Welcome Back, Kotter made a major cultural splash when it premiered on September 9, 1975.
It starred Gabriel Weston Kaplan as a somewhat sardonic Gabe Kotter – the teacher of a group of remedial class miscreants known as the “Sweathogs” in Brooklyn.
The school’s rigid vice-principal, Michael Woodmen – played by John Sylvester White – has all but given up hope on the mismatched, racially diverse teenagers deeming them as being nothing but hopeless hoodlums.
Gabe is given the duty of overseeing the kids until they either drop out or get expelled. Having once been a remedial student himself however, he remains empathetically hopeful for the kids and decides to give them the chance that no one else seems to be extending to them. In fact, he was a member of the very first class of Sweathogs, so it’s a cause that is close to his heart.
Because of this intimate connection, a close rapport is formed between Gabe and his students – so much so that they often visit him at his personal apartment, at times even making use of his fire-escape window access – much to the disdain of his wife Julie – played by Marcia Strassman.
The show lasted for 4 seasons but after the third season, most of the original writers had already jumped ship. Welcome Back, Kotter is also notable for playing a major role in springboarding John Travolta’s career on to the path of stardom and making his name a common part of our cultural lexicon.
Not only did the show enjoy relatively decent ratings in its first few years, but it also created a massive demand for a wide range of merchandise such as action figures, comic books, board games, and even lunch boxes.
Even if you are a fan, there is bound to be something that you never knew about the hit sitcom.
Facts Verse Presents: Welcome Back Kotter’s Awful Crossover with the Fonz
Stick around for the whole video to see how the Fonz, famous for his own jumping of the shark on Happy Days, helped inspire Welcome Back, Kotter’s equally cringey epic-fail moment that partially led to the inevitable demise of the show that had once seen a solid fan base.
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John Travolta actually got his start on Emergency!
If you thought that Johnny-boy got his first acting credit in Welcome Back, Kotter, then you are dead wrong. He actually made his acting debut on the second season of the show Emergency! In 1972. He was only a youngin’ at the time, still looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the tender age of 18.
In the medical drama adventure show hybrid, he played a rather unfortunate hiker who fell off a cliff. Don’t worry, young Travolta lived to tell the tale.
The Original “Up your nose….” insult was originally crasser
How many of you out there in audience-land remember the phrase “Up your nose with a rubber hose!”. As memorable as that catchphrase was and how beloved it was to the Sweathogs, the original line was something a bit more provocative. So much so that network execs said that it had to go.
Much of the source material for Welcome Back, Kotter was derived straight from Gabe Kaplan’s own memory bank. He had attended New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn in his youth. In fact, that’s actually the school that can be seen as the backdrop for James Buchanan High in the opening credits.
At the real school, Kaplan’s peers would throw around the jab “up your hole with a Mello-Roll’.
As much as Gabe wanted the insult to be used in his show, he had to tone it down a bit to meet network requests.
The Boston affiliated ABC station wouldn’t air the first four episodes because of racial tensions
The 70s were a time period of immense cultural and social change. With change comes a great deal of resistance. This could be felt when the Boston school system implemented a public bus system with the aim of desegregating their schools.
This mandate was met with extreme anger and even a series of riots. So when Welcome Back, Kotter premiered a year later, racial tensions were still tender and sensitive.
ABC affiliate station WCVB felt that if they aired the show, which featured a racially diversified class, it might fan the flames that were already causing so many problems and an unacceptable amount of violence in their city. After the show received critical acclaim and gained the approval of viewing audiences, however, they reversed their decision and let the show air. Turns out their fears didn’t quite pan out as they expected. Kotter found success in that market as well.
Lawrence Hilton Jacobs put out one heck of a Disco album in 1978
In fact, he wasn’t the only musical member of the Sweathogs, Gabe Kaplan had a moderately popular hit with his novelty track “Up Your Nose” in 1976 and John Travolta would even reach the top 10 with his dazzling little ditty “Let Her In” in the summer of that same year.
With all that attention on Kaplan and Travolta’s musical works, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs’ not-surprisingly solid disco-soul album “Fly Away (To My Wonderland)” was overshadowed by his co-star’s success. The album got some spins at the club and was moderately successful on the soul charts but never received the credit that it deserved.
