Welcome Back, Kotter

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"Sweathog" redirects here. For the band, see Sweathog (band).
Welcome Back, Kotter
Kotterdvdcover.jpg
Format Sitcom
Created by Gabe Kaplan
Alan Sacks
Starring Gabe Kaplan
Marcia Strassman
John Sylvester White
Robert Hegyes
Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs
Ron Palillo
John Travolta
Melonie Haller (Season 3)
Stephen Shortridge (Season 4)
Opening theme "Welcome Back"
Performed by John Sebastian
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 95 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 24–25 minutes, 30 minutes with commercials
Production company(s) The Komack Company
Wolper Productions
Distributor Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Original run September 9, 1975 – June 8, 1979

Welcome Back, Kotter is an American television sitcom starring Gabe Kaplan and featuring a young John Travolta. Videotaped in front of a live studio audience, it originally aired on the ABC network from September 9, 1975, to June 8, 1979.[1]

Premise[edit]

The show starred stand-up comic/actor Gabe Kaplan as the title character, Gabe Kotter, a wisecracking teacher who returns to his high school alma mater, the fictional James Buchanan High in Brooklyn New York to teach an often unruly group of remedial loafers known as the "Sweathogs." (The nickname reflected the fact that the remedial classes were held on the very top floor of the high school.) The school was based on New Utrecht High School,[2] which was used in the opening credits, and also the high school that Kaplan attended. The school's principal was perpetually absent, while the uptight vice principal, Michael Woodman (John Sylvester White), dismissed the Sweathogs as worthless hoodlums and only expected Kotter to attempt to contain them until they inevitably dropped out.

Kotter, however, had attended the same remedial classes when he was a student at Buchanan, and was a founding member of the Sweathogs. Recognizing that he was his students' last chance to learn enough to survive beyond high school, he soon befriended them as they grew to recognize and appreciate his trust and faith in their potential. His devotion to the class was such that his students often visited his Bensonhurst apartment, sometime via window, but often to the chagrin of his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman).

The Sweathogs celebrate a winning lottery ticket as Mr. Kotter looks on.

Most of the major characters of Welcome Back, Kotter were based on people from Kaplan's teen years as a remedial high school student in Brooklyn. As a stand-up comic, one of Kaplan's most popular routines was "Holes and Mellow Rolls", in which he talked in depth about his former classmates. The names of three of the four major characters in Holes and Mellow Rolls were changed for the television series: "Vinnie Barbarino" was inspired by Eddie Lecarri and Ray Barbarino, from Miami, FL; "Freddie 'Boom Boom' Washington" was inspired by Freddie "Furdy" Peyton; and "Juan Epstein" was partially inspired by Epstein "The Animal"; only "Arnold Horshack's" name remained unchanged. In Kaplan's stand-up routine this character was always referred to as "Arnold Horseshit", which could not be used on network television.

Characters[edit]

Gabe Kotter[edit]

A facetious, but well-meaning, teacher who returns to Buchanan High (his alma mater) after ten years to teach a group of remedial students known as the Sweathogs. Being a founding member of the original Sweathogs, Kotter has a special affinity for the potential of these supposedly "unteachable" students. His first day on the job he launches into a Groucho Marx impersonation. Kotter is married to Julie, with whom he eventually has twin girls (Robin and Rachel). It was 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, and only appeared in a handful of episodes. In season four, the invisable 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 of his classroom (#111), or if in room 111, Mr. Woodman is teaching. To minimise Kotter's absence, scenes were shot in either the school's hallway, the schoolyard, or the principals' waiting area. Season four was the end of the series.

Julie Kotter[edit]

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 led Julie to separate briefly from Gabe and even seriously consider divorce. Originally from Nebraska, with a college degree in anthropology, Julie eventually became a secretary, and later a substitute teacher at Buchanan 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 dislike.

Mr. (Michael) Woodman[edit]

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 register 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 Buchanan to teach. His old age (and sometimes his diminutive height) are common jokes with the Sweathogs. Woodman was totally against Kotter's unorthodox teaching methods (though as the series progressed, he began to tolerate them marginally), and at one point even put Kotter in front of the school's review board in an unsuccessful attempt to get him fired. Nonetheless, in the season one episode "No More Mr. Nice Guy", Kotter is shown to be a gifted teacher, willing to wear historic costumes and role-play in front of the class during his lessons.

Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino[edit]

A cocky Italian-American, and "unofficial official" leader and resident heartthrob of the Sweathogs. Barbarino's prowess with women was a source of envy (and more often amusement) among his classmates. On occasion, he would break out in song of his last name sung to the tune of The Regents' song, "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 and fourth season, he has a girlfriend, Sally. Vinnie is Catholic (often quoting 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 life at home other than his parents argue a lot ("Follow the Leader (part 2)"), his mother's name is Margie ("The Great Debate"), and he shares a bed with his brother. The episode "Don't Come Up And See Me Sometime" implied that Vinnie is the older of the two.

