That is, unless those viewers are in Boston. In a controversy that has become an unforgettable part of the sitcom’s history, the ABC Boston affiliate initially did not let the now classic comedy air.
At the time, the city was facing a school transportation crisis, a crisis that began in 1974 with a court order desegregating its public schools. In September 1975, Boston’s ABC station WCVB feared that prime-time “Welcome Back, Kotter” would worsen an already violent situation.
Set in Brooklyn, “Welcome Back, Kotter” starred comedian Gabe Kaplan as “Gabe Kotter,” a teacher who returns to his alma mater and leads a multiracial class of wise troublemakers known as the Sweathogs. .
“’Welcome, Kotter’ wasn’t trying to make a statement about integration,” co-star Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs said in a bonus scene from the original CNN series “History of the Sitcom”. “It just showed you that it was a standard.”
But that was far enough from the norm in Boston to put the leadership of ABC station on edge. In an interview, Kaplan called the station’s decision “the worst kind of censorship,” adding that “there really is nothing controversial about (the series),” as the Courier-Post wrote. from New Jersey at the time.
The affiliate has not moved. “The people who produce the show said we don’t air it because the show is controversial. It’s not at all,” a spokesperson for the station said in the 1975 interview. . “We do not consider the program to be offensive in any way. (Station Vice President and General Manager Robert) Bennett acted independently due to our school’s situation here.”
Although it cannot be seen on the Boston station, the new sitcom has been a hit elsewhere. “When we got there – a Tuesday at 8:30 am – we got the craziest grades,” recalls Hilton-Jacobs.
And it didn’t take long for Gabe Kotter’s class to be welcomed into the WCVB program as well. The following school year, the Affiliate also played the Sweathogs’ final high jinks.
“Welcome Back, Kotter” didn’t last very long – four years in total, almost as if it were a real high school class – but its impact during a crucial 1970s comedy era has endured.
To Hilton-Jacobs point, part of its heritage is how the show has handled diversity.
“You had this racially diverse cast and yet they didn’t make much of it,” television historian and Syracuse professor Robert Thompson said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2012. “They were cast as something natural and at the time not even worth commenting on. It was a pretty gradual thing to do. “
The success of “Kotter” also showed the value of something else: targeting sitcoms at a younger, adolescent population.
“Suddenly ABC has drawn in this audience that had been so underserved by prime-time television,” Variety TV editor-in-chief Michael Schneider said in “History of the Sitcom”. “Children, adolescents, young people – (‘Kotter’ showed) there is room for them, for a new kind of spectacle.”