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Pat Harrington Jr.
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Gabe Kotter is a high-school teacher with a bunch of unruly students in his class. The student troublemakers are led by Vinnie Barbarino, who has a knack for rhyming insults. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
It is a mystery to this day why this beloved sitcom has not been given the respect it so truly deserves. For one,it ranks highly among other shows of the 1970's that were so great from that decade which we truly remembered but also are still around in repeats: "All In The Family", "Sanford and Son","The Jeffersons","Good Times","One Day At A Time", "Barney Miller","Happy Days","Maude",and not to even mention "Different Strokes","What's Happening",and "Chico And The Man". These were the shows that we grew up watching but at the same time dealt with issues that were relevant in its day such as racism,divorce,abortion,civil rights,and unemployment not to mention being poor. The characters themselves which had their flaws whether pro or con(Archie Bunker, Fred Sanford,Maude Findley,James Evans,and George Jefferson not to mention Ann Romano)and these characters,when they had there say were either conservative,liberal,or moderate in their views of expression. And these are the characters that we can relate to upfront since during the 1970's we watch them with a candid viewpoint.
"Welcome Back Kotter",was one of those shows that we can relate with since it only ran for four seasons on ABC-TV from 1975 to 1979,and it was the launching pad for John Travolta,who emerged as a superstar in his own right because of this series. However,Gabe Kaplan may have been the star of show,but lets face facts here:It was John Travolta who was bringing in the ratings and the viewers for the show's first three seasons(1975-1977). During its first three seasons,it was nominated for its brilliant writing as well as its outstanding catchy theme song from John Sebastian,from the group "The Lovin Spoonfuls". The theme song itself is a standardized classic since during its heyday became a top ten hit and was also Grammy nominated. It was nominated for four Emmys between 1976,1978,1979-and basically won in 1976 for Outstanding Musical Score. The producers that made that show successful were the brilliant team of its creator(Gabe Kaplan)and producer,James Komack(who was also the show's executive producer)along with the writing team of Alan Sacks,George Yanok,and Eric Cohen. However,James Komack was also behind this series and also another classic 1970's sitcom,"Chico And The Man",which was on NBC.
"Welcome Back,Kotter",was about a dedicated teacher who wanted to return to his alma mater to try to deal with a bunch of remedial,misfit bunch of high school students that no one else wanted to deal with and to put it bluntly no one really cared. The casting was perfect for the NYC setting:from the nerd Horshack(Ron Palillo),the cool maverick Barbarino(John Travolta),the hot-headed Latino Epstein(Robert Hegyes), to the cool black male,Washington(Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs). There is also the school's principal,Mr. Woodman(John Sylvester). By the way,during the show's first three seasons,John Travolta wasn't the only one that became a mega superstar in his own right. However,the show was also a launching pad for Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as well,since he was still making movies when this series came out and continues to do so in movies and television and not to mention Broadway after the series ended. Also to point out the show made stars out of other actors as well including Vernee Watson,Debralee Scott,and Ron Palillo. The guest stars were also the focalpoint of the show including some that made their mark including a very teenage looking Michael Jackson,and not to mention others that would come on board as well. The timing during the first three seasons were awesome and purely magical and sometimes breathtaking within the first few episodes of the show. Then tragedy settles it which basically saw the decline of the show as well.
There were problems especially with actress Marcia Straussman,who was unhappy that her story lines on the show were limited. Another problem was the differences between Gabe Kaplan and James Komack and some of the writers on the show. The other problem was the disputes with the producers and network executives over at ABC who wanted control over the series. This led to Gabe Kaplan's lack of involvement over the show and its shows in the last two seasons of the series and some of the many problems which doomed it in which we never saw Kaplan much during the series final two seasons. In the show's final season,the episodes were silly not to mention unfunny and very sloppy. From there the actors on the show complained about the show's scripts since some of them were completely garbage. Not to mention the cast weren't teenagers anymore since they were grown adults playing adolescent kids,which goes to show they didn't looked like teenagers either. These were the factors led to the demise of the series in 1979,after producing 95 episodes. The other reason why the show demise? For one,it had to do with the leaving of John Travolta at the end of the show's third season especially when Travolta was a hot commodity in Hollywood after the huge success of the greatest disco-movie ever made,"Saturday Night Fever". After the series ended,Gabe Kaplan was never heard from again. The Rise and Fall Of The Kotter Empire.
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