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Welcome Back, Kotter

Welcome Back, Kotter is an ABC network sitcom created by Gabe Kaplan (who also stars as the lead character) & Alan Sacks.

The show aired from September 9, 1975 to May 17, 1979, lasting for four seasons and 95 episodes.

A short-lived spin-off series, "Mr. T and Tina" aired on ABC in 1976.

Plot

The series centered on Gabe Kotter, a wisecracking teacher who teaches a racially & ethnically diverse remedial class at his old high school.

Cast

  • Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter
  • Marcia Strassman as Julie Kotter
  • John Sylvester White as Michael Woodman
  • John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino
  • Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack
  • Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington
  • Robert Heyges as Juan Epstein

Recurring

  • Debralee Scott as Rosalie "Hotsie" Totsie
  • Helanie Lembeck as Judy Borden
  • Stephen Shortridge as Beauregarde "Beau" De LaBarre

Production

The first season of "Welcome Back, Kotter" was controversial.

In Boston, the local ABC affiliate (WCVB-TV) initially refused to air the show because the city was going through a tumultuous school busing program that involved widespread protests and riots, and the local affiliate felt that Kotter's fictional integrated classroom would exacerbate the situation.

However, the show became an early ratings success and the affiliate relented, picking it up from its fifth episode.

Teachers in other cities had concerns about how Kotter would be portrayed, so producers allowed a union representative on the set to ensure the show protected the image of those in the profession. Kaplan opposed the idea, at one point asking a reporter if there was a junkman on the set of "Sanford and Son" to protect the reputation of junkmen.

Censor sentiments of juvenile delinquency faded after the Sweathogs' antics proved to be silly rather than criminal. Like Kaplan, Hegyes was a fan of the Marx Brothers. Hegyes claimed that he suggested that the Sweathogs be modeled after the Marx Brothers in order to reduce tension.

Ratings slipped greatly in the third season which Gabe Kaplan later attributed the decline to the age of the actors playing the Sweathogs (who were all in their mid to late 20s at the time), claiming that they were no longer believable as high school students.

Kaplan's idea was to have Kotter join the faculty of a community college attended by the Sweathogs; however, this storyline never materialized.

In order to increase viewership, the Kotters had twin girls, but this did not prove to be enough to regain the show's earlier momentum. The show even introduced a female Sweathog, Angie Grabowski (portrayed by Melonie Haller).

Major changes took place in the fourth and final season. Shortly before the season began, the series was moved from its successful Thursday 8:00 pm time slot to Monday 8:00 pm to make way for the impending hit series Mork & Mindy.

Virtually the entire writing staff was fired after season three, and replaced with veteran writers from family-based series (such as Bob Claver from "Leave It To Beaver" and The Munsters").

John Travolta (who had already starred in box office hits such as "Grease", "Saturday Night Fever" and "Carrie") began to focus more time on his film career. He was featured in eight episodes, earning $2,000 for each one, and was billed as a special guest star.

Mr. Woodman was promoted to Principal of the school (Principal Lazarus quit to take a "less stressful" job at a high-security prison) and Kotter was promoted to vice-principal, purposefully moving the show's focus away from Kotter's class.

Major off-screen disputes led Gabe Kaplan to break his contract and reduce his appearances.

To help fill the voids, Stephen Shortridge joined the cast as smooth-talking Southerner Beau De LaBarre, and Kotter's wife, Julie, became a school secretary and occasional fill-in teacher, despite having one-year-old twin daughters.

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