Today, we look at how the cast of The Facts of Life barely got to factor into the series finale of The Facts of Life.
This is Back Door Blues, a feature about “backdoor pilots.” Backdoor pilots are episodes of regular TV series that are intended to also work as pilots for a new series. Sometimes these pilots get picked up, but a lot of times they did not get picked up. I’ll spotlight examples of both successful and failed backdoor pilots.
December is a month of Back Door Blues! This is a special week’s worth of Facts of Life-related backdoor pilots!
CONCEPT: Eastland Academy – Eastland graduate Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel) runs a revamped Eastland Academy, which is now co-ed
SERIES IT AIRED ON Facts of Life
As I noted in the last installment, about Natalie (Mindy Cohn) moving to Soho to try to make it as a writer (also an attempted spinoff), one of the major problems of The Facts of Life was that it was a show following a group of high school students, but it ran for NINE SEASONS. Do you know what you get when you start a series with a 16-year-old girl and run for nine seasons? You have yourself a 24-year-old grown ass woman, and by the end of the series, Jo and Blair were very much grown ass women. Jo even got MARRIED towards the end of the final season!
So while the girls were somehow all still living together in the final season, there was some real difficulty in having the characters find reasons to even really INTERACT with each other, as Natalie and Tootie were still in college, Jo was working as a social worker, Blair was in law school, and Beverly (Cloris Leachman), Mrs. Garrett’s sister who moved in as the girls’ new mother figure, REALLY didn’t have a purpose on the show (like ZERO purpose). Still, it was awfully irritating to see the show spend its penultimate episode pretty much being a Natalie solo episode setting up HER proposed spinoff, and then the two-part series finale, “The Beginning of the End”/”The Beginning of the Beginning” setting up Blair’s spinoff.
Blair’s spinoff seemed like it had a much better chance of working out, and, to be frank, perhaps you could argue that a reason the original cast members didn’t get as much of a sendoff was because they were so confident that the spinoff would go to series that they felt that they could catch up on the other girls in the new series.
In any event, the concept of the finale was Blair discovering that the girls’ alma mater, Eastland Academy, was in dire financial straits, so Blair shockingly decides to drop out of law school and use her entire trust fund to buy the school, and become the new headmistress. Just like how Natalie’s spinoff had some nice casting, this new series also had excellent casting, with the current Eastland student populace including Mayim Bialik and Juliette Lewis (as well as Meredith Scott Lynn)…
Blair then decided that the only way for the school to survive was to make it co-ed, and so we met a bunch of new guy students, including one kid played by a young Seth Green.
One of the teachers at the school would be Blair’s new love interest.
Then, after the spinoff takes up about 40 out of 46 minutes in the final two episodes, the show then wraps up Tootie and Jo’s plots in the last five minutes of the show (as well as having Natalie briefly phone in), with Tootie getting accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England, and Jo’s husband, Rick (Scott Bryce) returning from the road to be with his wife. He then takes a photo of the girls (late season addition, Pippa, who was an Eastland student, so would have clearly been in the new series, is inexplicably also in the photo, but MacKenzie Astin, who had been part of the show for years at this point, isn’t in the finale at ALL), sans Natalie, and that image ends the series. It’s so hilariously abrupt. Other shows have used their finale to set up new series, but in those instances, the PENULTIMATE episode is then typically the “true” finale. This is definitely the “true” finale, it just barely features the original cast. So weird.
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? Nope, which I’m sure was quite a shock.
SHOULD IT HAVE? I think it was a fine premise, so yes. And what strong casting!
Okay, that’s it for this installment of Back Door Blues! I KNOW the rest of you have suggestions for other interesting backdoor pilots, so drop me a line at email@example.com (don’t suggest in the comments, as this way, it’ll be a surprise!).