|Welcome Back, Kotter|
|Created by||Gabe Kaplan|
|Developed by||Peter Meyerson|
|Opening theme||"Welcome Back"|
performed by John Sebastian
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||95 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||24–25 minutes, 30 minutes with commercials|
|Production companies||The Komack Company|
|Distributor||Warner Bros. Television Distribution|
|Original release||September 9, 1975 –|
May 17, 1979
|Followed by||Mr. T and Tina|
Welcome Back, Kotter is an American sitcom starring Gabe Kaplan as a high school teacher in charge of a racially and ethnically diverse remedial class called the "Sweathogs". Recorded in front of a live studio audience, it originally aired on ABC from September 9, 1975, to May 17, 1979.
The show stars stand-up comedian and actor Gabriel "Gabe" Kaplan as the title character, Gabe Kotter, a wisecracking teacher who returns to his alma mater, James Buchanan High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, to teach a remedial class of loafers, the Sweathogs. The rigid vice principal, Michael Woodman (John Sylvester White), dismisses the Sweathogs as witless hoodlums and only expects Kotter to contain them until they drop out or are otherwise banished. As a former remedial student and a founding member of the original class of Sweathogs, Kotter befriends the current Sweathogs and stimulates their potential. A pupil-teacher rapport is formed, and the students often visit Kotter's Bensonhurst apartment, sometimes via the fire escape window, much to the chagrin of his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman).
The fictional James Buchanan High is based on the Brooklyn high school that Kaplan attended in real life, New Utrecht High School, which is also shown in the opening credits. Many of the show's characters were also based on people Kaplan knew during his teen years as a remedial student, several of whom were described in one of Kaplan's stand-up comic routines entitled "Holes and Mellow Rolls." "Vinnie Barbarino" was inspired by Eddie Lecarri and Ray Barbarino; "Freddie 'Boom Boom' Washington" was inspired by Freddie "Furdy" Peyton; "Juan Epstein" was partially inspired by Epstein "The Animal"; and "Arnold Horshack" was inspired by someone of the same name.
Gabe Kotter is a flippant but well-meaning teacher who returns to his alma mater, James Buchanan High, to teach a group of remedial students known as the Sweathogs. Because he was a "founding member" of the original Sweathogs, Kotter has a special understanding of the potential of these supposedly "unteachable" students, and the challenges and scrutiny they face in daily life (educational, social, and emotional). On his first day on the job, he launches into a Groucho Marx impersonation. Kotter is married to Julie throughout the series, and they eventually have twin girls, Robin and Rachel. It is confirmed by Julie in the episode "Follow the Leader (part 1)" that Gabe is Jewish. During season four, Kaplan had contract issues with the executive producer, which resulted in Kotter's character appearing in only a handful of episodes. In season four, the invisible principal John Lazarus retires, and Kotter becomes the vice-principal. Though he is said to maintain some social studies teaching duties, most of that season's shows are filmed outside his classroom (#11), or if in room 11, Mr. Woodman is teaching. To minimize Kotter's absence, scenes were shot in either the school's hallway, the schoolyard, or the principal's waiting area. Season four ended the series.
Julie Kotter is Gabe's wife and closest friend. Though she has a sense of humor, she often wishes Gabe would take matters more seriously. She is occasionally upset with the amount of time her husband spends with his students, and she is troubled that he allows them to visit their apartment regularly; in the two-part story arc "Follow the Leader", the Sweathogs' constant intrusions lead Julie to separate briefly from Gabe and even seriously consider divorce. Originally from Nebraska, with a college degree in anthropology, Julie eventually becomes a secretary at Buchanan, and later a substitute teacher after Gabe's promotion to vice-principal. She makes several references to her "world famous tuna casserole", a common meal at the Kotter dinner table, which Gabe and the Sweathogs deem inedible.
Michael Woodman is the curmudgeonly vice-principal (and later principal) of Buchanan High. He makes no secret of his dislike for the Sweathogs, whom he considers the bottom of the social stratum at his school. He refers to non-Sweathogs as "real" students. When Kotter was a student at Buchanan, Woodman taught social studies, the same class Kotter returns to teach at Buchanan. His old age, and sometimes his diminutive height, are common jokes with the Sweathogs. Woodman opposes Kotter's unorthodox teaching methods, and at one point even puts Kotter in front of the school's review board in an unsuccessful attempt to have him fired. As the series progresses, Woodman begins to tolerate them marginally. In the season one episode "No More Mr. Nice Guy", Woodman is shown to be a gifted teacher, willing to wear historic costumes and role-play in front of the class during his lessons.
