The show starred comedianGabe Kaplan as the title character Gabe Kotter, a wisecracking teacher who returns to his high school alma mater—the fictional James Buchanan High in Brooklyn, New York—to teach an often unruly group of remedial wiseguys known as the "Sweathogs." (The nickname reflected the fact that the remedial classes were held on the very top floor of the high school.) The school was based on New Utrecht High School which was used in the opening credits, and also the high school that Kaplan attended. The school's principal was perpetually absent, while the uptight vice principal Michael Woodman (John Sylvester White) dismissed the Sweathogs as worthless hoodlums and only expected Kotter to attempt to control them until they inevitably dropped out.
However, Kotter had attended the same remedial classes when he himself was a student at Buchanan and was a founding member of the Sweathogs. Recognizing that he was his students' last chance to learn enough to survive beyond school, he soon befriended them while they learned to recognize and appreciate his commitment and faith in their potential. His devotion to the class was such that his students often visited his Bensonhurst apartment, sometimes to the chagrin of his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman).
Most of the major characters of Welcome Back, Kotter were based on people from Kaplan's teen years as a remedial high school student in Brooklyn. As a stand-up comic, one of Kaplan's most popular routines was "Holes and Mellow Rolls," in which he talked in depth about his former classmates. The names of three of the four major characters in Holes and Mellow Rolls were changed for the television series: "Vinnie Barbarino" was inspired by Eddie Lecarri; "Freddie 'Boom Boom' Washington" was inspired by Freddie "Furdy" Peyton; and "Juan Epstein" was partially inspired by Epstein "The Animal;" only "Arnold Horshack's" name remained unchanged.
Characters and catchphrases
(played by Gabe Kaplan)
A facetious but well-meaning teacher who returns to Buchanan High, his alma mater, after ten years, to teach a group of remedial students known as the Sweathogs. Being a founding member of the original Sweathogs, Kotter has a special affinity for the potential of these supposedly "unteachable" students. His first day on the job he launches into a Groucho Marx impersonation. Kotter is married to Julie, with whom he eventually has twin girls (Robin and Rachel). When Buchanan High principal John Lazarus retires, Kotter becomes the vice-principal, though maintaining some teaching duties. He teaches Social Studies, and frequently role-plays events to the class. It was mentioned by Julie in the episode Follow the Leader (part 1) that Gabe is Jewish. Kotter's catchphrase(s):
"Did I ever tell you about... (Varying relatives, usually an uncle)?"
(early on, Kotter usually said this only to Julie, but it was later incorporated into conversations with other characters at the beginning and the end of a given episode. As episodes went on, the 'opening joke' dropped.)
Gabe's wife and closest friend. Though she has a sense of humor, she often wishes Gabe would take matters more seriously. She is occasionally upset with the amount of time her husband spends with his students, and she is troubled that he allows them to visit their apartment regularly; in the two-part story arc Follow the Leader the Sweathogs' constant intrusions led Julie to separate briefly from Gabe and even seriously consider divorce. Originally from Nebraska with a college degree in anthropology, Julie eventually became a secretary, and later a substitute teacher at Buchanan after Gabe's promotion to vice-principal. She makes several references to her "world famous tuna casserole", a common meal at the Kotter dinner table, which Gabe (and the Sweathogs) dislike. (from the episode Classroom Marriage)
Julie (to Gabe): You-u...love my tuna casserole.
Gabe: No! You love your tuna casserole! Nobody puts prunes in a tuna casserole!
Mr. (Michael) Woodman
(John Sylvester White)
The curmudgeonly vice-principal (and later principal) of Buchanan High. He makes no secret of his dislike for the Sweathogs, whom he considers the bottom of the social register at his school. He refers to non-Sweathogs as "real" students. When Kotter was a student at Buchanan, Woodman taught Social Studies, the same class Kotter returns to Buchanan to teach. His old age (and sometimes his diminutive height) are common jokes with the Sweathogs. Woodman was totally against Kotter's unorthodox teaching methods (though as the series progressed, he began to tolerate them marginally), and at one point even put Kotter in front of the school's review board in an unsuccessful attempt to get him fired. Nonetheless, in the season one episode No More Mr. Nice Guy, Woodman is shown to be a gifted teacher, willing to wear historic costumes and role-play in front of the class during his lessons.
