W is for “Welcome Back, Kotter”

“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.

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T is for “Taxi”

“Taxi” was an American ensemble sitcom that originally aired on ABC from September 12, 1978 to May 6, 1982 and on NBC from September 30, 1982 to June 15, 1983. The show focused on the everyday lives of the employees of the fictional Sunshine Cab Company, and took place almost exclusively at the company’s fleet garage in Manhattan.The employees of the cab company were a motley crew, including frustrated actor Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conoway), struggling boxer Tony Banta (Tony Danza), art gallery receptionist and single mother Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner), and tyranical dispatcher Louie De Palma (Danny De Vito). For almost everyone, the cab company was just a temporary job that could be left behind when they made it in their chosen professions. Only Alex Reiger (Judd Hirsch), who was disillusioned with life, considered cab driving his profession. The others viewed it as a temporary job. Other characters were “Reverend Jim” Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd), an aging hippie minister who is burnt out from drugs, so the others help him become a cabbie, and Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman), the innocent, wide-eyed mechanic from an unnamed foreign country.

A number of episodes involved a character having an opportunity to realize his dream to move up in the world, only to see it yanked away. Otherwise, the cabbies dealt on a daily basis with their unsatisfying lives and with Louie’s abusive behavior and contempt.

Despite the humor of the Emmy award winning show, “Taxi” often tackled such dramatic life issues as drug addiction, single parenthood, obesity, animal abuse, homosexuality, racism, teenage runaways, divorce, sexual harassment, PMS, gambling addiction, and grief.

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S is for “Seinfield”

“Seinfeld” was an American sitcom television series created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. It aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, over nine seasons and 180 episodes. The show starred Jerry Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself. He was the main protagonist and the show focused on his personal life with three of his friends, George Costanza (Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). It was set mostly in an apartment building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York City.“Seinfeld” was often described as “a show about nothing,” focusing on the minutiae of daily life. But in 2014 Jerry Seinfeld said that the real pitch for the show when he and Larry David went to NBC in 1988, was that they wanted to show how a comedian got his material.

Most episodes revolved around the characters’ involvement in the lives of others with typically disastrous results. And unlike most sitcoms, there were no moments where the audience was made to feel sorry for any of the characters, who were thirty-something singles with vague identities, no roots, and conscious indifference to morals.

“Seinfeld” broke several conventions of mainstream television. Larry David was credited with refusing to follow the predictable sitcom formula that would have a blossoming romantic relationship develop between Jerry and Elaine. The show offered no growth or reconciliation to its characters, and eschewed sentimentality.

“Seinfeld” was widely regarded as one of television’s greatest and most influential sitcoms, and has been ranked among the best television shows of all time.

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N is for “Night Court”

“Night Court” was an American television sitcom that aired on NBC from January 4, 1984, to May 31, 1992. The setting was the night shift of a municipal court presided over by a young, unorthodox judge, the Honorable Harold “Harry” T. Stone (Harry Anderson). The series was created by comedy writer Reinhold Weege, who had previously worked on “Barney Miller” in the 1970s and early 1980s.Stone was a young, hip, jeans-wearing, liberal, wannabe magician, and somewhat eccentric judge presiding over the night shift of a Manhattan courtroom. His views on various cases weren’t always normal, nor were his judgments. The court handled mostly petty crimes that could be dealt with in relatively short order.

Invariably, the cases appearing before Judge Stone were bizarre, but that was okay because Stone was a rather bizarre judge. He was assisted by a motley crew of bailiffs, clerks and District Attorneys who often created as much chaos as the criminals they bring in for trial.

Helping Stone manage the chaos was the not-so-bright yet softhearted courtroom guard Bull (Richard Moll) and egotistical prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Larroquette). Also part of Stone’s crew were passionate public defender Christine Sullivan (Markie Post) and calm court clerk Mac (Charles Robertson). Other members of the ensemble cast included Selma Diamond, Florence Halop, and Marsha Warfield as bailiffs in different seasons, and Mike Finneran as a bumbling “fix-it man” attached to the courthouse. His attempts to fix the courthouse often disrupted Harry’s proceedings in the courtroom.

I thought “Night Court” was a very funny and highly entertaining sitcom.

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M is for “Mork & Mindy”

“Mork & Mindy” was an American sitcom television series that aired on ABC from September 14, 1978 to May 27, 1982. A spin-off after a highly successful episode of “Happy Days,” it starred Robin Williams as Mork, an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth from the planet Ork in a small, one-Orkan egg-shaped spaceship, and Pam Dawber as Mindy McConnell, his human friend and roommate, and later his wife and the mother of his child.When his egg-shaped spaceship landed in Boulder, Colorado, Mork encountered 21-year-old Mindy, who was upset after an argument with her boyfriend. Mork offered assistance, but when Mindy noticed his unconventional attire and behavior, she asked who he really is, and he innocently told her the truth. She promised to keep his identity a secret and allowed him to move into her attic.

Storylines usually centered on Mork’s attempts to understand human behavior and American culture as Mindy helped him to adjust to life on Earth. It usually ended up frustrating Mindy, as Mork can only do things according to Orkan customs.

Then-unknown Robin Williams impressed producer Garry Marshall with his quirky comedic ability as soon as they met. Marshall was looking for an actor for an episode of “Happy Days.” When Williams was asked to take a seat at the audition, Williams immediately sat on his head on the chair and Marshall cast him on the spot, and later wryly commented that Williams was the only alien who auditioned for the role.

“Mork & Mindy was Robin Williams’ first major acting role and he became famous for his use of his manic improvisational comedic talent. Williams made up so many jokes during filming that were considered superior to the writing staff’s contributions that eventually scripts had specific gaps where Williams was allowed to freely perform. Pam Dawber found him so funny that she had to bite her lip in many scenes to avoid breaking up in laughter and ruining the take.

After four seasons and 95 episodes, Mork & Mindy was canceled in the summer of 1982.

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