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12 Back-to-School Facts About Welcome Back, Kotter

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When it premiered on September 9, 1975, Welcome Back, Kotter was just another sitcom in ABC’s “new fall season” lineup. The cast was filled with television newcomers, and while the four main “students” had some film and Broadway chops, the star of the series had no acting experience whatsoever. Yet before the first season had ended, kids across America were parroting the mannerisms of Washington, Horshack, et al., the Sweathogs were being marketed in every conceivable medium, and John Travolta signed a $1 million three-picture deal with Robert Stigwood. Not bad for a show that never cracked the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings.

1. THE SERIES WAS INSPIRED BY GABE KAPLAN’S STAND-UP ROUTINE.

Kaplan was a star player on his high school baseball team and dreamed of someday playing in the major leagues. When he tanked at the San Francisco Giants’ spring training camp, he headed back east and took a job as a bellman at a resort hotel in Lakewood, New Jersey. After watching the touring comedians who performed there for a few months, he decided to take a stab at stand-up. He eventually developed a routine based on his experiences in a remedial class at Brooklyn’s New Utrecht High School and took his act on the road. Fellow Brooklynite Alan Sacks, who was working in Los Angeles as the producer of Chico and the Man, caught Kaplan’s performance at The Comedy Store at the urging of Freddie Prinze, and a TV sitcom pitch was born.

2. ANY RESEMBLANCE TO REAL PERSONS WAS STRICTLY INTENTIONAL.

Vinnie Barbarino (originally called “Eddie Barbarini” in the pilot script) was a combination of two real-life people: Kaplan’s fellow Sweathog Eddie Lecarri, and a tough kid named Joey Caluchi that Alan Sacks knew in junior high school. Freddie “Furdy” Peyton inspired Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, and “Epstein the Animal” (as he was known at Kaplan’s alma mater) was transformed into the half Puerto Rican Juan Epstein at the suggestion of ABC’s then-head of programming, Michael Eisner. Only Arnold Horshack’s character retained his real-life counterpart’s name … although the original Arnold was so obnoxious that by the fourth grade, according to Kaplan, even the teachers began calling him “Arnold Horsesh**.”

3. ROBERT HEGYES ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR BARBARINO.

In fact, he thought he’d landed the part until he arrived to shoot the pilot. He got into an elevator with Alan Sacks and John Travolta, and Sacks introduced Travolta to him by saying, “Epstein, this is Barbarino.” “No, no, no” Hegyes corrected him, “I’m Barbarino.” “No,” Sacks repeated, “you’re Epstein, this is Barbarino.” After a brief pause Hegyes asked Sacks, “Do I get the same pay he does?” When he was assured that their salaries were equal, he replied, “OK, it’s fine with me.”

4. THE SHOW WAS SUPPOSED TO BE CALLED SIMPLY KOTTER.

But when former Lovin’ Spoonful singer John Sebastian was commissioned to write the theme song, he found it difficult to find any appropriate words (Otter? Slaughter?) that rhymed with “Kotter.” Instead he composed a tune called “Welcome Back” that evinced a warm, nostalgic feeling of a man returning home to his roots rather than a classroom full of delinquents. The title of the series was duly changed, and “Welcome Back” went on to the top of the Billboard pop chart for one week in May 1976.

5. SOME OF CHARLIE’S ANGELS WANTED TO BE MRS. KOTTER.

Both Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Kate Jackson auditioned for the role of Julie Kotter. Marcia Strassman, the actress who landed the role, became good friends with Jackson, who gifted her with a motorcycle for her 30th birthday. Sadly, not long afterward, Strassman had a nasty accident while riding that left a gash on her cheek that required 10 stitches and eventual plastic surgery to repair.

6. HORSHACK’S LAUGH CAME FROM A SAD PLACE.

Ron Palillo was 10 years old when his father died of lung cancer. He developed a severe stutter as a result of the tragedy, and his mother sent him to acting classes hoping that it would help to correct his speech problem. When Palillo auditioned for the role, he made up the character on the spot and imitated his father’s wheezy, gasping voice as he struggled to breathe during the late stage of his illness to create Horshack’s trademark laugh.

