's answer to the long-running NBC
sitcom Diff'rent Strokes
... especially with its showcase star and even down to the basic concept (a young African American child being adopted by a white family).
The showcase star on Webster
was Emmanuel Lewis, who played the title character. At 4-foot-3, the 12-year-old Lewis easily passed for 6 or 7 (the character's age at the start of the series in 1983), which was Webster's age when he was adopted by George and Katherine Papadopoulos (real-life couple
Alex Karras and Susan Clark) in the series' pilot. Webster, you see, was the son of a professional football star (Travis Long), who was teammates and best friends with George ... until one tragic day when Travis and his wife, Gert, are killed in a car accident. George and Katherine take in the now-orphaned Webster and become one happy family. The series was set in Chicago
, where retired-from-the-gridiron George worked as a sportscaster, while Katherine was a socialite
from a rich family working as a psychologist.
Other regulars were Henry Polic II (as Katherine's male secretary and Webster's confidant, Jerry Silver) and Eugene Roche and Cathryn Damon (as Bill and Cassie Parker, who lease the Victorian house the Papadopoulous family lives in; George and Katherine buy the house outright in a 1985 episode).
The series ran from 1983-1987 on ABC before spending its final two first-run years in syndication. By the time the final first-run episode aired in 1989, Webster was 12 years old and getting ready to enter junior high school; in real life, Lewis had just turned 18.
Lewis, by the way, was frequently compared to Gary Coleman ... that other cute, pint-sized TV star of the era. Coleman was 4-foot-8 at adulthood, thanks to a genetic kidney disorder that hindered his physical growth; Lewis has said in interviews that there has not been a medical explanation for his tiny size.
This show provides examples of:
- An Aesop: Like most family sitcoms, most episodes had these.
- Balloonacy: The show's opening credits included a sequence of still photos showing Webster being lifted by a bunch of balloons and then caught by the Papadopouloses. Later episodes used a "balloon"-type font to spell out the show's title and other opening credits.
- Catch Phrase: Not so much a phrase, but Webster's trademark "chipmunk" laugh. Frequently when something humored him, but just as often after the episode's moral.
- Channel Hop
- Executive Meddling: The show was originally going to be called Another Ballgame and center around the romantic relationship between George and Katherine. But when ABC execs decided they wanted their own version of Diff'rent Strokes, the show was reworked into a vehicle for Emmanual Lewis.
- Forceful Kiss: One episode featured a houseguest of the Papadopouloses make a pass at Katherine (which Webster witnesses, unknown to anyone). George finds out and kicks the guy out.
- House Fire: In season 2 Webster accidentally sets the Papadopouloses' apartment on fire, leading to the family moving to an old Victorian rehab.
- Missing Mom / Disappeared Dad: Webster's biological parents, Travis and Gertrude Long, died of injuries in a car accident. Webster actually does not learn of their deaths until the fifth episode, where George finally realizes he has to explain the heartbreaking news to the tyke. Prior to this, Webster believes his parents are merely "away".
- Thematic Theme Tune: "Then Came You"