Waksberg had anthropomorphism on the brain. It was there that he wrote a play about a boy with udders who just wanted to fit in. While the two were in college, they teamed up to make a web comic titled Tip Me Over, Pour Me Out.

Years later, while Hanawalt was becoming a regular James Beard Award finalist for her illustration collections of characters with animal heads on human bodies, Bob-Waksberg was living like his future creation Todd: In a small bedroom "that was more of a closet" in a big beautiful Hollywood Hills house formerly owned by Johnny Depp. It gave him the idea of coming up with a character "who had every success he could have wanted and still couldn't find a way to be happy," someone who felt "simultaneously on top of the world and so isolated and alone."

Since the two had always wanted to collaborate on a television project, Bob-Waksberg proposed combining his feeling of isolation with Hanawalt's drawings.

2. Some BoJack Horseman characters are modeled on Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt’s former classmates.

One day Bob-Waksberg asked Hanawalt, “Oh, do you remember that girl who was in our English class senior year of high school? Draw her, but as a dolphin.” Sextina Aquafina, singer of "My C*itoris is Gynormous," was born.

3. None of BoJack Horseman’s characters have tails.

A still from 'BoJack Horseman'
Netflix

Despite the fact that about half of the characters in the BoJack Horseman universe are animals, none of them have tails. That’s a decision production designer and co-producer Hanawalt made early on. "I’ve drawn a couple animal people with tails in my personal work, but it makes more sense to draw them without, and I’m not sure why,” she told Business Insider in 2015.

The only minor exception is in the season 2 episode “Escape From L.A.,” which features a scorpion—with its trademark stinger—as a prom DJ.

“So he’s got this big tail thing, but I rationalize it by saying it’s coming out of his upper back,” Hanawalt told Business Insider.

4. Michael Eisner signed off on BoJack Horseman.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner's Tornante Company agreed to produce the BoJack concept and sold it to Netflix. After a nervous and inexperienced Bob-Waksberg pitched the show to Eisner himself, Eisner expressed reluctance about putting another series satirizing show business on the air. Once Bob-Waksberg talked about why it was still interesting to him, Eisner agreed to just let him do it his way.

5. BoJack himself was fairly easy to come up with.

Bob-Waksberg doesn't remember where he got the name of his protagonist. "BoJack just sounded like a horse name to me," he said. "I don't know where I heard it or how I came up with it."

Hanawalt claimed that BoJack Horseman was one of the easiest characters to design, quickly picturing the sweater, the shoes, and his grumpy expression as soon as Bob-Waksberg described him to her.

6. BoJack Horseman's human characters were the hardest to create.

For Hanawalt, Diane and Todd were the hardest characters to create. "Humans are generally much trickier to draw because we’re so used to looking at and analyzing human faces," she said. "The slightest tweak makes a huge difference in how we perceive that character. Todd went through dozens of variations before we got him right, and then we changed him even more."

7. Todd Chavez is one of the first openly asexual characters on television.

Aaron Paul as Todd in 'BoJack Horseman'
Aaron Paul voices Todd Chavez in BoJack Horseman.
Netflix

Todd Chavez is one of very few television characters to use the word asexual to refer to himself, a development some critics have described as revolutionary. Other television characters who openly identify as asexual include Brad, a background character in Faking It; Valentina “Voodoo” Dunacci in Sirens; Lord Varys on Game of Thrones; and Florence, a minor character in Netflix’s Sex Education.

8. Lisa Hanawalt takes inspiration from real-life fashion to design clothing for BoJack Horseman’s characters.

“I’ll often reference celebrities,” Hanawalt told Racked in 2017 of how she comes up with character's outfits. “Like Jessica Biel, who’s actually on the show—she has the best street style, so I look at what she wears a lot. There was this leather army green one-sleeved mini dress she wore that I definitely put on a character. And I recently drew a dress that Constance Wu wore to the Critics’ Choice Awards; I love her.”

Once, Hanawalt even put Princess Carolyn in the mint green Gucci dress Katy Perry wore to the 2013 Grammy Awards. To draw the characters who work at the fictional Manatee Fair, she turned to Prada for inspiration.

“That was crazy fun to draw, and I liked that they’re the opposite of model body types,” she told Racked. “It was fun to take runway fashions and put them on manatees!”

9. Yes, that was really Sir Paul McCartney's voice you heard on BoJack Horseman.

Not every celebrity agrees to do a voice on the show—after a writer on the show "poured his heart out" to Cameron Crowe, Crowe was still too busy to voice the raven named Cameron Crowe. In season 1, the show still managed to snag J.K. Simmons to play the tortoise Lennie Turtletaub and Naomi Watts to portray herself. More celebrities followed; an unnamed guest actor told Bob-Waksberg, "Well, I guess if Naomi Watts is willing to make a fool of herself like this, I can too."

For the season 2 episode "After the Party," the show managed to get the former Beatle after some "tenacity" from the casting director Linda Lamontagne. McCartney recorded his lines in New York, with Bob-Waksberg instructing him from the studio in Los Angeles. The BoJack creator didn't know McCartney was going to do it until five minutes beforehand, when an executive producer called his cell while he was waiting to pick up a smoothie.

If he didn't do the voice, Kevin Bigley would have done an impression of Michael Bublé to end the installment.

