When you look back at the casts of favorite sitcoms of days past, you see some friendly faces that went on to have massive careers. There is perhaps no better example of this rise to stardom than the show “Welcome Back Kotter.” The show ran from the mid to late 1970s and had great success in terms of ratings early on. But what the show is probably best remembered for is launching the legendary career of John Travolta. But that isn’t the only noteworthy thing about the show — far from it. Check out these interesting facts about “Welcome Back Kotter.”
The Show Aired in a Number of Different Countries
While the show was mainly marketed towards American culture and was probably the most popular in the USA, it is not the only country where it aired. While it didn’t immediately make it big in international markets, it appeared in countries like Germany, Italy, Greece and more throughout the 80s and 90s.
The Show Was Quite Controversial For Its Time
The idea of the show is that Kotter is a teacher who is in charge of a racially diverse classroom of teens called the “Sweathogs.” It was unheard of at the time to air a TV show that featured a racially diverse classroom and there was also concern among teachers about how Kotter would be presented.
The High School in the Show was Based on a Real High School
While the school in the show is obviously fictional, it was actually based on New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, which star and creator Gabe Kaplan attended in his teen years. Kaplan has talked extensively about how the kids at the school were based off real people he knew while attending high school.
The Show Was Inspired by a Stand Up Routine
Gabe Kaplan was a stand-up comedian before he created “Welcome Back Kotter.” He toured across the country and the entire show was actually based on a comedy routine he did that detailed stories and situations from his past. Hi stand-up was so funny that he was told to pitch the show and the rest is history.
John Travolta Made His TV Debut on the Show
While he was nothing major at the time, John Travolta became a huge star as a result of this series. He is clearly the most famous of the cast and very quickly after debuting on the show, he went on to act in huge movies for decades and became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
His Acting Career Went Through Its Ups and Downs
And while he gained steam very quickly and got some huge roles within only a few years of “Welcome Back Kotter,” his career suffered a decline in the 1980s. But he rebounded in the 1990s and 2000s with some big movies and was able to show he was more than a heartthrob.
He Became a Scientologist
While there is no doubting that Travolta is a talented actor and has been for years, he is probably more infamous now for his involvement with Scientology, a religion he has been a member of since 1975. The religion has a number of different famous members but is largely thought to be more of a cult than a religion.
Travolta Has Had His Fair Share of Scandals
In addition to his involvement with Scientology, he has also had a number of other noteworthy and buzzworthy scandals and situations. There was a sexual assault that was rumored to have taken place during a massage Travolta received, but he has denied it. There have also been some rumored problems with his marriage that counseling has been helping.
Three of the Actors Were on the Billboard Music Charts While Acting in the Show
While no one on the show was a big time musician or in a band, there was actually a period where three different actors on the show appeared on the Billboard music charts. John Travolta, Gabe Kaplan, and Lawrence-Hilton Jacob all appeared the charts throughout the lifetime of the show. These days that would have been enough for the show’s producers to put all the actors in a TV band together.
There Were Numerous Resemblances to Real Individuals
Since the show was loosely based off of a number of different elements from Kaplan’s lives, it would make sense that a lot of the characters would be based off real people. During his teenage years, he encountered a number of people that made it into his stand up routine, and thus, into the show.
The Theme Song Was Incredibly Popular
The show’s theme song was spectacular and has become legendary in the TV industry. The song was called “Welcome Back” and was a number one hit on the charts in the Spring of 1976! The theme song actually is why the name of the show changed from “Kotter” to “Welcome Back Kotter”.
There Were Lots of Behind the Scenes Problems
While everything was peaches and cream on the screen for this show, things weren’t always great behind the scenes. And when you have a show whose creator is also the main star of the show, bad things can happen. Apparently, Kaplan was very hot and cold, which rubbed a lot of the cast the wrong way and caused issues.
Gabe Kaplan Became a Star in the Poker World
Despite wanting to be an MLB player as a child, Kaplan ended up being a comedian and actor. But after that slowed down, he invested his money intelligently and has since joined the poker world as a player who has won hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is also a respected poker commentator.
The Show Became a Big Brand
The success of the show in a short time led to a number of different types of merchandise tie-ins. There were things like lunch boxes, board games, comic books, novels and action figures. And for a show of this kind to have all that, especially after a fairly short run, is pretty amazing.
Boston Refused to Air the Show Early On
As mentioned earlier, there was some controversy present in the early days of the show. This controversy actually led the show’s producers to not air its first few episodes in Boston. The city was already going through a period of racial tension around the time the show was set to air.
There Were Multiple High Profile Guest Stars
While the main focus of the show was definitely the Sweathogs and Kotter and their relationship, there were a number of other cast members too. Some regular, and some guests. And some of the guest stars were big at the time, including, George Carlin, James Woods and Pat Morita, to name just a few.
Marcia Strassman Had a Number of Other Great Roles
While she is probably best known for her role in “Welcome Back Kotter,” Strassman had many other noteworthy performances. As for other TV roles, she appeared for a while as Nurse Maggie Cutler on “M.A.S.H.” And on the big screen, she appeared in the hit movie, “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”
The Sweathogs Became Extremely Popular Very Fast
While most shows take a little bit of time to become very popular, that wasn’t the case with “Welcome Back Kotter.” In fact, after the first episode aired, the four members of the Sweathogs became overnight successes and were getting mobbed everywhere in public. They really did become a brand on their own.
Travolta Was Getting 10,000 Fan Letters a Week
And while all of the Sweathogs received a certain level of fame, none of them took it by the reigns like Travolta did. He became a giant star and while a lot of us know him from his newer works and movies, he was still huge while on this show. In fact, Travolta was getting about 10,000 letters from fans — per week!
There Might Be a Big Screen Re-Do of the Show
And while the show hasn’t been on TV for decades, there are some rumblings that a big-screen remake of the show is coming up. Ice Cube is set to star in it and they are looking at bringing other original cast members into the idea too. It has been in development for years, but no timetable when it’ll be released.