Arnold Horshack[edit]

The class clown of the Sweathogs, 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 was the only one of the central Sweathogs to be promoted out of remedial academics class, but he soon returned after feeling out of place. He has an affection for acting and enjoys old movies, particularly 1930s musicals. He eventually married Mary Johnson, a co-worker and fellow Sweathog. Although his surname sounds like a term for a brothel, he claimed 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 "Boom Boom" Percy Washington[edit]

The hip, black student known as the athletic Sweathog for his skills on the basketball court, Washington claimed his nickname came from his habit of "pretending to play the bass" and singing "Boom-boom-boom-boom!". Though often the voice of reason among his classmates, Washington nonetheless was a willing participant in the Sweathogs' various antics and pranks. Freddie also found success as a radio disc jockey along with another former Sweathog, Wally "The Wow" (played by George Carlin). At one point, Washington challenged Barbarino for leadership of the Sweathogs, and even replaced him for a time until the group grew tired of his dictatorial style.

Washington had an older sister, who got divorced twice while living in Vermont ("The Longest Weekend"), and a brother, Leroy. In "The Great Debate" he is revealed to have another brother, Douglas, and their father's name is revealed to be Lincoln. Kotter would use his own past to bond with Freddie, as in addition to being a former Sweathog he was also a former star for Buchanan's basketball team.

Juan Luis Pedro Felipo de Huevos Epstein[edit]

A fiercely proud Puerto Rican Jew (when asked if his mother was Puerto Rican, Juan replied 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), Epstein is one of the toughest students at Buchanan High, despite his short stature. He normally walked with a tough-man strut, wore a red handkerchief hanging out of his right back pocket, 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 shown to be the sixth child in his family, although his mother had ten, while in the episode "I'm Having Their Baby" he mentions that his mother gave birth eight times. The only names of his siblings mentioned in the show are two brothers, Pedro and Sanchez ("One of Our Sweathogs Is Missing") and a younger sister, Carmen ("A Love Story"). Epstein's toughness was downplayed later on, and became more of a wiseguy. He was also known to have a "buddy" relationship with Principal Lazarus as he often referred to him by his first name, Jack. On a few occasions, when Kotter would do his Groucho Marx impersonation, Epstein would jump in and impersonate Chico Marx or Harpo Marx. Epstein's diminutive height and large hair are common jokes associated with him.

Recurring characters[edit]

Rosalie "Hotsie" Totsie[edit]

The femme fatale purported to have put the "sweat" in Sweathog, though her reputation was largely exaggerated by the Sweathogs' word of mouth. Her promiscuity was at least in part a reaction to the strict discipline enforced by her father, the Rev. Totsie. To restore her good name (and to prove a point), she fabricated a story about one of the Sweathogs getting her pregnant.

The character was a favorite amongst male viewers. The character 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), but she reprised her 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.

Judy Borden[edit]

  • Played by Helaine Lembeck

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 at one point. Despite her academic superiority, she can easily hold her own in a The Dozens contest with any Sweathog.

Beauregarde "Beau" De LaBarre[edit]

Introduced as a regular character in the fourth and final season, Beau is a handsome, 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 heart throb that was not a direct knock-off of the "Italian-Stallion" trend that was permeating Hollywood in the mid-1970s. They wanted to retain female viewers, but avoid a Travolta clone. Beau's first reaction to the term "Sweathog" is, "That sounds gross." He seems to have a way with women, as shown in later episodes. One of his running jokes involved imparting whimsical sayings, such as one about how a real man never steps on a pregnant alligator.

Other recurring characters[edit]

  • Vernee Watson as Verna Jean
  • Susan Lanier as Bambi, a female addition to the Sweathogs introduced mostly as eye candy.
  • Charles Fleischer as Carvelli, introduced as a student foil to the Sweathogs in Season 2.
  • Bob Harcum as Murray, Carvelli's loyal, and extremely dim, sidekick.
  • Dennis Bowen as Todd Ludlow, a nerdy academic high achiever.
  • Geoffrey Stump as Kyle "the Heartbreaker" Lucas
  • Irene Arranga as Mary Johnson, later became Arnold Horshack's wife.
  • Melonie Haller as Angie Grabowski, introduced in Season 3 as the only official female Sweathog but was gone by the end of the season.

