Gary Coleman’s absence in early Season 4 had everything to do with money, according to ‘Diff’rent Strokes.’
Diff’rent Strokes might be remembered today as yet another 80s sitcom, but it was one of the most famous shows at the time.
Gary Coleman, the show’s star, was a big reason for its success. Coleman had a fair amount of influence as the sitcom’s number one draw at the height of its popularity. He wanted to flex his muscles and use his strength at one point. Here’s how the show’s fourth season unfolded, with Coleman missing the first few episodes due to a financial dispute.
What was the idea of the film ‘Diff’rent Strokes?’
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According to IMDB, the show revolved around the life of Phillip Drummond, a New York City millionaire. Drummond is a widower who has lost his housekeeper. She makes Drummond promise to look after her two young sons, Willis, 12, and Arnold, eight years old. Drummond adopts the two boys and welcomes them into his family right away. He also has a new housekeeper, Edna Garrett, and a young daughter named Kimberly.
The show follows the two boys as they move from a rough Harlem neighborhood to a posh Manhattan lifestyle. Although there is initially a cultural clash, the two gradually become at ease in their new surroundings.
The show was a huge success. It also spawned The Facts of Life, a spinoff starring Edna.
The breakout star of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ was Gary Coleman.
Coleman passed away in 2010, but his performance as the incorrigible Arnold will live on forever. People reported in his obituary that he was once rumored to have earned $100,000 per episode. From 1978 to 1986, the show aired.
Coleman’s growth was stunted due to congenital health problems. He never grew taller than 4’8.” He was also suffering from nephritis, a kidney disease. Coleman’s mother expressed her admiration for his natural acting ability:
“His talent…could be God’s way of compensating him for everything he’s been through and the fact that he’ll never be as big as other boys.”
Coleman was able to shine as Arnold despite the many obstacles he encountered. His trademark catchphrase, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” became well-known. His ability to captivate an audience contributed to the show’s success. His boyish naiveté and superb comedic timing were an irresistible mix for audiences.
Coleman may have appeared to be an infant, but he was much more intelligent. He knew he had the ability to command a lot of power on the show, and he used that leverage in an effort to get more money.
Gary Coleman’s decision to skip season four of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ in order to make more money
According to the New York Times, Coleman became involved in a dispute with Tandem Productions, the production company behind the show, over his salary. He was paid $1,800 a week when the show first aired. He negotiated a raise to $30,000. When the show qualified for syndication, Coleman wanted even more, hence the court battle. He sat out the first few episodes of the fourth season during the dispute.
Coleman wasn’t the only person who saw his own financial value. Then-NBC president, the late Brandon Tartikoff, also knew it as well, stating:
”Gary Coleman is Diff’rent Strokes. Without him, it would not be commercially viable and whatever shell of a show would be left would be unacceptable to NBC.”
The battle ended well for Coleman. According to Mental Floss, his salary eventually got bumped up to $70,000. That was good enough to make him the highest-paid actor on the network for quite some time.