Vinnie Barbarino is a cocky Italian-American, the "unofficial official" leader and resident heartthrob of the Sweathogs. He has a need to be the center of attention, as seen when he admits to making it rain in the school gymnasium. In the two-episode "Follow the Leader", Barbarino quits the Sweathogs and drops out of school in anger when Freddy Washington is chosen as the "leader" of the group, though he returns as leader at the finish of the story. Barbarino's prowess with women is sometimes a source of envy and more often amusement among his classmates. On occasion, he breaks out in song about his last name sung to the tune of "Barbara Ann". He was the first of the Sweathogs to move out on his own, when he got a job as a hospital orderly. In the first episode of the series' fourth season, he has a girlfriend, Sally. Vinnie is Catholic (often describing his mother as a saint), and, as shown in "I'm Having Their Baby", is a Star Trek fan. Little is known about Vinnie's home life, other than that his parents argue a lot ("Follow the Leader (part 2)") and take turns beating him when in a mutual rage. His mother's name is Margie ("The Great Debate"), whom he describes in the pilot episode as “holy”, and he shares a bed with his brother. The episode "Don't Come Up And See Me Sometime" implies that Vinnie is the older of the two. The character is seen less frequently in season 4, appearing in only 10 of the first 15 episodes of the season, before leaving the series entirely.
The class clown of the Sweathogs, Arnold Horshack, is completely comfortable with his oddball, if naïve, personality. Horshack was known for his unique observations and his wheezing laugh, similar to that of a hyena. (Palillo revealed on a 1995 episode of The Jenny Jones Show that it originated from the way his father breathed during the last two weeks of his life as he lay dying from lung cancer.) It is possible that academically he is the smartest Sweathog. He is the only central Sweathog character to be promoted out of remedial academics class, but he soon returns after feeling out of place. He has an affection for acting and enjoys old movies, particularly 1930s musicals. He eventually marries Mary Johnson, a co-worker and fellow Sweathog. Although his surname sounds like a term for a brothel, he claims it is a "very old and respected name" meaning "the cattle are dying." His middle name (and his mother's maiden name) is "Dingfelder".
Freddie Washington is the hip black student known as the athletic Sweathog for his skills on the basketball court (although in the episode "Basket Case", Mr. Kotter almost beats Freddie in a one-on-one game). Washington claimed his nickname came from his habit of "pretending to play the bass" and singing "Boom-boom-boom-boom!". His trademark phrase is, "Hi, there" (spoken with a deep voice and a broad smile). Though often the voice of reason among his classmates, Washington nonetheless is a willing participant in the Sweathogs' various antics and pranks. Freddie also finds success as a radio disc jockey along with another former Sweathog, Wally "The Wow" (played by George Carlin). At one point, Washington challenges Barbarino for leadership of the Sweathogs and even replaces him for a time until the group grows tired of his dictatorial style.
Washington has an older sister, who got divorced twice while living in Vermont ("The Longest Weekend"), and a brother, Leroy. In "The Great Debate", it is revealed that he has another brother, Douglas, and that his father's name is Lincoln. Kotter uses his own past to bond with Freddie, because, in addition to being a former Sweathog, he was also a former star of Buchanan's basketball team.
Epstein is a fiercely proud Puerto Rican Jew. When asked if his mother was Puerto Rican, Juan replies that his mother's maiden name was Bibbermann and that his grandfather "saw Puerto Rico from the ship as he was making his way to America and decided to settle there instead of Miami", making him one of the earliest Puerto Rican Jews. Juan is thus Puerto Rican on his father's side and Jewish on both parents' sides.
He is one of the toughest students at Buchanan High, despite his short stature. He normally walks with a tough-man strut and was voted "Most Likely to Take a Life" by his peers. In the season one episode "One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing", Epstein was said to be the sixth of ten children (when speaking on the phone to his mother, who had failed to notice that he had been missing for three days, she apparently failed to recognize his name and he had to further identify himself as "Number Six"), although he later mentions, in "I'm Having Their Baby", that his mother only gave birth eight times, implying two of them were twin births. Only four of his siblings are mentioned by name: his brothers Pedro, Irving, and Sanchez ("One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing"), establishing that some of his siblings had Jewish names and others Puerto Rican names, and a younger sister, Carmen ("A Love Story"). Epstein's toughness was downplayed later on, and he became more of a wiseguy. He was also known to have a "buddy" relationship with Principal Lazarus, as he often refers to him by his first name, Jack. On a few occasions, when Kotter did his Groucho Marx impersonation, Epstein would jump in and impersonate Chico Marx or Harpo Marx. Epstein's diminutive height, large hair, and fake excuse notes (always signed "Epstein's Mother"), were running gags.
