McKeon, Clooney only castmembers not yet confirmed
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have … a “Facts of Life” reunion movie at ABC.
Production begins Sept. 10 in Toronto for the yet-untitled “Facts of Life” redux. Original cast members Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett), Mindy Cohn (Natalie), Kim Fields (Tootie) and Lisa Whelchel (Blair) are all on board to reprise their characters from the hit coming-of-age comedy, which ran on NBC from 1979 to 1988.
It’s still unclear whether Nancy McKeon, who played tomboy Jo, will appear in a cameo. But George Clooney, who played handyman George during the show’s 1985-86 season, has not been approached.
The two-hour telepic focuses on Natalie, who asks the girls to reunite in Peekskill, N.Y., after she receives two different marriage proposals.
“We chose to do it as an old-fashioned romantic comedy,” said Quinn Taylor, senior vice president of TV movies at ABC. “The writers captured the voices of these women, which in any of these reunion movies is the hardest thing to do.”
Taylor said the original “Facts” writers either “didn’t care, aren’t around or didn’t want to be a part of it.” Instead, Max Enscoe and Annie deYoung penned the script, with an assist by Kevin Hench (“Kiss My Act”) and Heather Juergensen.
Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who’s helming the upcoming indie feature “Kissing Jessica Stein,” will direct. Ilene Berg exec produces for Berger Queen Prods. in association with Laurence Mark Prods. and Touchstone Television.
Touchstone bought the rights to remake “Facts” from Columbia TriStar TV. Col Pictures TV produced 205 half-hours of the sitcom during its 10-year run.
The project grew out of a brainstorming session at ABC, which posted strong numbers last season for a “Growing Pains” reunion pic. The “Facts of Life” project went through a number of changes — including a possible “Big Chill”-esque tone at one point, with one of the girls dying –before taking its current form.
“Max and Annie were true to their voices,” Taylor said. “They can tell you minutiae about the show, which is a little alarming, but they’re also the reason why everyone got so excited.”
Taylor said everyone involved with the project watched countless episodes of “Facts of Life” to get into the spirit. The movie’s scribes were then charged with trying to figure out where these characters would be now.
Natalie, for example, now serves as a behind-the-scenes producer at CNN. Mrs. Garrett, who got married and moved away when Rae left the show in 1986, returns to the States via cruise ship, where she meets a new love interest (she apparently joined the Peace Corps and became a widow in the time since “Facts” left the air).
Tootie is a Hollywood-based talkshow host and the single mother of a 10-year-old girl. Blair owns Warner Enterprises, which includes a stable of hotels, and is married without children. And while Jo doesn’t show up for the reunion, her husband Rick and daughter do.
In-jokes, thesp input
The movie will also include a number of inside jokes for “Facts” fans, including indirect references to Clooney and Molly Ringwald, who played a schoolmate during the show’s freshman season. Taylor said the “Facts” stars all had input in the final script.
“They were all very articulate and thoughtful and cared about what their characters would do,” Taylor said. “Mindy and Charlotte, Lisa and then Kim all contributed greatly to where their characters would be.”
The “Facts of Life” reunion will air sometime next season in the “Wonderful World of Disney” timeslot, which Taylor hopes will benefit from the adult appeal of the telepic.
Other series reunion pics may be in the works at ABC as well, Taylor said.
But “just because it was a hit series doesn’t mean it’s viable or a good reunion show,” he said. “There have been a lot pitched here that we have passed on.”
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)