Sitcom maestros Set Decorator Jerie Kelter SDSA and Production Designer Steve Olson give great behind the scenes details about the live reenactments of 1980s hit series THE FACTS OF LIFE and DIFF'RENT STROKES, plus a note from Jerie re: working with the incomparable now 100-year-old Norman Lear when he was only 99!
Re-creating episodes of classic TV, this is the third iteration of celebrating Norman Lear’s iconic comedies, with the added twist of doing them “live”! Award-winning veterans of sitcoms, Steve and Jerie jumped in when Bernie Vyzga and Ron Olsen, the team for the first two iterations, weren’t available and offered the opportunity. Ironically, since Steve and Jerie are each known for their unique sets, the biggest stress for this team was not the “live” performances—their work would be complete at the point the cameras began to roll—it was matching the sets of yester year.
Steve heavily researched the episodes and the era, and had images pulled from the video tapes at the ready, as well as stills from the period. The problem was the limited quality of the 4-decade-old images, particularly in discerning the correct colors and objects in the background that Jerie’s team tenaciously searched out, and often, eventually found!
Enjoy the galleries below and all the insider notes we gleaned from Jerie & Steve!
We know you will!
Karen Burg, Editor
THE FACTS OF LIFE
THE FACTS OF LIFE: Eastland Academy. The girls have decided to have a box lunch auction as a fund raiser for World Hunger. Jon Stewart as Carl, Ann Dowd as Mrs. Garrett, Jennifer Aniston as Blair, Will Arnett as Dink. Set Decorator Jerie Kelter SDSA points out the purposely mismatched chairs, all in a similar tone. She made sure the shorter were in front, taller upstage. Chunky pedestal table bases refurbished by Alan Songer at Omega Cinema Props. Photo by Christopher Willard ©2021 ABC. All rights reserved.
THE FACTS OF LIFE: Eastland Academy, Lounge area. Jerie notes, “Graphic Designer Kim Papazian created the photos on the back wall and did the graphics for the vending machines. Most of the other art was gathered from Hollywood Studio Gallery and Hollywood Cinema Arts, as those were already cleared. We then looked at shapes and sizes and would match with the images from the original series.” Photo courtesy of ABC.
THE FACTS OF LIFE: Eastland Academy, Lounge area. Jerie comments, “Who has donuts in a vending machine?” Jon Stewart as Carl, Jennifer Aniston as Blair. Photo by Christopher Willard ©2021 ABC. All rights reserved.
THE FACTS OF LIFE: Eastland Academy, dorm kitchen. PD Steve Olson points out the vintage wallpaper came from Astek Wallcovering, “I think Aaron bought warehouses full of vintage wallpaper, so we were lucky enough to get pieces that were really close to the original. Aaron is one of the first people I met in this town, and still such a nice guy, he's always there for us.” Jerie adds,“The attention that he sincerely gives makes you feel like you’re the only game in town...and whether it’s vintage or they create something new, it’s always exactly right.” Photo courtesy of ABC.
THE FACTS OF LIFE: Eastland Academy, dorm kitchen. In this series Mrs. Garrett is the dorm housemother and becomes a dietician. You can see why, with the pastry vending machine and boxes of sugared cereal! Kathryn Hahn as Jo, Jennifer Aniston as Blair, Ann Dowd as Mrs. Garrett. Photo by Christopher Willard ©2021 ABC. All rights reserved.
DIFF’RENT STROKES: Drummond penthouse apartment. Steve points out, “He’s a millionaire Upper East Side guy, so we thought we should give it a little more glam. Jerie knocked it out of the park with the chandeliers and sconces. Originally, we had planned for just two sconces, but they looked so great, we added them to all of the columns. Jerie's Buyer Chelsea Mondelli was amazing with her attention to detail on this set.” Chandeliers from Omega Cinema Props. Courtesy of ABC.
DIFF’RENT STROKES: Jerie agrees, “We did want to elevate the look, that’s why I chose this distinctive chandelier for the rotunda. I always use fresh flowers and plants, they make such a difference to the atmosphere. John Lithgow’s character, Mr. Drummond, has what became an iconic desk behind the couch with a French Provencial phone sitting on it, and this beautiful wing chair. But he is very tall, and the chair that I had was too low. So, we had to run out at the last minute and get a similar chair with higher seat. Exciting last minute, but that was really the only note we were given for the entire set!” Courtesy of ABC.
DIFF’RENT STROKES: The sitcom couch is a classic element, here more elegant than usual. Jerie was looking for the right shape and size to match the original, “I found a beautiful one in a pink & white striped fabric at Universal. It was too pretty to completely reupholster, so they did a temporary for us in this lovely blue. They also had the blue striped wing chair from the original, and we liked it so much, we used the pair. The pillows were from Omega. All of the rugs came from Universal, and they upholstered the dining chairs for us. The tables are from PSW and Warner Bros. And this couldn't have been pulled together without my incredible Lead Roger Carufel.” Photo courtesy of ABC.
DIFF’RENT STROKES: From the live show, Ann Dowd as Mrs. Garrett; John Lithgow as Mr. Drummond; and Kevin Hart as Arnold, Drummond’s youngest adopted son. Photo by Christopher Willard ©2021 ABC. All rights reserved.
DIFF’RENT STROKES: The Drummond kitchen wallpaper and floor were specially printed, the linoleum from an old Armstrong design. Because this had been a Sony show, the Sony Hand Prop Room had a bottle of olive oil with the original labels. Jerie notes, “Of course, we found a perfect place for it on our set, as an ode to the old show.” John Lithgow, Kevin Hart, Ann Dowd. Photo by Christopher Willard ©2021 ABC. All rights reserved.
DIFF’RENT STROKES: Astek, once again, came through with an ideal wallpaper for the pantry niche, the shades are by AMCO American Screen & Window Coverings. A buckboard bench holds pride of place in the alcove. Chairs and stools upholstered by Universal. Photo courtesy of ABC.
LIVE IN FRONT OF A STUDIO AUDIENCE: THE FACTS OF LIFE & DIFF’RENT STROKES – Executive Producers and cast...
LIVE: Front: Norman Lear (Executive Producer) & Jimmy Kimmel (Executive Producer). Group:
Ann Dowd, Gabrielle Union, Kathryn Hahn, Shawn Stockman, Mindy Cohn, John Lithgow, Allison Tolman, Snoop Dogg, Jennifer Aniston, Will Arnett, Kevin Hart, Damon Wayans, Todd Bridges, Kim Fields, Jason Bateman. Photo by Christopher Willard ©2021 ABC. All rights reserved.
Personal note from Jerie Kelter SDSA...
“Norman Lear was there a few of the days that I was on set, and I actually knew Norman from long ago. His country home, his summer home where he raised his kids, is in Vermont, where I went to college. One of my professors was a card-playing buddy of his. One day during the production, Norman was sitting by himself, and I thought, ‘Well, if there's ever a time, it's now.’ So I said, 'I just want you to know, I went to Bennington, and I remember George Finkel.' His face just lit up, and we ended up talking about his card-playing days and how much he loved them. He mentioned that he still had the house, and his family goes there all the time. It was lovely. It was just delightful. He couldn't have been sweeter. The whole production was a wonderful experience, and I’m sure that began with him. And it certainly came through with Steve and our crew. Thank you to all.”
[Editor’s note: Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below for images of the Drummond Boys’ bedroom, with Kevin Hart and Damon Wayans!]