Rosie Totsie is the femme fatale purported to have put the "sweat" in Sweathog, though her reputation is largely exaggerated by the Sweathogs' word of mouth. Her promiscuity is at least in part a reaction to the strict discipline enforced by her father, the Reverend Totsie. To restore her good name, and to prove a point, she fabricates a story about one of the Sweathogs getting her pregnant. The character was a favorite among male viewers but was phased out of the series at the end of the first season when Scott was picked to co-star in the syndicated Norman Lear comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She reprised the role in a 1978 episode, "The Return of Hotsie Totsie", in which it was revealed that she dropped out of school because she became pregnant and had to become a stripper to support her infant child.
A recurring non-Sweathog character in the earlier seasons, Borden is a straight-A student and editor of the Buchanan Bugle, the school newspaper. She was Barbarino's tutor, and even dated him at one time. Despite her academic superiority, she can easily hold her own in a Dozens contest against any Sweathog.
Introduced as a regular character in the fourth and final season, Beau is a handsome, friendly, blond, silver-tongued southerner who transfers from New Orleans after being kicked out of several other schools. He ends up in Kotter's class. The producers sought a heartthrob who was not a direct knock-off of the "Italian Stallion" trend that was permeating Hollywood in the mid-1970s, and who would improve ratings in the South where the show's New York setting was seen as unrelatable. They wanted to retain female viewers but avoid a Travolta clone. Beau's first reaction to the term "Sweathog" was "That sounds gross." He seems to have a way with women, as shown in later episodes. One of his running jokes involves imparting esoteric and nonsensical sayings, such as "a real man never steps on a pregnant alligator".
Welcome Back, Kotter's first season was controversial. In Boston, the local ABC affiliate (WCVB-TV) initially refused to air the show. The city was going through a tumultuous school busing program that involved widespread protests and riots, and the local affiliate felt Kotter's fictional integrated classroom would exacerbate the situation. The show became an early ratings success, however, 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 concerns about depiction 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. Kaplan later attributed the decline to the age of the actors playing the Sweathogs, all then in their mid- to late-twenties, claiming that they were no longer believable as high school students. As the series entered its fourth and final season, Travolta, the youngest Sweathog, was 25 -- while Palillio, the oldest, would turn 30 before the season's end.
Kaplan's idea to bring the show in line with the age of its cast 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 introduced a female Sweathog, Angie Grabowski, played 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 p.m. time slot to Monday 8:00 p.m. to make way for the impending hit series Mork & Mindy. Much of the writing staff turned over after season 3, and 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 appeared in ten episodes, earning $2,000 for each one, and he 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 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. Also in season 4, Della Reese was introduced as English teacher and Buchanan High talent show coordinator Mrs. Jean Tremaine.
Knowing the series was in a nosedive, producer James Komack attempted to spin-off a newly married Arnold Horshack into a new sitcom (see section below).
The show enjoyed ratings success during its first two seasons, spawning a host of merchandising tie-ins, including lunchboxes, dolls, trading cards, comic books, novels, and even a board game, advertised as "The 'Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose' Game" in a commercial with a class full of Sweathog look-alikes featuring Steve Guttenberg as Barbarino and Thomas Carter as Boom Boom Washington. The Sweathogs — or at least an impressionist's version of them — even made a crossover appearance with characters from the Happy Days universe on one track (the disco-themed "Fonzarelli Slide") of a 1976 TV-promoted oldies compilation album.
In 2010, the cast, including Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, John Travolta, Robert Hegyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and Ellen Travolta were honored at the TV Land Award ceremonies. Co-star Ron Palillo was not in attendance, nor was fellow co-star John Sylvester White (who died in 1988).
Main article: Welcome Back (John Sebastian song)
The popular theme song, "Welcome Back", written and recorded by John Sebastian, former frontman for The Lovin' Spoonful, became a No. 1 hit in the spring of 1976. The show was originally going to be called Kotter, but that was changed because of the theme song lyrics. Sebastian has said he tried to find a more general theme for the song after being unable to find any reasonable rhymes for Kotter.
DC Comics published ten issues of a Welcome Back, Kotter comic book starting in 1976. Following its cancellation in 1979, a Limited Collectors' Edition was issued, incorporating a four-page "On the Set" section and photographs from the show.
A series of novels based on characters and dialog of the series was written by William Johnston and published by Tempo Books in the 1970s.
Mattel produced a series of 9-inch Welcome Back, Kotter action figures in 1977. Figures produced included Barbarino, Horshack, Epstein, Washington, and Mr. Kotter.
