Mr. T And Tina and Welcome Back, Kotter

Mr. T And Tina (1976)
Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-1979)
Type: Spin Off

   Hey, remember when beloved Pat Morita played a big, black, gold chain wearing, mohawked tough guy? Running around shouting out, "I pity the fool!" Remember that? Well then you are high ‘cause it never happened. But Pat Morita was the original Mr. T. Nobody cared about Mr. T until Mr. T became Mr. T but still...

   In 1975, Welcome Back, Kotter premiered and became a national craze. It told the story of Gabe Kotter, a teacher who returned to his old high school in Brooklyn to teach the worst troublemakers, The Sweathogs. When he went to the school, Gabe had been a Sweathog. The Sweathogs became icons: Vinnie Barbarino the not-so-bright chick magnet played by John Travolta (who became insanely famous); Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington the black, smooth talker; Juan Epstein the Jewish Puerto Rican con-man who had a "note from his mother" for everything (all signed, "Signed Epstein's Mother") and Arnold Horshack who had a loud laugh like a dying seal and who would shout out, "Ooh! Ooh ooh ooh!!!" every time he raised his hand to answer a question. The show also spawned about a billion catch phrases. There were insult jokes - up your nose with a rubber hose, off my case potato face - and the each character had his own unique catch phrases.

   Anyway the show was huuuge. Sadly it didn't stay huge. There was quite a power struggle behind the scenes between the series star Gabe Kaplan and the writers. The writers won and we lost. The humor went from edgy and cool to cheesy lame. And Mr. Kotter? The title character? He was almost entirely written out of the series in its later episodes. They basically stripped the show of what made it work. Good idea, guys!

   But, like I said, initially the show was amazingly popular. Going into the second season of the show, the makers of Welcome Back, Kotter created another show and used Kotter to launch it. Mr. T And Tina told the story of Taro Takahashi (Mr. T) a Japanese inventor who was transferred by his company from Japan to Chicago. Mr. T's family moved with him. Tina was Mr. T's All-American-Girl housekeeper who brought a whole different cultural point of view into Mr. T's traditional Japanese household. That was when hilarity was supposed to ensue. But... it didn't. It was kinda bad. I remember watching it. I was about seven and I can remember thinking it wasn't very good. And at that age, I'd laugh at anything. ANYTHING. For seven year old me to look at a show and go, "Meh," there was something wrong going on with it.

   To attract some attention to there new show, the creators threw Mr. T into the second season premiere of Welcome Back, Kotter. Amazingly smart move, really. The second season premiere of the hottest sitcom on TV? Could more people be watching? Then Mr. T And Tina would premiere shortly afterwards with, hopefully, tons of people tuning in.

   Mr. T showed up for Buchanan High's career day to show the students his inventions. The Sweathogs were less than impressed and more than rude. Mr. Kotter had to straighten them up and in the process managed to impress Mr. T who offered him a job working for him. Mr. Kotter was tempted but, realizing taking the job would ruin the premise of his show, he declined. So Gabe stayed in New York and Mr. T headed off to Chicago his own show and oblivion. Mr. T and Tina only lasted about a month.

   Since Mr. T first appeared on Welcome Back, Kotter I'm counting this as a spin off. But I'm not sure how true that is. I get the feeling Mr. T And Tina was created entirely independent of Welcome Back, Kotter and that his appearance on that show was something thought of after the fact. In other spin off cases where characters are introduced for one episode on one show and then scooted off into their own show, usually that first appearance is the actual genesis of the show, an under the radar pilot hat gets things rolling. That's not the case here. Still, the Kotter appearance was first so...

   Pat Morita jumped ship from the hit show Happy Days to star in Mr. T and Tina. I understand why. I mean, he was trading up from being a supporting player to being the star of his own show! Still, he should've stayed on Happy Days.

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