Show history[edit]

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 only add fuel to the fire. However, the show became an early ratings success and the affiliate relented, picking it up from its fifth episode. (UHF station WSBK-TV Channel 38 aired the first few episodes.)
  • 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.
  • There were also concerns that the show would glorify juvenile delinquency. These sentiments 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.[3]

Ratings slipped in the third season. Kaplan later attributed the decline to the age of the actors playing the Sweathogs (Palillo was 29, Hegyes was 28, Jacobs was 27 and Travolta was 24), saying they were no longer believable as high school students. His idea was to have Kotter join the faculty of a community college attended by the Sweathogs.[4] 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 time slot to Monday 8:00 to make way for the impending hit series Mork & Mindy.
  • Virtually the entire writing staff was fired after season 3, and replaced with newcomers.
  • 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 he was billed as a "special guest star."
  • Mr. Woodman was promoted to Principal of the school (Principal Lazarus retired), and Kotter was promoted to Vice-Principal, and the show's focus moved away from Kotter's class.
  • Behind-the-scenes disputes led to limited appearances by Kaplan. To help fill the voids, Stephen Shortridge joined the cast as smooth-talking Southerner Beau De LaBarre, and Kotter's wife, Julie, became a secretary at the school.

Popularity[edit]

The show enjoyed ratings success during its first two seasons, spawning a host of merchandising tie-ins including lunch boxes, dolls, 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). 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.

Theme song[edit]


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The popular theme song, "Welcome Back", written and recorded by former Lovin' Spoonful frontman John Sebastian, 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.

Sebastian performed the song on Saturday Night Live (April 24, 1976 – Season 1, Episode 18), and memorably flubbed the opening lyrics.

Comic books[edit]

DC Comics published ten issues of a Welcome Back, Kotter comic book starting in 1976.[5] Following its cancellation in 1978, a Limited Collectors' Edition was issued, incorporating a 4-page "On the Set" section and photographs from the show.[6]

Action figures[edit]

Mattel produced a series of 9 inch Welcome Back, Kotter action figures in 1977. Figures produced included Barbarino, Horshack, Epstein, Washington, and Mr. Kotter.[7]

Episodes[edit]

DVD releases[edit]

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 and would be releasing Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1 on August 26, 2014.[8]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 22 June 12, 2007
The Complete Series 95 August 26, 2014

Nominations[edit]

Kotter failed to receive any major awards, though it was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1976 [9] 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.[10]

Guest stars[edit]

Several noteworthy performers enjoyed guest stints on Kotter either during or prior to their widespread fame. James Woods guest starred in the first episode ("The Great Debate") as Alex Welles, a drama teacher who led the school debate team ("the Turkeys") in a competition against the Sweathogs. Pat Morita appeared 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, the last of whom 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 never released because of his ill appearance.[11][12]

Spin-offs[edit]

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 just 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 (minus Travolta's Barbarino) all grown up. The project, however, never got off the ground, and little information about it was ever made public.

ABC broadcast history[edit]

September 1975 – January 1976 Tuesday 8:30–9:00 pm
January 1976 – August 1978 Thursday 8:00–8:30 pm
September 1978 – October 1978 Monday 8:00–8:30 pm
October 1978 – March 1979 Saturday 8:00–8:30 pm
May 1979 – August 1979 Friday 8:00–8:30 pm

Nielsen ratings[edit]

1975–1976 #18
1976–1977 #13
1977–1978 #27
1978–1979 Not in Top 30

International airing[edit]

  • In Germany, 23 episodes of Welcome Back, Kotter were shown dubbed, but under its original name – first from September 1979 till May 1980 by the ZDF, then again from April to July 1985 by Sat.1.
  • In the United Kingdom, 26 episodes were shown from December 1981 until July 1983 on ITV.
  • In Australia, the show was broadcast on The Seven Network from June 1976 and rated very well for the first two seasons
  • In New Zealand, the show was screened on Television New Zealand's TV ONE. As in Australia, the first two seasons rated highly.
  • In Italy, the show was aired by the Italian TV second channel RAI 2 in the spring of 1980. Since at the time there were only 2 national TV networks, the rating was high. The show was dubbed, and the title was translated in Italian into I ragazzi del sabato sera (Saturday Night Guys), clearly aiming to build on the success of Saturday Night Fever. As a matter of fact, most viewers believed that the show had been shot after the movie.
  • In Greece, the show was screened on ANT1 really late, in the summer of 1992, on a morning slot (07.30). It passed unnoticed.

After the show[edit]

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."

The Simpsons referenced the sitcom in the fourth season episode Selma's Choice (episode 9F11), first aired on 21 January 1993. Marge is impressed to find one of the Sweathogs listed as a donor in the Springfield Sperm Bank’s “101 Frozen Pops” catalog. She is disappointed, however, to learn from Selma that it’s not Horshack.[13]

In 2012, both Ron Palillo and Robert Hegyes died.[14]

As of 2014, the show airs on Me-TV Monday – Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET.

References[edit]

External links[edit]