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Series / Head of the Class

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A highly successful Sitcom that aired on ABC from 1986–91. Imagine Welcome Back, Kotter in The '80s and with much smarter students. Or Saved by the Bell in prime time.

Howard Hesseman (of WKRP in Cincinnati fame) starred as Charlie Moore, a substitute teacher who is hired to teach history to a class of gifted students at a Manhattan high school. He is not gifted himself, but he thinks outside the box and is full of epiphanies, and so he has much to teach his class even as he finds himself clashing with the school's stuffy, by-the-book principal. Three months later, the Very Special Episode came in where the original teacher returned from his medical leave. This being a successful American sitcom, after spending most of the episode trying to impress the guy, Charlie finally succeeds by being himself; the guy was looking for a worthy replacement so that he could retire. This naturally infuriated the principal further, but it finally ensured that there could be a stable status quo.


The series ran for five years with almost no cast turnover. This did stretch credulity after a time, but it didn't cause problems until the network was forced to replace Hesseman with Billy Connolly (as Suspiciously Similar Substitute Billy MacGregor) in the fifth year.

Oh, and Robin Givens played a student here before she married Mike Tyson. Also launched the likes of Dan Schneider, responsible in some way for most every recent live-action hit on Nickelodeon until they parted ways in 2018, and Brian Robbins, who went on to produce and direct shows with Schneider and without (as well as work with the enemy sometimes). He’s now Nickelodeon’s President. Unlike Brian Robbins, Dan Schneider has yet to direct a big-screen movie, which may be a wise move.


Tropes found in this classroom include:

  • Absentee Actor: Kimberly Russell, who played Sarah, was not seen or mentioned in the pilot episode. She is in the classroom from the second episode onward.
  • An Aesop: Done Once an Episode.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Simone and Eric.
  • Always a Live Transmission: In one episode, Mr. Moore takes an acting gig playing an Insane Proprietor in a series of late night commercials, all of which air live.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle
  • Back for the Finale: Janice shows up again in the series finale to get her high school diploma; she had just graduated from Harvard.
  • Be Yourself
  • Bollywood Nerd: Jawaharlal.
  • Bottle Episode: Pretty much every episode took place in that one classroom and the hallway just outside it; occasionally they also used the school theater.
  • Break the Haughty: Several times, most frequently to Alan.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Applies to various characters, depending on how you define brilliance.
  • Catchphrase: Billy usually greets his students with a boisterous "Good morning, geniuses!"
  • Characterization Marches On: By season 3, Jawaharlal doesn't speak with much of an accent, if any.
  • Christmas Episode: In season 5, Billy helps Viki track down her birth mother over the holidays.
  • Common Meter : Discussed, when someone points out that all Emily Dickinson poems may be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas."
  • Dean Bitterman: Dr. Samuels.
    • One-off nemesis Mrs. Hartman falls into this. She objects to the class performing Hair on stage because she sees the tie-dye, hippie themes of The '60s as disrespectful to American history, but ultimately relents when it is revealed that her son was killed in the Vietnam War.
  • Devil's Advocate: In a school debate club meet, Alan has to extemporaneously defend a position he is personally against. He wins the debate.
  • Egg Sitting
  • Enemy Mine: Invoked by Mr. Moore on one occasion. The students were fighting each other, so he became a bad teacher, giving them a greater enemy that would force them to put aside their own differences.
  • Famous Ancestor: In one episode, Mr. Moore has the class research their family trees, and Darlene discovers that she is a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Jawaharlal Choudhury is obviously named after India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. It is very unlikely that an Indian or an Indian-American in his teens in the mid-1980s would have a name like Jawaharlal.
  • Fashion Designer: Eric shows a talent in fashion design, which he ascribes to watching his mother do piecework for major New York designers for extra money. But it turns out that all his designs are subconsciously plagiarized from those same major designers.
  • Fiery Redhead: Shy, sensitive Simone is an aversion.
  • Final Season Casting: See Suspiciously Similar Substitute below — but not similar enough to keep the show going beyond that point.
  • The Fool: Because the teacher himself didn't always seem to know what he was doing.
  • For Science! : The reason Dennis wants to be Arvid's pheromone guinea pig.
  • Frozen in Time: If these kids are so smart, why have they been in high school for five years?
    • Word of God was that the final two seasons took place their senior year - season 4 was 1st semester, season 5 was 2nd semester.
    • At the time, with streamed classes, it wasn't uncommon to take five years, or even six (the "victory lap") to graduate high school, so it's also Truth in Television.
  • Genius Ditz: Viki's specialty is quantum physics, but she's a bit of a space cadet, especially in early seasons.
  • Glorious Mother Russia : IHP Goes to Russia in one two-parter. Dennis hatches a Zany Scheme to sell the Russians bluejeans and Beatles tapes.
  • Grew a Spine: In one episode, Jawarhalal is suddenly well known for agreeing with everyone about everything. Then the class goes to see Mr. Moore's off-off-off-Broadway post-post-Modern production of Hamlet. Everybody hates it except Jawarhalal, who defends it to everyone. They're so caught up in trying to prove him wrong that until the end of the episode they never ask him why he likes it and don't notice that he's disagreeing with them, counter to his personality.
  • Hidden Depths: Eric, ostensibly the least academic-minded of the IHP, is revealed to be a skilled writer, and at one point shows talent in fashion design.
  • High School
  • High-School Sweethearts: Eventually, Eric and Simone; the final season shows them getting briefly engaged, then deciding to wait until after college.
  • Hot Vice Principal: Miss Meara.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Justified in that it was a show centered around geniuses.
  • MAD: "Head Of The Crass", which - "Chatty Bore" excepted - broke with tradition of having the characters introduce themselves to the readers in the first panel ("We're too bright and sophisticated for such stereotyping and drivel!").
  • My Beloved Smother : Eric's mom, by the sounds of it.
  • Nice Girl: Simone.
  • One Degree of Separation: Howard Hesseman <-> Dan Schneider, provides the link between everyone connected to WKRP in Cincinnati (and by extension Loni Anderson's longtime husband Burt Reynolds), and approximately 40% of all currently-working comic actors of the millennial generation.
    • Note that Schneider himself worked with Kevin Bacon (in The Big Picture), as did Hesseman (in an '80s TV remake of Mister Roberts).
  • Put on a Bus: After the third season, Janice graduated (and was already a sophomore at Harvard), Jawaharlal's family moved to California, and Maria transferred to the New York High School of Performing Arts; Mr. Moore quit teaching after Season 4 to pursue an acting career full time (despite a Very Special Episode earlier in the run where he decided to stop acting and dedicate his life to teaching).
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: More than once.
  • Replacement Scrappy: Both Mr. Moore and Mr. MacGregor were In-Universe examples, at least for specific people.
    • Dr. Samuels didn't like Mr. Moore, worried that he'd ruin the IHP with his unorthodox teaching style, but reluctantly put up with him because he was a substitute teacher merely holding down the fort until their real teacher returned.
    • When Mr. MacGregor took over, the class took some time to get used to Billy, but Dennis and Arvid had the most extreme opinions of him. To Dennis, Billy was a replacement scrappy, while Arvid felt betrayed by Mr. Moore and latched onto Mr. MacGregor out of spite.
  • Save Our Students: Somewhat of an inversion, in that Mr. Moore's kids are academically gifted and high-achieving but socially and emotionally underdeveloped.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Mrs. Russell. It is eventually revealed that she has Alzheimer's.
  • School Play: Little Shop of Horrors, Grease, and Hair
  • Scotland: The replacement replacement teacher came from there, which made for an interesting Revolutionary War episode.
  • Snap Back
  • Spin-Off: The eminently forgettable Billy, which ran for half a season in 1992.
  • Status Quo Is God
  • Strawman Political: Of various flavors. And it's just not a 1980s sitcom without a blatant Alex P. Keaton ripoff, er, neo-conservative among the students.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Howard Hesseman quit the show, his Charlie Moore was replaced with Billy Connolly as new teacher Billy MacGregor.
  • Teen Genius: The majority of the teenage cast, although arguably Janice (who was really a pre-teen genius) and Arvid in particular.
  • Thanksgiving Episode / Peking Duck Christmas: Both Mr. Moore (alone for Christmas) and Dr. Samuels (escaping his in-laws) find themselves at the same Chinese place on Thanksgiving. They bond.
  • Those Two Guys: Arvid and Dennis.
  • Vacation Episode: The class went to Moscow, the first American show to film there.
  • Very Special Episode
  • Viewers Are Morons: And executives want to assure them that it's okay.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: This too was done Once an Episode.
  • Working Through the Cold: Arvid, in the episode where he has the flu and refuses to stay home from school.
  • You Are in Command Now

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