10. Margo Martindale didn't know BoJack Horseman involved animals until after a table read.

Margo Martindale's The Millers co-star Will Arnett insisted that Martindale had to appear on his animated show. After she said she didn't want to do a cartoon, Arnett explained, "You have to do it—the part is Character Actress Margo Martindale." The day after her first BoJack table read, Martindale approached Arnett on The Millers set to tell him how much fun she had had, and how Mr. Peanutbutter oddly has a lot of doglike qualities.

Unfortunately, after Martindale was sent to jail on BoJack Horseman, her husband discovered that someone updated her real-life Wikipedia page to read that she spent the last year in prison for armed robbery. “This is what your cartoon’s done for me,” Martindale told Arnett.

11. Some actors do double or triple voice duty on BoJack Horseman.

Arnett voices both BoJack and his father, Butterscotch Horseman. Alison Brie portrays Diane Nguyen, "Vincent Adultman," and Joelle Clarke. Even Bob-Waksberg gets into the voice acting as tree frog assistant-turned-agent Charley Witherspoon.

12. BoJack Horseman’s writers love giving Amy Sedaris complicated tongue twisters.

Amy Sedaris’s character Princess Carolyn is often saddled with complex tongue twisters because the actress “hates them,” according to a Yahoo! interview with Bob-Waksberg. “She’s so annoyed,” he said “There’s a fun friction that comes out of her saying these words. Where you can almost get the sense that she doesn’t want to, but she has to, which gives it a fun charge.”

The writing team is fond of creating characters specifically for the purpose of inserting them into increasingly ridiculous word avalanches. In season 4, Amy Sedaris had several lines revolving around the fictional actress Courtney Portnoy, who portrayed “the formerly portly consort in The Seaport Resort” and “the thorny horticulturist in One Sordid Fortnight with a Short-Skirted Sorceress.”

“I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy making Amy do it,” Bob-Waksberg told Yahoo! “I think she secretly enjoys it too, even though she complains.”

13. BoJack Horseman’s running Zoe or Zelda gag was based off of a Tia and Tamera observation.

"The Zoe/Zelda thing in season one came from a Tia and Tamera observation I've had for a while," Bob-Waksberg admitted. Back in 2010, he wrote on his Tumblr that he was a Tia, despite his many Tamera qualities, and later that he was a Zoe with some very Zelda qualities.

14. Some of BoJack Horseman’s jokes take entire seasons to build.

While the mulch joke was a variation of a joke Bob-Waksberg knew for years, and the movie-star speech Rutabaga Rabbitowitz gives Princess Carolyn is something he had told to heartbroken friends before, the Marisa Tomei sneezing picture took the entire first season to come together in the writers room.

"In season 1, we were working on some episode and we knew there was some story on BoJack sneezing on Marisa Tomei that we had set up, and elsewhere, we had set up that there was a sneezing picture that BoJack hates, but everyone uses when they talk about BoJack," he explained. "It wasn’t until episode 11 that we realized, 'What if the sneezing picture is the picture of him sneezing on Marisa Tomei?' We went back to episode 2 and changed the picture and had a flashback in episode 11."

Some story arcs were invented in the writers room, like the paparazzi birds, Todd's rock opera, and the progression of Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane's relationship. Going to Boston, the Herb Kazzaz storyline, the drug trip episode, and BoJack cornering Diane at Ghostwritercon were all Bob-Waksberg's initial pitch to Netflix.

15. One BoJack Horseman episode was based off of an unused Curb Your Enthusiasm script.

"Let's Find Out" was based off of a Curb Your Enthusiasm spec script by BoJack writer Peter Knight. In his script, Larry David appears on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with Ron Howard. When Ron Howard admits he doesn't know who Larry David is, David pretends to not know who Howard is and deliberately blows the game. In "Let's Find Out," BoJack goes on the Mr. Peanutbutter-hosted Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! and fumes over the fact that Daniel Radcliffe doesn't know who he is. In the end, BoJack pretends to not know who Radcliffe is, losing the game.

Radcliffe was a fan of BoJack Horseman, so he was written in as the celebrity on the game show. "I’ve seen every version of a Harry Potter joke and you guys wrote my favorite," Radcliffe told Bob-Waksberg.

16. BoJack Horseman’s creator doesn’t actually hate honeydew.

Bojack Horseman is very vocal about his hatred of honeydew, which the show refers to as the Jared Leto of fruits (“It is literally the worst part of everything it’s in,” one character explains). But Bob-Waksberg doesn’t actually mind it.

“I think good honeydew’s all right,” he told Yahoo! in 2017. “I hope this doesn’t destroy my credibility. I live in constant fear that people connect to the show because it’s such a sensitive and accurate portrayal of honeydew haters, and it’s going to come out that I myself am not a honeydew hater, and they’re going to tear me down.”

17. Raphael Bob-Waksberg thinks BoJack Horseman still has a few seasons left in it.

In an interview with Vulture, Bob-Waksberg was asked whether he was surprised when Netflix announced that season 6 would be BoJack Horseman's last; his answer was somewhere between yes and no."I thought we’d go a couple more years," he said. "But you know, it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s right for them, and six years is a very healthy run for a TV show. Frankly, I’m amazed we got this far. So I can’t complain. I think if we premiered on any other network, or even on Netflix on any other time than when we did, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten the second season."

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