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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>
"Yeah We Tease Him A Lot, Cause We Got Him On The Spot"
Though it only lasted for four seasons and the last one was pretty lame, Welcome Back Kotter left its mark especially one particular career. John Travolta got his first big break here and this series led to him starring in Saturday Night Fever while this show was still running. Unfortunately the show didn't outlast his leaving it.
The premise was an interesting one, a nice one about a mans who wanted to give something back to where he came from. And where he came from was a class of underachievers from this same Brooklyn high school where he is now teaching. He's assigned to teach the dregs of the school, those for whom fate has decreed they've got a lifetime of changing tires or flipping burgers. Fate decreed that for Gabe Kotter, but he believed in cheating fate and is now trying to impart that same lesson to the sweathogs of a new generation.
Sweathogs is the name of the group in his class and they were all New York types to the max. Robert Heyges, Laurence Hilton-Jacobs, Ron Palillo, and John Travolta were four of his students with whom he bonded with. Interestingly enough the four all very different backgrounds bonded with each other, the education system's neglect of them made them kindred spirits.
Gabe Kaplan starred as Kotter and he created the show as well and drew from his own background. It's probably what gave the show its success. But when Kaplan wanted out after three seasons, the producers tried to keep it going, but the heart of the show was gone. Also by that time John Travolta was a major film star and he wanted out as well. They brought Marcia Strassman to the school and she had played Kaplan's wife and Mrs. Kotter was hired as a guidance counselor. It just didn't work and the show was mercifully canceled.
There was one other very important element in Welcome Back Kotter. John Sylvester White played the Assistant Principal Mr. Woodman is a self serving bureaucrat who was in the school administration when Kotter was himself a sweathog. He can't believe the guy who was marked for failure could now be teaching in his school. White is frustrated every week when episode after episode Kotter gets through another crisis and doesn't quit in frustration. White is sitting around waiting to collect his pension and idealists he doesn't get if he ever was one in the first place, if he was ever young in the first place. He was a great antagonist for Kaplan as Kaplan shot zinger after zinger over this man's forehead. He never got a clue, but White created a great character. He never got enough credit for the show's success.
Welcome Back Kotter was a beacon of New York urban culture, seventies style. Don't miss it when TV Land runs the episodes.
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