Woodman was always looking to further his own career, his bitter personality having stemmed in part from being passed over in favor of John Lazarus for promotion to principal. In the season two episode Sweatgate Scandal, when the Sweathogs worked on the Buchanan Bugle, the school newspaper, a scandal implicating members of the school board and administration had broken; the unseen informant who leaked the information to the paper was revealed to be Mr. Woodman himself. Woodman's Catchphrases:
"Nutsy Cuckoo!" (Often used to describe Kotter's class, Kotter's teaching methods, and sometimes Kotter himself.)
"They're not people!" (Another way he used to describe the Sweathogs.)
Vincent "Vinnie" Barbarino
A cocky, but slow witted Italian-American, "unofficial official" leader and resident heartthrob of the Sweathogs. Barbarino's prowess with women was a source of envy (and more often amusement) among his classmates, who would frequently ask him to show them his pendulous "Italian Sausage." On occasion he would break out in song of his last name to the tune of The Beach Boys's classic, "Barbara Ann." He was the first of the Sweathogs to move out on his own when he got a job as a hospital orderly. In the first episode of the series and fourth season, he has a girlfriend, Sally. Vinnie is Catholic (often quoting his mother as a saint), and as shown in I'm Having Their Baby, is a "big Star Trek fan." Little is known about Vinnie's life at home other than his parents argue a lot (Follow the Leader (part 2)), his mother's name is Margie (The Great Debate), and he shares a bed with his brother (California Dreamin'); the episode Don't Come Up And See Me Sometime implied that Vinnie is the elder of the two. Vinnie's catchphrases:
"Up your nose with a rubber hose!" (Barbarino was the first in the series to rank somebody. In later episodes, other body parts and objects whose names rhymed were incorporated into the rank. For example, "Up your gizzard with a rubber lizard!" was used by Washington in a later episode.) (The so-called art of ranking was immortalized in song in 1976 performed by Gabe Kaplan. The song, "Up Your Nose", did not get very far as it highly dated itself by making numerous contemporary references-- CB Radios, The Gong Show, singing cat commercials, et al.).
"Wah-ha-ha-ha-howwww..." (Whenever he becomes love-stricken)
"What?" "Where?" "Why?" (Usually to feign ignorance when accused of something or asked to do something he's not ready to do)
"I'm so con-fused!" (Usually over-dramatized)
"I'm Vinnie Barbarino!" (Also over-dramatized, usually when a girl snubs or spurns him)
The class clown of the Sweathogs, completely comfortable with his oddball, if innocent personality. Horshack was known for his unique observations and his wheezing laugh, similar to that of a hyena. It is possible that academically he is the smartest Sweathog. He was the only one of the central Sweathogs to be promoted out of remedial academics class, but he soon returned after feeling out of place. He has an affection for acting and enjoys old movies, particularly 1930s musicals. He eventually married Mary Johnson, a co-worker and fellow Sweathog. Although his surname sounds like a term for a brothel, he claimed it's a "very old and respected name" meaning "the cattle are dying." His middle name (and his mother's maiden name) is "Dingfelder."  Arnold's catchphrases:
"Ooh-ooh-ooooh!" (Used with raised hand when Arnold gets excited because he believes he knows an answer to Mr. Kotter's question. The shout was an imitation of Joe E. Ross's phrase from Car 54, Where Are You?.)
"That was ver-ry impressive, Mister Kotter-r-r!" (How Arnold praises Mr. Kotter's teaching, sometimes jokes.)
"G'head, G'head! (Go ahead, go ahead)"
Freddie "Boom Boom" Percy Washington
The hip African-American known as the athletic Sweathog for his skills on the basketball court, Washington claimed his nickname came from his habit of "pretending to playthe bass" and singing "Boom-boom-boom-boom!". Though often the voice of reason among his classmates, Washington nonetheless was a willing participant in the Sweathogs' various antics and pranks. Freddie also found success as a radio disc jockey along with another former Sweathog, Wally "The Wow" (played by George Carlin). At one point, Washington challenged Barbarino for leadership of the Sweathogs, and even replaced him for a time until they all reached a consensus that the Sweathogs did not really need a leader.
