Series: Welcome Back, Kotter

MAD's Jack Davis is drawing us for the TV Guide cover? Very impressive, Mr. Kotter!

"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 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.
  • Catch Phrase: "Up your nose with a rubber hose" (everyone), "Hi, there" (Washington), "Heyyyy Misssster Kotttaire!" (Washington),"What?" "Where?" (Barbarino), "I'm so confused!" (Barbarino), "Ohhh ohh ohh ohh!" (Horshack), "Very impressive, Mr. Kotter!" (Horshack)
  • 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.
  • Dean Bitterman: Mr. 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.
  • Five-Man Band:
    • The Hero: Vinnie, later relegated to The Sixth Ranger when John Travolta's movie career started taking off
    • The Lancer: Freddie. Beau in the final season when Freddie was seemingly promoted to leader
    • The Big Guy: Epstein
    • The Smart Guy: Horshack
    • Revolving-Door Chicks: Rosalie Totsie, Vernajean Williams, Angie Grabowski, Mary Johnson
    • The Mentor: Gabe Kotter
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Kotter (phlegmatic/sanguine), Washington (sanguine), Barbarino (choleric), Principal Woodman (choleric/melancholic), Julie (melancholic), Horshack (phlegmatic), and Epstein (leukine).
  • Furry Fandom: In one episode Kotter wears a chicken suit in a restaurant to raise extra money for emergency dental work
  • 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.
  • MAD: Welcome Back, Klodder.
  • Marx Brothers: Often imitated, with Epstein as Chico, Horshack as Harpo, and Kotter as Groucho.
    • Notably, Gabe Kaplan did a one-man show as Groucho Marx during the height of the show's popularity.
  • The Merch: Several novel sized paperback with original stories, a comic book, a lunchbox, a "Welcome Back, Kotter" board game, and Sweathog action figures with a classroom play area.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
    • Julie's infamous tuna cassarole.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss / Ship Tease: Vinnie had some of this with Judy Borden in the early seasons, even dating for a short time.
  • Signature Laugh: Horshack's athsmatic laugh.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s):

Welcome Back Kotter