7. THE ORIGINAL CATCHPHRASES WERE MUCH RUDER.

“Up your nose with a rubber hose” as a rejoinder was as ubiquitous as “Kiss my grits” and “Dy-no-mite!” in the late 1970s. The rhyming put-down came from Gabe Kaplan’s stand-up routine; it was called “ranking,” and the most famous rank at his school (usually uttered by Horsesh** when he was at a loss for words) was “Up your hole with a Mello Roll.” (A Mello Roll was an ice cream treat popular in Brooklyn and the Bronx.) The ABC brass decided that the Mello Roll rank, along with the others submitted by Kaplan, was inappropriate for primetime TV, so they softened them a bit. Not that “Off my case, toilet face” was a bouquet of roses.

8. THREE OF THE ACTORS HIT THE BILLBOARD CHARTS WHILE WORKING ON THE SERIES.

Marcia Strassman had tried her hand at a singing career back in 1967 with little success, and John Travolta would go on to have a few hits from the Grease soundtrack. But while Kotter was in its heyday, Travolta and two of his co-stars attempted to launch recording careers: Gabe Kaplan’s novelty single “Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose” made it all the way to #91 in 1977, while Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs’ self-titled album nudged into the lower reaches of the Billboard Soul Chart in 1978. Predictably, John Travolta (who was already heading toward heartthrob status) had the most success, hitting #10 in 1976 with “Let Her In."

9. BOSTON-AREA RESIDENTS MISSED THE FIRST FOUR EPISODES.

When Welcome Back, Kotter premiered in September 1975, racial tensions were running high in Boston due to the court-ordered desegregation of public schools via forced busing. The head of Boston’s ABC affiliate decided that Kotter’s “cast of non-scholastic high schoolers might have an unhealthy influence on local students” and refused to carry the show. Four weeks later it became apparent that the Sweathogs had more in common with the Marx Brothers than with the Crips or Bloods, and the ban was lifted in time for the fifth episode to air.

10. GROUCHO MARX ALMOST MADE A CAMEO.

Gabe Kaplan managed to work his Groucho impersonation into almost every episode, and Robert Hegyes patterned Epstein after Chico Marx, so of course the two were excited when it was announced that Groucho had agreed to do a quick walk-on appearance. Marx was 86 years old at the time and in rapidly failing health. He made it to the studio, but he was barely able to walk (he leaned heavily on his “assistant” Erin Fleming) and seemingly unaware of his surroundings. The producers realized that he was in no shape to go on camera. Instead, he sat in Kaplan’s chair on the set and posed for a few pictures with the cast while Fleming pitched herself for a possible future Kotter appearance. Reportedly Marx’s appearance was so disturbing that the photos were never released.

11. THE FOUR SWEATHOGS WERE MORE POPULAR THAN FONZIE AT ONE TIME.

After the first episode of Welcome Back, Kotter aired, the four previously unknown stars were shocked to find that they couldn’t go out in public without being mobbed. The producers took advantage of their popularity and soon the Sweathogs’ faces were on everything from T-shirts to lunch boxes to board games. The network once had to fly the cast to LAX via helicopter so that they could catch their flight to New York on time. Looking down at the thousands of fans flocked around the airport, Robert Hegyes commented excitedly to Ron Palillo, “Ron! We’re the freakin’ Beatles!!” Palillo, who was more of a feet-firmly-on-the-ground kind of guy, replied, “Bobby, we’re not even the freakin’ Monkees.”

12. THERE WAS SOME SERIOUS DISSENT BEHIND THE SCENES.

The first rumblings of discontent came from Marcia Strassman, who realized by season two that her role as Mrs. Kotter was basically asking Gabe “And then what happened?” while he regaled her with one of his many stories about one of his many relatives. “I pray every day for a cancellation,” she told People magazine in 1978.

Kaplan was in a power struggle with producer James Komack, who fired most of the writing staff who’d been with the show from the start at the beginning of season four and hired the writing team from The Carol Burnett Show. Kaplan objected to the shift from high school student/teacher issues to more slapstick/blackout sketch comedy and he appeared in only a handful of episodes during the final season as a result.

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
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Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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6 Surprising Facts About Nintendo's Animal Crossing

by Ryan Lambie

Animal Crossing is one of the most unusual series of games Nintendo has ever produced. Casting you as a newcomer in a woodland town populated by garrulous and sometimes eccentric creatures, Animal Crossing is about conversation, friendship, and collecting things rather than competition or shooting enemies. It’s a formula that has grown over successive generations, with the 3DS version now one of the most popular games available for that system—which is all the more impressive, given the game’s obscure origins almost 15 years ago. Here are a few things you might not have known about the video game.