Washington had an older sister who got divorced twice while living in Vermont (The Longest Weekend), and a brother, Leroy, and in The Great Debate he is revealed to have another brother named Douglas; their father's name is revealed to be Lincoln. Kotter would use his own past to bond with Freddie, as in addition to being a former Sweathog, he was a former star for Buchanan's basketball team as well. Washington's catchphrases:
"Hey, Mister Kah-tare!" (How he addresses Mr. Kotter)
"My assignment? Yes, Mr. Kotter. I have my assignment. Unfortunately, I don't have it here...han-n-dy-y..." (Whenever he forgot his homework or failed to accomplish any given task)
Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein
A fiercely proud Puerto RicanJew (his father was Puerto Rican; his mother's name was Bibbermann), and one of the toughest students at Buchanan High, despite his short stature. He normally walked with a tough-man strut, wore a red handkerchief hanging out of his right back pocket, had a bulbous, Shylock-nose, and was voted "Most Likely To Take A Life" by his peers. In the season one episode, One Of Our Sweathogs Is Missing, Epstein was shown to be the sixth child in his family, although his mother had 10, while in the episode 'I'm Having Their Baby' he mentions that his mother gave birth 8 times. The only names of his siblings mentioned in the show are two brothers, Pedro and Sanchez (One Of Our Sweathogs Is Missing) and a younger sister, Carmen (A Love Story). Epstein's toughness was downplayed later on, and became more of a wiseguy. He was also known to have a "buddy" relationship with Principal Lazarus as he often referred to him by his first name, Jack. On a few occasions, when Kotter would do his Groucho Marx impersonation, Epstein would jump in and impersonate Chico Marx or Harpo Marx. Epstein's diminutive height and large hair are common jokes associated with him. Epstein's catchphrase:
"Hey, Mr. Kotter, I got a note!" (The phony notes, excusing Epstein from classes and other sundry functions, were always written by Epstein himself, though he claimed they were signed by, as written, "Epstein's Mother." Epstein would lip-synch the wording of the note while Kotter would read it aloud, usually proving the note was written by Epstein himself.)
Rosalie "Hotsie" Totsie
The femme fatale purported to have put the "sweat" in Sweathog, though her reputation was largely exaggerated by the Sweathogs' word of mouth. Her promiscuity was at least in part a reaction to the strict discipline enforced by her father, the Rev. Totsie. To restore her good name (and to prove a point), she fabricated a story about one of the Sweathogs getting her pregnant.
The sole female sweathog, she was a favorite amongst male viewers. The character was phased out of the series at the end of the first season (when Scott was picked to co-star in the syndicated Norman Lear comedy, "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"), but she reprised her role in a 1978 episode, The Return Of Hotsie Totsie, in which it was revealed that she dropped out of school because she became pregnant and that she had had to become a stripper to support her infant child.
A recurring non-Sweathog character in the earlier seasons, Borden is a Straight A student and editor of the Buchanan Bugle, the school newspaper. She was Barbarino's tutor at one point, and even dated him for a time. Despite her academic superiority, she can easily hold her own in a ranking contest with any Sweathog. (from the episode Sweatgate Scandal) Judy: I'm an honor student. In my whole life I've never even gotten a "B". Horshack: Neither have I.
Beauregarde "Beau" De LaBarre
Introduced as a regular character in the fourth and final season, Beau is a handsome, blond, silver-tongued southerner who transfers from New Orleans after being kicked out of several other schools. He ends up in Kotter's class. The producers sought a heart throb that was not a direct knock-off of the "Italian-Stallion" trek that was permiating Hollywood in the mid '70s. They wanted to retain female viewers, but avoid a Travolta clone. Beau's first reaction to the term "Sweathog" is, "That sounds gross." He seems to have a way with women, as shown in later episodes. One of his running jokes involved imparting whimsical sayings, such as one about how a real man never steps on a pregnant alligator.
