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How Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear Choose Which Shows to Do for ‘Live in Front of a Studio Audience’

Well, really, it’s Brent Miller

Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Brent Miller are bringing us another pair of “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” re-creations next week, with “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” episodes. But how do they choose which actual episode of which show from Lear’s comprehensive catalogue to perform live?

For starters, “it has to be a show that people loved,” Kimmel said.

“Not just a show that was popular, but a show that they love and that means something to them,” the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” host told reporters during a virtual panel promoting the upcoming third iteration of ABC’s live event. “And I think all of the shows that we’ve done so far absolutely fall in that category. I think it’s important that the shows be shows that you know the names of every lead character without having to think about it, without having to look it up on Google. And I think these shows definitely fall into that category.”

Kimmel continued: “It’s funny because, there are friends I’ve had since I was in junior high school whose kids’ names I can’t remember, and yet I know Mr. Drummond, Mrs. Garrett, Arnold, Willis. I know it’s Tootie, it’s Joe, it’s Blair, it’s Natalie. It’s just funny how important these characters, how much brain space they take. It’s a show that is iconic, when I say iconic, I mean a show that is unique, it’s beloved and it’s funny — that’s obviously important, too — I think that’s the show we look for and we want to settle on. And there are a lot of shows that don’t fall into that category. There are shows that were on, you know, and we’re fine. But these are the shows that when you were a teenager in the ’80s, not only did you watch the shows, you kind of learned how to be a teenager from them. And those are the shows I think get people excited about seeing them as adults and get the actors excited about playing them as adults.”

Having Lear on board to weigh in on the show selection certainly doesn’t hurt.

“And, as [Kimmel] said earlier, it’s also having you with us to be able to go through your library that is so extensive,” Miller said during the panel, which also featured Lear. “I think there’s 48, 50-plus shows that are living here at Sony that you have to mine.”

Once they’ve picked the show, they also need to pick which installment of that sitcom to re-enact for “Live in Front of a Studio.” And in doing that, the trio tends to stay away from the “a very special episode” types.

“One of the things we look for in these shows is something that is representative of what the show was,” Kimmel said. “And I know, like TV nerds like me and like you guys who are writers, always love those weird, special episodes where weird things happen.”

To be clear, Kimmel is “not saying that we would never do one of those,” but it is unlikely.

“I think that, for the most part, they don’t include the whole cast and they don’t necessarily represent the full breadth of the show,” he continued. “So when we go through them and we really— Brent, especially, does a huge amount of work watching and going through all of these shows to try to figure out which one works best, which one has the most balance for the cast so that everybody has a part… That’s it’s not one of these episodes that specifically focused on one cast member. Those special episodes, even though they’re the things you think of when you think of these shows, don’t work as well for our purposes with this one time special.”

Kimmel, Lear and Miller are remaining tight-lipped about which episodes of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” will be re-enacted on next week’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.”

But for the first event in May 2019, they did the “Henry’s Farewell” episode of “All in the Family,” which featured the debut of the character George Jefferson, and the series premiere of “The Jeffersons,” titled “A Friend in Need.” For the second iteration of “Live in Front of a Studio” audience that December, they did “The Draft Dodger” episode of “All in the Family,” and an episode of “Good Times” titled “The Politicians.”

The third “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” won’t reveal which “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” episodes it is re-creating until it airs Tuesday, Dec. 7 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

“The Facts of Life” will feature Jennifer Aniston (as Blair), Gabrielle Union (Tootie), Allison Tolman (Natalie), Kathyrn Hahn (Jo), Ann Dowd (Mrs. Garrett) and Jon Stewart in a “surprise role.” On the “Diff’rent Strokes” re-creation, John Lithgow will play Mr. Drummond, Kevin Hart is Arnold and Damon Wayans is Willis. Dowd returns as Mrs. Garrett in that one.

Lear, Kimmel, Miller, Kerry Washington, Will Ferrell, Justin Theroux and Jim Burrows will executive produce the Sony Pictures Television special. Burrows and Andy Fisher will direct the live show. “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” is produced by Kimmelot, ACT III Productions, Gary Sanchez Productions, D’Arconville, Simpson Street and Sony Pictures Television.

“The Facts of Life” was created by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon. “Diff’rent Strokes” was created by Bernie Kukoff and Jeff Harris.

“Live in Front of a Studio Audience” was a pretty huge ratings hit the first time around, topping 10 million total viewers with re-created episodes of “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.” The May 2019 event was such a hit that ABC decided to run it back in time for the holidays. That one, which featured episodes of “Good Times” and “All in the Family,” came in shy of 6 million viewers, however.

Those first two iterations drew a combined 22.1 million total viewers after 35 days of delayed viewing, and reached 36 million total viewers across all linear and digital platforms, according to ABC.

This “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” will be available to stream on Hulu the following day, when it will also be on-demand.