Monday, August 29, 2022

Facts of Life: The Backdoor Pilots--REVISITED!

I want to thank reader David C., who commented last week on our 2016 post ranking the Facts of Life backdoor pilots:

I just happened to see season 7, episode 4, "Teacher, Teacher" and wondered if it was also supposed to be a backdoor pilot? It seems to set up Jo pursuing a teaching career, and the actors playing the older teachers are familiar TV faces.

As I replied on that post, this is an excellent comment. I didn't remember "Teacher, Teacher" offhand, so I watched it on Pluto TV, and it really does feel like a backdoor pilot. It starts with Jo beginning a student-teaching job, being introduced to her class by veteran teacher Irene Tedrow without any other context. It takes a while for us to see the other gals and Mrs. G., and while they are discussing some other stuff (like Natalie's new job), the focus becomes Jo's gig and a possible corporate job offer.

Then we go back to school--not Eastland, but the school Jo is at--and we get a host precocious kids making cute jokes. The big scene here that screams, "We're seeing if this would work as its own show," is Jo eating lunch in the faculty lounge. As David points out, the fellow teachers are played by Tedrow (Dennis the Menace), Joyce Bulifant (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and Jason Bernard (Cagney and Lacey). The latter two have an inane conversation about radishes on salad bars that feels meant to humanize them and establish them as actual characters.

Jo tries to ingratiate herself by asking if anyone has read a recent scholarly article on cognitive learning or some such thing, and the teachers brush it off. They are more concerned with the salad bar argument, and these experienced teachers admire Jo's enthusiasm but believe she will bring it down a bit soon enough. The tone is not so much "Jo is learning her path," as, "Here's a potential aspect of a new Jo as teacher sitcom."

The episode ends with Jo pondering a job offer or continuing her student teaching, and her choice is made clear when she blows off an appointment with a recruiter to answer a ridiculously broad question after class by one of the adorable moppets. "Why did World War II happen?" We see that Jo is choosing the low-paying, low-upward-mobility path for now.

Here's the weird thing: I am no expert on season 7 of Facts of Life, but after examining episode descriptions, I don't think this came up before or after this episode. Later Jo got into social work, and there was a proposed spinoff featuring BLAIR becoming headmistress of Eastland. So what happened to this teaching thing? The show went to a lot of effort and brought in a lot of talent for this to be a one-off story idea.

The episode is credited to writers who didn't have much association with the series: Bill and CHeri Steinkellner get story credits, with teleplay credits for Bruce Ferber (and Facts producer David Lerner). This episode feels different. Were they throwing up a trial balloon this early in the season for a Jo spinoff? I don't know, but it sure looks like it. 

Does anyone have more info on this episode and the intentions of the series' producers?

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