Main article: List of Welcome Back, Kotter episodes
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||22||September 9, 1975||February 26, 1976|
|2||23||September 23, 1976||March 3, 1977|
|3||27||September 10, 1977||May 18, 1978|
|4||23||September 11, 1978||June 8, 1979|
Warner Home Video released a 6-episode Television Favorites collection on February 28, 2006. Due to the success of this release, Warner released the Complete first Season on DVD in Region 1 on June 12, 2007.
On May 7, 2014, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series. Ultimately, they released Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1 on August 26, 2014, and have since released the second, third, and fourth seasons as individual sets.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Release Date|
|The Complete First Season||22||June 12, 2007|
|The Complete Second Season||23||January 20, 2015|
|The Complete Third Season||27||May 26, 2015|
|The Complete Fourth Season||23||August 18, 2015|
|The Complete Series||95||August 26, 2014|
Kotter failed to receive any major awards, though it was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1976 after its first season; it lost to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The series was also nominated for three technical Emmy Awards: Outstanding Achievement in Videotape Editing for a Series (to Editors Susan Jenkins and Manuel Martinez) in 1976, Outstanding Art Direction for a Comedy Series (to Art Directors Roy Christopher and James Shanahan) in 1978, and Outstanding Individual Achievement — Creative Technical Crafts (to Dick Wilson for sound effects) in 1979.
Several noteworthy performers enjoyed guest stints on Kotter either during or prior to their widespread fame. James Woods guest starred in the first season ("The Great Debate") as Alex Welles, a drama teacher who leads the school debate team ("the Turkeys") in a competition against the Sweathogs. Pat Morita appears in the 1976 episode "Career Day" as Mr. Takahashi. Comedian George Carlin was featured, as was John Astin. Other guest stars included Scott Brady, Ellen Travolta, Richard Moll, Della Reese, and Dinah Manoff who would work with John Travolta again in Grease.
Groucho Marx was set to have a brief walk-on role in one episode. He arrived on-set, but was deemed to be too sick to appear. Pictures of Marx with the cast were taken, but were not released. However, the photographs did appear on the Internet decades later.
At least three spin-offs of Kotter were seriously considered, but only one ever became a series. The short-lived Mr. T and Tina starred Pat Morita as Taro Takahashi (Mr. T for short), a brilliant Japanese inventor whom he portrayed in one episode of Kotter. The show was not received well by critics and lasted for five episodes on ABC. There was also talk of developing a spin-off built around the Horshack character and his family, Rich Man, Poor Man; Horshack!, but it never went beyond the backdoor pilot stage, shown as an episode of Kotter. In the mid-1990s, Hegyes announced on The Jenny Jones Show that plans were in the works to create a spin-off featuring the Sweathogs, all grown up, minus Travolta's Barbarino, but the project never got off the ground and little information about it was ever made public.
|Season||Time slot (ET)||Rank||Rating|
|1975–1976||Tuesday at 8:30–9:00 p.m. (Episodes 1-16)
Thursday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episodes 17-22)
|1976–1977||Thursday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episodes 1-18, 20-23)
Thursday at 8:30–9:00 p.m. (Episode 19)
|1977–1978||Saturday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episode 1)
Thursday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episodes 2, 4-27)
Thursday at 8:30–9:00 p.m. (Episode 3)
|26||19.9 (Tied with The Incredible Hulk and Family)|
|1978–1979||Monday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episodes 1, 3-6)
Monday at 8:30–9:00 p.m. (Episode 2)
Saturday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episodes 7-14)
Saturday at 8:30–9:00 p.m. (Episodes 15-19)
Friday at 8:00–8:30 p.m. (Episode 20)
Friday at 8:30–9:00 p.m. (Episodes 21-23)
Kaplan welcomed back Hegyes and Jacobs on his short-lived 1981 sitcom Lewis & Clark. Their characters joked that Kaplan seemed familiar and, being a smart guy, "should become a teacher."
In 1997, Ron Palillo, Robert Hegyes, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs reprised their respective roles in a dream sequence in the Mr. Rhodes episode "The Welcome Back Show".
In 2012, both Ron Palillo and Robert Hegyes died. Other members of the cast who have died include Marcia Strassman in 2014, John Sylvester White in 1988, and Debralee Scott in 2005. As of 2021[update], Gabe Kaplan, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and John Travolta are the only main actors still living.
In March 2016, the show aired on MeTV Sunday mornings at 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. In September 2017, Antenna TV began airing the show weekdays at 6:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. Eastern.
The first issue [was] written by Elliot S! Maggin with spot-on likenesses rendered by Jack Sparling.
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