Susan Lanier as Bambi: Bambi was a female addition to the Sweathogs introduced mostly as eye candy.
Charles Fleischer as Carvelli: Carvelli was introduced as a student foil to the Sweathogs in Season 4.
Bob Harcum as Murray: Murray was Carvelli's loyal, and extremely dim, sidekick.
Dennis Bowen as Todd Ludlow: Todd was a nerdy academic high achiever.
Geoffrey Stump as Kyle "the Heartbreaker" Lucas
Irene Arranga as Mary Johnson: She later became Arnold Horshack's wife.
Welcome Back, Kotter's first season was controversial.
In Boston, the local ABC affiliate (WCVB-TV) initially refused to air the show. The city was going through a tumultuous school busing program to enhance racial equality and the local affiliate felt Kotter's fictional integrated classroom would only add fuel to the fire. However, the show became an early ratings success and the affiliate relented, picking it up from its fifth episode. (UHF station WSBK-TV Channel 38 picked up the first few episodes.)
Teachers in other cities had concerns about how Kotter would be portrayed, so producers allowed a union representative on the set to ensure the show protected the image of those in the profession. Kaplan opposed the idea, at one point asking a reporter if there was a junkman on the set of Sanford and Son to protect the reputation of junkmen.
There were also concerns that the show would glorify juvenile delinquency. These sentiments faded after the Sweathogs' antics proved to be silly rather than criminal. Like Kaplan, Hegyes was a fan of the Marx Brothers. Hegyes claims that he suggested that the Sweathogs be modeled after the Marx Brothers in order to reduce tension.
Ratings slipped in the third season. In an interview some years later, Kaplan attributed the decline to the age of the actors playing the Sweathogs (Palillo was 29, Hegyes was 28, Hilton-Jacobs was 27 and Travolta was 24), saying they were no longer believable as high school students. His idea was that to have Kotter join the faculty of a community college attended by the Sweathogs. However, this storyline never materialized. In order to increase viewership, the Kotters had twin girls, but this didn't prove to be enough to regain the show's earlier momentum. The show introduced a female Sweathog, Angie Grabowski, played by future Playboy model Melonie Haller, but the character did not last.
Major changes took place in the fourth and final season.
Shortly before the season began, the series was moved from its successful Thursday 8:00 time slot to Monday 8:00 to make way for the impending hit series Mork & Mindy .
Travolta, who had already starred in box office hits such as Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Carrie, began to focus more time on his film career. He was featured in eight episodes and was billed a "special guest star." It was Travolta's phasing out from the storyline that was the primary contributor to the cancellation of the show itself.
Mr. Woodman was promoted to Principal of the school (Principal Lazarus retired), and Kotter was promoted to Vice-Principal, and the show's focus moved away from Kotter's class.
Behind-the-scenes disputes led to limited appearances by Kaplan. To help fill the voids, Stephen Shortridge joined the cast as smooth-talking Southerner Beau De LaBarre, and Kotter's wife, Julie, became a secretary at the school.
The show enjoyed ratings success during its first two seasons, spawning a host of merchandising tie-ins including lunch boxes, dolls, comic books, novels and even a board game (advertised as "The 'Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose' Game" in a commercial with a class full of Sweathog look-alikes). The Sweathogs (or at least an impressionist's version of them) even made a crossover appearance with characters from the Happy Days universe on one track (the disco-themed "Fonzarelli Slide") of a 1976 TV-promoted oldiescompilation album.
The TV characters' signature lines became enormously popular catch phrases such as Barbarino's "up your nose with a rubber hose" and Washington's deep-voiced "hi there" and Horshack's wheezing laugh. It wasn't long before the previously unknown actors became hot commodities, particularly Travolta, the show's breakout star.
The popular theme song, "Welcome Back", written and recorded by former Lovin' Spoonful frontman John B. Sebastian, became a #1 hit in the spring of 1976. The show was originally going to be called Kotter, but that was changed because of the theme song lyrics. Sebastian has said he tried to find a more general theme for the song after being unable to find any reasonable rhymes for Kotter.
