The Facts of Life – the hit television show that became a staple of NBC’s lineup in the 1980s – was a female-centric spinoff of another popular sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes. It ran for nine seasons and became a cultural touchstone for many reasons.
And Radar‘s exclusive sneak peek of REELZ upcoming documentary, The Facts of Life: Behind Closed Doors, touches upon one of those reasons.
Jerry Mayer, a writer for the series, penned an episode about weed. It was unprecedented.
“One of the early shows that I wrote was about girls trying marijuana,” he recalls. It was a moment that stood out to the cast, too.
“I remember the dope episode,” adds Julie Anne Haddock Becker, who played Cindy. “I believe it was Sue Ann who got busted with pot,” she adds with a laugh.
But no one remembers the episode quite like Sue Ann, who was played by Julie Piekarski Probst.
“They chose my character, Sue Ann, and when we kinda do the first day cold reading of it, I kinda was like, ‘Ok, now wait a minute, so this is me. Though it’s my character, what is that gonna mean for me?'” she recalls having thought.
It was after a conversation with the late Charlotte Rae, who played maternal figure Edna Garrett, that Piekarski Probst says she felt comfortable taking on what had felt like a daunting task.
“Charlotte actually and I had a conversation about it,” explains Piekarski Probst. “She said think about it this way – it is sometimes those more innocent people that you don’t expect because of peer pressure, they actually do succumb to it and end up doing it. So when she explained that to me and I really sat and thought with it, I thought, ‘This is important to do it.'”
The episode featured a guest star who ended up securing her own place in the must-see NBC TV lineup: four-time Emmy Award winning Mad About You star Helen Hunt.
Eve Brandstein, the casting directorwho placed Hunt in The Facts of Life, describes Helen as “very talented” and remembers her being in a “very unique group of actresses I could rotate in and out of roles.”
“Helen was one of those,” says Brandstein with pride. “She was one of my top choices.”
Hunt’s character was part of a modern-day “cool-girl” clique called The Group, which peer pressured Sue Ann to get high.
“I like gagged and coughed, and then __Lisa [Whelchel__, who played Blair Warner] started laughing at it,” recalls Piekarski Probst.
And with that episode, the first season of the groundbreaking series wrapped.
The Facts of Life: Behind Closed Doors premieres Wednesday, December 8 at 9 PM ET / 6 PM PT on REELZ.
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