Series / Welcome Back, Kotter
MAD's Jack Davis is drawing us for the TV Guide cover? Very impressive, Mr. Kot-tair!

"Hey, Julie.... did I ever tell you about my Uncle Fremont Kotter.....?"

Long before Jerry Seinfeld wondered about airline peanuts, before Tim Allen said his first "Arrr arrr arrr!", before Roseanne became a Domestic Goddess, there was Gabriel "Gabe" Kaplan, one of the very first stand-up comedians to successfully turn his comedy routines into a hit TV sitcom. Welcome Back, Kotter ran on ABC from 197579. The series was based on Kaplan's own high school experiences with remedial education and his memories of a teacher who cared dearly for her students.

The premise: Gabe Kotter returns to Brooklyn's James Buchanan High School as a teacher and is assigned the remedial class of "Sweathogs" to which he once belonged. Mr. Kotter is an involved and caring teacher, which one would have to be in dealing with a certain four students in his class, who end up in trouble on a regular basis: ladies' man Vinnie Barbarino (played by breakout star John Travolta), the always cool Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), the tough Juan Luis Pedro Phillipo de Huevos Epstein (Robert Hegyes), and the sheepish Arnold Dingfelder Horshack (Ron Palillo). Kotter frequently finds himself butting heads with cantankerous vice principal Mr. Woodman (John Sylvester White), who dismisses the Sweathogs as a lost cause, and tries to juggle his teaching life and his home life with his wife Julie (Marcia Strassman).

Changes on the show: Gabe Kaplan was absent from much of the fourth season due to creative differences with executive producer James Komack, whom Kaplan openly felt was not serving the show's best interests. Kotter was made vice principal, and thus was seen considerably less frequently. John Travolta, of course, found his own place as a celebrity, leaving the show around the same time Gabe Kaplan did (returning every so often as a "special guest star"). The replacement for Barbarino was Beau, who didn't help things much. By now the show had essentially lost its two biggest stars.

Welcome Back, Kotter contains examples of:

  • And Starring: John Travota's billing during his last season on the show.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Julie gives birth to twin girls.
  • Berserk Button: Don't say anything bad about Barbarino's mother.
    Barbarino: Hey! NOT my mother. That woman's completely holy!
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Juan Epstein.
    Epstein: I don't have to stay here and be ignored! I have nine brothers and sisters. If I want to be ignored, I'll just go home.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': Beau DeLebarre tries to prove he's not an ass-kisser by playing a prank on Mr. Woodman, but Mr. Woodman refuses to believe it was him and yells at the Sweathogs instead. Luckily, he does manage when he admits to Woodman he read his student file, which is forbidden.
  • Catch-Phrase:
    • "Up your nose with a rubber hose" (everyone)
    • "Hi, there" (Washington)
    • "Heyyyy Misssster Kotttaire!" (Washington)
    • "What?" "Where?" (Barbarino)
    • [Signature Laugh "Heh, heh, heh, heh!"] (Horshack)
    • "I'm so confused!" (Barbarino)
    • "Oooh! Ohh, ooh ooh!" (Horshack)
    • "Very impressive, Mr. Kotter!" (Horshack)
    • "Ba-ba-ba, Bar-Bar-ino!" with some dancing moves added for good measure (Barbarino)
    • "Right you are, Mr. Kotter!" (Horshack)
    • "Please excuse Juan from class today... [insert excuse of the week]... Signed: Juan Epstein's mother." (Epstein)
  • Celebrity Paradox: In "A Little Fright Music", Mr. Woodman sings "Staying Alive", which came from a film starring one of the Sweathogs.
  • Character Development: Most notably Horshack (went from the Tagalong Kid to a young man willing to stand up for what he believed in and the first Sweathog to marry), Julie (went from Gabe's mildly frustrated but mostly supporting wife to a major presence at the school) and Barbarino (went from a directionless skirt-chaser to working as a hospital orderly).
  • Christmas Episode:
    • "Hark, the Sweatkings": The Sweathogs try to help a homeless man they've previously made fun of.
    • "Sweathog Christmas Special": While Gabe and Julie decorate their apartment, the Sweathogs (what else?) drop by. Doubles as a Clip Show.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Everyone had their moments, but Horshack is the definitive example.
  • Commuting on a Bus: Mr. Kotter's appearances in the last season were very sporadic, as Kaplan had become discontent with the direction of the show. Mrs. Kotter becomes the new mentor of the Sweathogs.
  • Cool Teacher: Gabe Kotter tells jokes and believes in the Sweathogs when other teachers would dismiss them as a lost cause.
  • Cousin Oliver: Angie Grabowski, who joins the Sweathogs in the second half of the third season for several episodes and then is never heard from again.
  • Dean Bitterman: Mr. Woodman
  • Distaff Counterpart: Arnold has a one-episode friend named Goldie who acts and laughs quite a bit like him.
  • Dustbin School: The "Sweathogs" was the nickname of a class like this at James Buchanon High in Brooklyn. Gabe Kotter had graduated from this class and gone on to become a teacher. He volunteered to return to his old high school and teach this class, hoping to help kids who were in the same position he had been in in high school. They are viewed as a lost cause by Woodman.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In the pilot, Horshack is implied to be a Covert Pervert who apparently wasn't allowed to talk unless Barbarino told him to. Barbarino also seemed to have a regular sweathog-girlfriend. The Sweathogs were actually a tad more intimidating.
    • Epstein was known as the toughest student in the school, and voted "most likely to take a life". As time went on this trait was phased out and he was more of a smartass.
  • End-of-Episode Silliness: Formerly the Trope Namer when it was called "Uncle Herbie".
  • Enter Stage Window: The Sweathogs routinely drop in on their favorite teacher via his living room window. Doesn't bother him any, but his wife doesn't like it.
  • Every Episode Ending: Gabe tells Julie an amusing anecdote about one of his many relatives at the end of every episode.
  • Fake Guest Star: John Travolta during the final 1978-1979 season, due to becoming a movie star with leading roles in Carrie, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease, still managed to reprise his role as Vinnie Barbarino on a part-time basis.
  • Foil: Mr. Woodman, to Mr. Kotter.
  • Foreshadowing: In Season 3's "Kotter for Vice-Principal", the Sweathogs start a petition campaign for Mr. Kotter to be vice-principal, only for the deadline to run out. In the two-part "The Drop-Ins" at the start of Season 4, as soon as Principal Lazarus retires, Woodman becomes the head principal, while Mr. Kotter moves up to vice-principal.
    • In Season 1's "Whodunit?" Rosalie claims one of the Sweathogs got her pregnant and she wants the father to come forward and take responsibility, only for Rosalie to reveal that she was never pregnant. In Season 3's "The Return of Hotsy Totsy", it is revealed that Rosalie has dropped out of Buchanan High, had a child out of wedlock, and is working at a strip club, with the Sweathogs coming to help her finish high school and get a better job.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Kotter (phlegmatic/sanguine), Washington (sanguine), Barbarino (choleric), Principal Woodman (choleric/melancholic), Julie (melancholic), Horshack (phlegmatic), and Epstein (leukine).