1. ITS INSPIRATION CAME FROM AN UNLIKELY PLACE.

By the late 1990s, Katsuya Eguchi had already worked on some of Nintendo’s greatest games. He’d designed the levels for the classic Super Mario Bros 3. He was the director of Star Fox (or Star Wing, as it was known in the UK), and the designer behind the adorable Yoshi’s Story. But Animal Crossing was inspired by Eguchi’s experiences from his earlier days, when he was a 21-year-old graduate who’d taken the decisive step of moving from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, where he’d grown up and studied, to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.

Eguchi wanted to recreate the feeling of being alone in a new town, away from friends and family. “I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008. Receiving letters from your mother, getting a job (from the game’s resident raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook), and gradually filling your empty house with furniture and collectibles all sprang from Eguchi’s memories of first moving to Kyoto.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED FOR THE N64.

Although Animal Crossing would eventually become best known as a GameCube title—to the point where many assume that this is where the series began—the game actually appeared first on the N64. First developed for the ill-fated 64DD add-on, Animal Crossing (or Doubutsu no Mori, which translates to Animal Forest) was ultimately released as a standard cartridge. But by the time Animal Crossing emerged in Japan in 2001, the N64 was already nearing the end of its lifespan, and was never localized for a worldwide release.

3. TRANSLATING THE GAME FOR AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE WAS A DIFFICULT TASK.

The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was released in Japan in December 2001, about eight months after the N64 edition. Thanks to the added capacity of the console’s discs, they could include characters like Tortimer or Blathers that weren’t in the N64 iteration, and Animal Crossing soon became a hit with Japanese critics and players alike.

Porting Animal Crossing for an international audience would prove to be a considerable task, however, with the game’s reams of dialogue and cultural references all requiring careful translation. But the effort that writers Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower put into the English-language version would soon pay off; Nintendo’s bosses in Japan were so impressed with the additional festivals and sheer personality present in the western version of Animal Crossing that they decided to have that version of the game translated back into Japanese. This new version of the game, called Doubutsu no Mori e+, was released in 2003.

4. K.K. SLIDER IS BASED ON ON THE GAME'S COMPOSER.

One of Animal Crossing’s most recognizable and popular characters is K.K. Slider, the laidback canine musician. He’s said to be based, both in looks and name, on Kazumi Totaka, the prolific composer and voice actor who co-wrote Animal Crossing’s music. In the Japanese version of Animal Crossing, K.K. Slider is called Totakeke—a play on the real musician’s name. K.K. Slider’s almost as prolific as Totaka, too: Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS contains a total of 91 tracks performed by the character.

5. ONE CHARACTER HAS BEEN KNOWN TO MAKE PLAYERS CRY.

A more controversial character than K.K. Slider, Mr. Resetti is an angry mole created to remind players to save the game before switching off their console. And the more often players forget to save their game, the angrier Mr. Resetti gets. Mr. Resetti’s anger apparently disturbed some younger players, though, as Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s project leader Aya Kyogoku revealed in an interview with Nintendo's former president, the late Satoru Iwata.

“We really weren't sure about Mr. Resetti, as he really divides people," Kyogoku said. “Some people love him, of course, but there are others who don't like being shouted at in his rough accent.”

“It seems like younger female players, in particular, are scared,” Iwata agreed. “I've heard that some of them have even cried.”

To avoid the tears, Mr. Resetti plays a less prominent role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and only appears if the player first builds a Reset Surveillance Centre. Divisive though he is, Mr. Resetti’s been designed and written with as much care as any of the other characters in Animal Crossing; his first name’s Sonny, he has a brother called Don and a cousin called Vinnie, and he prefers his coffee black with no sugar.

6. THE SERIES IS STILL EVOLVING.

Since its first appearance in 2001, the quirky and disarming Animal Crossing has grown to encompass toys, a movie, and no fewer than four main games (or five if you count the version released for the N64 as a separate entry). All told, the Animal Crossing games have sold more than 30 million copies, and the series is still growing. In late 2017, the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released for iOS and Android. It's a big step for the franchise, as Nintendo is famously selective about which of its series get a mobile makeover. A game once inspired by the loneliness of moving to a new town has now become one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises.

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