Of arcane interest was a performance of "Welcome Back" on Saturday Night Live (24 April 1976 - Season 1, Episode 18), when Sebastian flubbed the opening lyrics and stopped the song, to restart it.
DC Comics published ten issues of a Welcome Back, Kotter comic book starting in 1976. Following its cancellation in 1978, a Limited Collectors' Edition was issued incorporating a new story and three reprints.
Mattel produced a series of 9 inch Welcome Back, Kotter action figures in 1977.
Warner Home Video released a 6-episode Television Favorites collection on February 28, 2006. Due to the success of this release, Warner released the Complete first Season on DVD in Region 1 on June 12, 2007. It is unknown if the remaining 3 seasons will be released at some point.
Kotter failed to receive any major awards, though it was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1976 after its first season- it lost to Mary Tyler Moore.
Kotter was also nominated for three technical Emmy Awards: Outstanding Achievement in Videotape Editing for a Series in 1976, Outstanding Art Direction for a Comedy Series in 1978 and Outstanding Individual Achievement - Creative Technical Crafts (Dick Wilson) in 1979.
Several noteworthy performers enjoyed guest stints on Kotter either during or prior to their widespread fame. James Woods guest starred in the first episode ("The Great Debate") portraying a drama teacher who led the school debate team ("the Turkeys") in a competition against the Sweathogs. Pat Morita appeared in the first episode of the second season. Comedian George Carlin was featured, as was John Astin. Other guest stars included Ellen Travolta, Richard Moll, Jean Stapleton, Della Reese, and Dinah Manoff, the last of whom would work with John Travolta again in Grease. Groucho Marx was set to have a brief walk-on role in one episode. He arrived on-set, but was deemed to be too sick to appear. Pictures of Marx with the cast were taken, but were never released because of his ill appearance. 
At least three spin-offs of Kotter were seriously considered, but only one ever became a series. The short-lived Mr. T and Tina starred Pat Morita as Taro Takahashi (Mr. T for short), a brilliant Japanese inventor whom he portrayed in one episode of Kotter. The show was not received well by critics and lasted just five episodes on ABC. There was also talk of developing a spin-off built around the Horshack character and his family, "Rich Man, Poor Man; Horshack!", but it never went beyond the backdoor pilot stage, shown as an episode of "Kotter". In the mid-1990s, Hegyes announced on the Jenny Jones talk show that plans were in the works to create a spin-off featuring the Sweathogs (minus Travolta's Barbarino) all grown up. The project, however, never got off the ground, and little information about it was ever made public.
ABC broadcast history
September 1975 - January 1976
Tuesday 8:30-9:00 p.m.
January 1976 - August 1978
Thursday 8:00-8:30 p.m.
September 1978 - October 1978
Monday 8:00-8:30 p.m.
October 1978 - March 1979
Saturday 8:00-8:30 p.m.
May 1979 - August 1979
Friday 8:00-8:30 p.m.
Not in Top 30
In Germany 23 episodes of "Welcome Back, Kotter" were shown dubbed, but under its original name - first from September 1979 till May 1980 by the ZDF, then again from April to July 1985 by Sat.1.
In the United Kingdom 26 episodes were shown from December 1981 until July 1983 on ITV.
In Australia the show was broadcast on The Seven Network from June 1976 and rated very well for the first two seasons
In Italy the show was aired by the Italian TV second channel RAI 2 in the spring of 1980. Since at the time there were only 2 national TV networks, the rating was high. The show was dubbed, and the title was translated in Italian into I ragazzi del sabato sera (Saturday Night Guys), clearly aiming to build on the success of Saturday Night Fever. As a matter of fact, most viewers believed that the show had been shot after the movie.
In Greece the show was screened on ANT1 really late, in the summer of 1992, on a morning slot (07.30). It passed unnoticed.
After the show
When Travolta hosted Saturday Night Live in 1994, he appeared in a sketch that lampooned his old show. Quentin Tarantino's Welcome Back, Kotter gave viewers a humorous look at how the Pulp Fiction director might have brought a strong dose of violence to the tame show. Travolta reprised his old character, Barbarino, with Mike Myers as Mr. Kotter, Adam Sandler as Epstein, Tim Meadows as Washington and David Spade as Horshack.
