Watch CNN Original Series “History of the Sitcom” on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
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-cracking troublemakers known as the Sweathogs.
“‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ was not trying to make a statement about integration,” co-star Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs says in a bonus scene from CNN Original Series “History of the Sitcom.” “It just showed you it as a norm.”
While it couldn’t be seen on the Boston station, the new sitcom was a hit elsewhere. “When we came on — on a Tuesday at 8:30 — we got the most insane ratings,” Hilton-Jacobs recalls.
“Welcome Back, Kotter” didn’t last very long — four years in total, almost as if it were an actual high school class — but its impact during an era of pivotal 1970s comedies has endured.
To Hilton-Jacobs’ point, part of its legacy is the way the show handled diversity.
“Kotter’s” success also showed the value of something else: targeting sitcoms toward a younger, teenaged demographic.
“Suddenly ABC attracted this audience that had been so underserved by prime time TV,” Variety TV editor Michael Schneider explains in “History of the Sitcom.” “The kids, the teens, the young people — (‘Kotter’ showed) there’s room for them, for a new kind of show.”