Welcome Back, Kotter was almost named just “Kotter”
And it would have been too if anything actually rhymed with Kotter.
John Sebastian, formerly of the Lovin’ Spoonful was commissioned to come up with the show’s theme song but he was quickly burdened with a bit of writer’s block. He couldn’t quite conjure up the right lyrics because nothing quite rhymed with the clunky consonant heavy name.
Working with what he had, he jotted down the lyrics and composed the mid-tempo track “Welcome Back”. The network execs fell head over heels with the tune – so much so that they added the words ‘Welcome Back’ to the title to match the song’s title.
Thanks for the contribution, John. Bet you didn’t expect them to rename the whole show because of you, now did you?
I Love Lucy’s Ethel was actually the godmother of John Sebastian
Or at least the actress who played her on TV was. Vivian Vance was given that honor by Sebastian’s mother who was good friends with Vance. Vivian never had children of her own so the designation meant a lot to her.
It’s actually a bit odd how it seems like all sitcoms somehow all lead back to I Love Lucy in some Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon kind of way. If you can figure out why that is actually, let us know.
The Show was retitled in Italy as a result of Travolta’s film success
John Travolta’s biggest credit of his career – well, arguably at least – was 1977s disco-inspired saccharine-sheen dance film Saturday Night Fever – and yes now you are going to have the Bee Gees stuck in your head for the rest of your day – you’re welcome.
In 1980, some Italian network executives figured they could capitalize on the success of the insanely popular film and air Welcome Back, Kotter – which hadn’t been showing there yet.
Travolta was still soaking up the limelight riding the wave of fame that the film had awarded him. Hoping to ride that wave with him, they retitled the sitcom I ragazzi del sabato sera, or “The Saturday Night Boys,” for the Italian market.
As if somehow, Italian viewers wouldn’t realize that the show and the film weren’t related…
Several spin-offs were attempted – and all failed
If only there was some kind of magic spell or ritual a network could invoke to make a decent spin-off of a hit show…. Maybe someone should ask All In The Family’s Norman Lear what his secret is. Seriously though, that show had 7 successful spin-offs. He had to have made a deal with the devil or something.
Welcome Back, Kotter had four spin-off attempts and only one of them ever made it to anyone’s TV screen – Mr. T and Tina – and even that show only saw the light of day for a measly five episodes. Without the Sweathogs, the show had no momentum or chemistry.
Later on, they would attempt a backdoor pilot to introduce another show that would revolve around Horshank entitled Rich Man, Poor Man; Horshank! But test audiences really weren’t feeling it and the rest of the Sweathogs couldn’t stand to lose his presence as a part of their entangled clan.
Again, 20 years later, Robert Hegyes pitched the idea of a reboot of the series featuring the Sweathogs all grown up but that too never gained any traction. Too bad though, we’d actually half want to see how that would have panned out
Welcome Back, Kotter had a really bizarre crossover with Happy Days
Remember when the Fonzy ‘Jumped the shark’ on Happy Days, thus sealing the deal that the show had reached the point of no return and was doomed for cancelation? Well, a similarly awful moment happened involving the folks from Welcome Back, Kotter featuring the Fonz-man himself yet again.
Forget the fact that Happy Days took place in the 50s and 60s. That little tidbit meant nothing to Frank Lyndon, a member of the doo-wop group The Belmonts.
Lyndon wrote one of the cringiest novelty songs ever penned with the track “The Fonzarelli Slide”. The disco disgrace appeared on an album entitled Fonzie Favorites put out by Juke Box International. There was actually a music video that was spurred out of the doomed tune that involved the Fonz riding into the Sweathog’s school dance.
Horshack asks the Fonz if he’s there to become the leader of their crew – a feat that would be really unlikely considering he was creeping close to 40.
Lyndon provides all the vocal work for the track too, which adds an added layer of surreal weirdness. The entire skit completely misses the mark, to say the least. If you want to experience something truly awful then you should probably check it out.
Well, that’s about all the Welcome Back, Kotter secrets we can handle at the moment. Well, maybe we just need a breather after witnessing that Fonzie cross-over. Seriously, that was truly awful. But anyway, now we’d love to hear from you! Who was your favorite character on Welcome Back, Kotter? Are you a Barbarino fan or will Gabe Kotter always hold a special place in your heart? Let us know what you think in the comments.
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