In 1997, Hegyes, Hilton-Jacobs and Palillo reprised their Sweathog roles on an episode of the NBC sitcom Mr. Rhodes. Kaplan did not appear; instead, John Kassir assumed the role of Mr. Kotter. The episode originally aired on February 3, 1997 and was entitled The Welcome Back Show.
Kaplan welcomed back Hegyes and Hilton-Jacobs on his short-lived NBC 1981 sitcom, "Lewis & Clark". Their characters joked that Kaplan seemed familiar and being a smart guy, "should become a teacher."
Kotter had a renewed surge in popularity in the mid-1990s when it aired as part of the Nick at Nite lineup on Nickelodeon. Kaplan later said that the show found plenty of new fans during that run but that they were turned off by the quality of the episodes from the fourth season. The fourth season episodes rarely aired on Nick at Nite. A full weekend marathon occurred on TV Land during their Fandemonium weekend stunts in 1999.
In the 1990s, Hegyes, Hilton-Jacobs, and Palillo reprised their Sweathog roles in a parody Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Palillo played the role of John Travolta, Hilton-Jacobs played the role of Samuel L. Jackson, and Hegyes played the role of Phil LaMarr who was sitting in the backseat of the car eating a hamburger. While discussing hamburgers, near the end of the skit, Horshack turns to Epstein waving his gun and accidentally discharges his weapon. Instead of blood and brain matter splattering all over the back window and in the car covering the occupants, it was condiment sauce, while pickles and tomatoes were dangling down the hair of the occupants.
In the late 1990s, Hegyes, Hilton-Jacobs, and Palillo reprised their Sweathog roles for a commercial for Ames Department Stores. The commercial showed the three (by this point clearly in middle age) waiting for Mr. Kotter to show up, but then hear over the PA system that Mr. Kotter wasn't teaching today because he went to a sale at Ames. An instrumental version of "Welcome Back" was playing in the background.
Cast members opened up about their experiences on the show in 2000's Welcome Back, Kotter: The E! True Hollywood Story. The two-hour program included interviews with cast members, including Kaplan, Scott, Palillo, Hilton-Jacobs, Strassman, Iranga and Shortridge. Kaplan spoke of a difficult relationship with executive producer James Komack, whom he saw as not serving the show's best interests. Like many viewers, Kaplan said the quality of the show dropped off in the fourth and final season. Hilton-Jacobs agreed, saying that the new writers brought in that year were not suited to a show of this nature. Palillo said the impact of an attempted ratings-grabber in the final season, Horshack's wedding, was derailed when President Jimmy Carter gave a televised speech that pre-empted the heavily advertised episode. Strassman recalled how disappointed she was at her limited time on camera, a situation that changed in the fourth season when her character became a substitute teacher at Buchanan High.
In 2003, as part of ABC's 50th Anniversary Celebration telecast, Kotter was featured in tribute montage and the original cast appeared together on stage.
In 2006, Welcome Back, Kotter was seen in reruns for a brief period on "i" (now ION Television) before its cancellation in December 2006.
In 2011, all of the living cast members, except Ron Palillo, appeared at the 9'th annual TV Land Awards to accept the award for the show's 35'th anniversary.
The Transformers: Timelines character of Rodimus is based on Vinnie Barbarino, using variants of his catch phrases.
"Hey Mr. Kotter" by Kingsauce parodies the show's main characters.
The sign from the opening credits that reads "Welcome to Brooklyn, 4th largest city in America, Hon. Sebastian Leone Borough President" currently hangs in the lobby of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Motion picture possibilities
A motion picture based on this television series was being planned as of August 2010. Ice Cube has been selected to play the role of Gabe Kotter. Gabe Kaplan applauded the move of Ice Cube winning the part of Mr. Kotter.
The film was slated to take place in South Central Los Angeles as opposed to Brooklyn. No release date had been scheduled by the middle of August 2010, and whether this film would be a comedy or an urban drama with some humor injected into either the script or the performances was unknown as of that time.