On This Day: ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ Series Finale Aired in 1979

by Anna Dunn
(Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)

On this day in 1979, the final episode of Welcome Back, Kotter aired. The series focused on a high school teacher and a group of diverse teens in a remedial class dubbed the “sweathogs.” The show, which was recorded in front of an audience, aired for four years. Its theme song made #1 on the Billboard charts.

The show stars Gabriel “Gabe” Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, a sardonic high school teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. He’s tasked with keeping his remedial class in line. The principal and other members of the school staff have no hope for the “sweathogs,” but Kotter sees their potential. Gabe Kaplan based the fictional school off of his real-life high school.

Kotter went from just a teacher to more of a mentor to the sweathogs, and helped them through individual challenges and connecting with them in a way that other teachers simply wouldn’t.

‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ Ended After Major Changes Were Made to Fourth Season

Kaplan attributed some of the decline in ratings by season three to the fact that the actors portraying the high schoolers didn’t look like they were in high school anymore. In fact, the youngest actor was 25 years old. Eventually, he wanted to send the Sweathogs to community college, but that idea was never picked up.

Season four of Welcome Back, Kotter faced major problems. First, ABC moved the show to a different timeslot to make room for the upcoming hit Mork & Mindy. Second, John Travolta, who was getting big, moved to a guest role. Third, a huge shift in the writer’s room took place, leaving the show with a bunch of new staff.

Finally, Kaplan also decided on a reduced role after major contract disputes occurred behind the scenes. Ultimately, the fourth season of the show had some issues that made it a bit different than the rest of the series, but many would say the entire series is still worth a watch.

The show may not have lasted many seasons, but it still left a lasting impression on those who tuned in. The ratings for the first two seasons especially were impressive. Of course, its success launched a massive amount of merchandise and other goods. There were Welcome Back, Kotter Novels, trading cards, lunch boxes, games, action figures, and more.

The show brought important themes to the tv screens of millions while also dishing out plenty of laughs. While there have certainly been shows similar in premise since its release, it would be hard to see any show quite compare to Welcome Back, Kotter.