  • G-Rated Drug: In the episode "What Goes Up ... ", Freddie becomes addicted to painkillers (to heal a basketball injury); a naive Horshack takes Freddie at his word that said pills are "vitamins," while the others are well-aware that Freddie is becoming dependent on them.
  • George Carlin: Guest starring as radio DJ Wally the Wow, and as Wally the Weasel, a former Kotter-era Sweathog.
  • The Ghost: Principal Lazarus.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: The mantra of the cult which Horshack temporarily joins while in pursuit of a girl who can really fill out a sheet.
    What is, is. What was, will be. What will be was but will be again.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Julie points out in "Swine and Punishment" that Gabe doesn't know any actual people, just joke people. Gabe proceeds to tell her about a relative of one of the joke people he just talked about.
  • Lethal Chef: Julie, with her tuna casserole.
  • Mirror Routine: Parodied in "Arrivederci, Arnold", when Mr. Kotter puts on a skit to convince Mr. Woodman to let Arnold back into the Sweathogs; Arnold looks at Kotter, wearing an identical hat, scarf, and coat, with identical lunch boxes, and they both do a few wheezy laughs, with several "Ooh-ooh-ooh!"s, and then Arnold says "Wait a minute: I don't got no mustache..."
  • Never Win the Lottery: In one episode Kotter chips in a quarter for the Sweathogs' weekly lottery ticket when one of them comes up short. When the ticket then wins, the Sweathogs try to just give Kotter back his 25 cents instead of a share of the winnings.
  • Nobody Touches the Hair: Barbarino is like this.
  • Once an Episode: Kotter tells a joke about one of his relatives.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Gabriel.
  • Parental Substitute: Gabe often acted like this for the guys, especially Arnold.
  • Personality Swap: Occurs with Kotter and Woodman in Season 1's "No More Mr. Nice Guy", when Woodman briefly resumes teaching and becomes a Cool Old Guy for a day, even briefly becoming more popular than Kotter, while Mr. Kotter turns grumpy and loses his cool, ordering the Sweathogs to return the stolen chalk back to Mr. Woodman.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: Part 2 of "Whatever Happened to Arnold?" focuses on Horshack's family.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: One two-part episode had Kotter trying to start a stand up career.
  • Running Gag: Epstein's never ending supply of excuse notes, almost always signed "Epstein's Mother".
    • Horshack's very enthusiastic hand-raising in class: "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Mr. Kotter!"
    • Barbarino's "What?" "When?" "Where?" when Kotter or Woodman is looking for answers to a situation.
    • Julie's infamous tuna casserole.
  • Santa Claus: Appears at the end of both Christmas episodes. Both times Gabe tells him a story about one of his relatives.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Vinnie had some of this with Judy Borden in the early seasons, even dating for a short time.
  • Signature Laugh: Horshack's asthmatic laugh.
  • Studio Audience: " "Welcome Back, Kotter" was recorded live before a studio audience."
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Beau De Lebarre as Vinnie's replacement.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: In fact, the producers of what was originally going to be called Kotter thought John Sebastian's "Welcome Back" captured the tone of the show so well they renamed the show after it.
  • Theme Tune Extended: "Welcome Back" was originally just one verse. DJs suggested recording a full-length version to Sebastian. He did, and it became a #1 hit.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: The UK sitcom Please Sir!, which predated this one. Some British viewers believe Welcome Back, Kotter is in fact an uncredited remake, but while the shows have similar premises, no one's ever been able to prove plagiarism.
  • Translation Matchmaking: In Italy it's known as I Ragazzi del Sabato Sera (Saturday Night Guys), after Saturday Night Fever.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Puerto-Rican Jew Juan Epstein.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Gabe and Julie, though Gabe is more plain/quirky-looking than ugly.
  • Very Special Episode: "What Goes Up," the Season 3 episode where Boom Boom got addicted to painkillers to heal a basketball injury. Boom Boom is in deep denial, and so is a shaken Horshack who naively believes Boom Boom's explanation that the pills are "vitamins." The others aren't so fooled and eventually get Boom Boom to realize what he's doing. In the final season, "Come Back, Little Arnold" has Horshack using booze to boost his courage when asking out a new love interest. He snaps out of it after he accidentally punches her out while aiming for one of the guys. Both of them are back to normal by the following episodes.
  • Written-In Absence: As explained above, Kotter was promoted to vice principal in season 4 and appeared less frequently due to Kaplan's feud with executive producer James Komack.