Every attempted Facts of Life spin-off we wish would've really happened

Apparently The Facts of Life was not about a Richard Dean Anderson spin-off.

In the sitcom world, there is rarely better proof of the substance of your show than to see it spin off into other hit sitcoms. There was The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which swirled off into Rhoda, and Happy Days, which gifted us both Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. But it takes a rare blend of charming characters and intriguing concept to extend the momentum from one hit sitcom into another.

The difficulty of this task did not stop The Facts of Life from trying, though. The Facts of Life, of course, is itself a successful spinoff, and over the course of the show, its creators attempted over and over again to repeat the magic that helped The Facts of Life last a full season longer than Diff'rent Strokes, the hit sitcom that Facts sprang from.

Here, we go back through all the times The Facts of Life tried to grip us with new characters and a new storyline. These episodes had the same substance we loved The Facts of Life for, plus star power in future talents who instead later became TV icons like MacGyver and Anne of Green Gables. Just remember, we saw most of them on The Facts of Life first.

1. "Brian and Sylvia"

Four years before Richard Dean Anderson became MacGyver, he had a shot at becoming a sitcom star instead. He was one half of an interracial couple we met on Facts of Life in the backdoor pilot episode, "Brian and Sylvia." For the role of Sylvia, Rosanne Katon stepped in, who you may remember from the failed Sanford and Son spin-off Grady, where she played Grady's granddaughter.

In the Facts of Life episode, we rarely see any of the main cast, as Tootie and Natalie head off to visit Tootie's aunt Sylvia. Instead, they spent most of the episode giving us Brian and Sylvia's backstory. Unfortunately we never heard the rest of this story, though, since Anderson couldn't MacGyver a solution to his lack of onscreen chemistry with Katon.

2. "Jo's Cousin"

The adorable Megan Follows won hearts in the mid-'80s as Anne Shirley in the TV mini-series Anne of Green Gables and later Anne of Avonlea. So doesn't it make you wish her backdoor pilot episode wedged into The Facts of Life could've introduced us to her sooner? 

In 1982, Follows guest starred in The Facts of Life episode "Jo's Cousin," where she plays Terry Largo, an even bigger tomboy than Jo. The spin-off series would've likely been called The Largos, depicting Terry at the center of her brothers' and father's world, working as mechanics in a New Jersey garage. Instead the actress went on to form her own bosom friends beyond The Facts of Life universe.

3. "Big Apple Blues"

Natalie's in New York apartment hunting when she considers moving in with a bunch of weirdos in the episode "Big Apple Blues." The head of this household isn't a goodhearted woman like Mrs. G, either, but a bossy David Spade in his first TV appearance. Despite a strong supporting cast, including Richard Grieco before he became Officer Booker on 21 Jump Street, audiences didn't connect and the spin-off never made it to the small screen. It would take nearly 10 years before Spade's sitcom Just Shoot Me! would finally make him as big a hit on TV as in movies. 

4. "The Academy"

Likely the most obvious attempt at a spin-off that The Facts of Life made was through two episodes that took viewers to the nearby boys school, Stone Military Academy. In the first episode, "The Academy," the girls head there for a school dance, and we're introduced to boys who are supposed to be the all-male equivalent of The Facts of Life.

But many people forget that Facts was a pioneering show that became one of the longest-running hits on TV that featured an all-female cast. It just didn't seem to resonate with viewers quite the same the other way, even with funny cast members like Jimmy Baio (who played Billy Tate on Soap) and John P. Navin Jr. (who famously was the first person to ever order a beer on Cheers when he tries to fool Sam with a fake ID).

5. "The Graduation"

Then, of course, there are the attempts to spin-off The Facts of Life based on the strength of its own characters. It's said that the two-part episode "The Graduation" was so popular with viewers that they were contemplating spinning that single episode off to show Jo and Blair going of to the same college, Langley College. But it wasn't meant to be, and as you'll see next, there eventually came an idea for arguably an even better spin-off involving Blair...

6. "The Beginning of the End"

At the very end of The Facts of Life, there's a two-part episode that finds Blair with a big job offer: Would she like to become the new headmistress at Eastland School? Viewers watch as Blair takes on a new role in the school we watched her grow up in, and among her students you'll recognize some famous faces like Mayim Bialik (Blossom, The Big Bang Theory), Juliette Lewis and even a young Seth Green dressed in an adorable pink dress to try and sneak into the school.

This is the failed backdoor pilot that perhaps stings the most, as it had the most potential to continue on the show's necessary themes, but like The Facts of Life theme song says, sometimes the world never lives up to your dreams.

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MisterC62 53 months ago
Back in the day, when I originally watched the Facts of Life, I was a teen and I didn’t understand (the way I do now at 57 years of age) that the producers were trying to create spin-offs. As an adult, each time I see all the episodes you mention in this list, it now all seems so transparent what they were trying to do. Back then, I was such a purist where TFOL was concerned: I loved the entire ensemble cast and I hated it so much when Mrs. Garrett left. I liked Beverly well enough, I suppose (I was a huge Mary Tyler Moore fan, too, of course), but she just was no Edna...but most of my girls were still there, so I endured Beverly Ann!
JeffRittenour 56 months ago
Man, Anderson looks out of place even in that STILL lol, like he's preoccupied with that audition he did this week haha ;)
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