“Welcome Back, Kotter” was an American sitcom starring Gabe Kaplan as a sardonic high school teacher Gabe Kotter. He was in charge of a racially and ethnically diverse remedial class called the “Sweathogs.” Recorded in front of a live studio audience, it originally aired on ABC from September 9, 1975, to May 17, 1979.Mr. Kotter, a wisecracking teacher returned to his alma mater, James Buchanan High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, to teach a remedial class. The rigid vice principal, Michael Woodman (John Sylvester White), dismissed the Sweathogs as witless hoodlums and only expected Kotter to contain them until they dropped out or were otherwise banished.
As a former remedial student and a founding member of the original class of Sweathogs, Kotter befriended the current Sweathogs and stimulated their potential. A pupil-teacher rapport was formed, and the students often visited Kotter’s Bensonhurst apartment, sometimes via the fire-escape window, much to the chagrin of his wife, Julie (Marcia Strassman).
The talented ensemble cast of Sweathogs included Vinnie Barbarino (John Travalta) as a cocky Italian-American who was the unofficial leader of the Sweathogs and the group’s hearthrob. Travalta’s role as Barbarino was his breakout to movie stardom. Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) was the hip black student known as the athletic Sweathog for his skills on the basketball court. Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) was a fiercely proud Puerto Rican Jew. He was one of the toughest students at the school, despite his short stature. On the few occasions when Kotter did his Groucho Marx impersonation, Epstein would jump in and impersonate Chico Marx or Harpo Marx. Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo) was the class clown of the Sweathogs. He was completely comfortable with his oddball, if naïve, personality, and was known for his unique observations and his wheezing laugh, similar to that of a hyena.
Kaplan said that when he and Alan Sacks created the program, the fictional James Buchanan High in the show was based on the Brooklyn high school that Kaplan attended in real life, which appeared in the show’s opening credits. Many of the show’s characters were based on people Kaplan knew during his teen years as a remedial student.