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Head Of The Class aired from September 1986 until June 1991 on ABC.
This popular comedy was the flip side of Welcome Back Kotter. Instead of underachieving "sweathogs," its focus was the overachieving honors students at Manhatan's Monroe High School. They were so brainy, in fact, that most of their former teachers had just read books while they taught themselves. Enter substitute teacher Charlie Moore ( Howard Hesseman), who realized that while these kids were long on facts, they were painfully short on maturity, and could use a few lessons from " the book of life" before they faced the real world.
Dr. Samuels ( William G. Schilling) was the principal, wary of Charlie's disruption of academic routine but generally supportive; and Bernadette ( Jeannetta Arnette), the energetic assistant principal. The class included Arvid ( Dan Frischman), the class nerd with glasses, pocket slide rule, and polyester pants; Maria ( Leslie Bega), so driven that when she got a "B" she grounded herself; Simone ( Khrysryne Haje), the poet; Jawaharlal ( Jory Husain), the word-mangling exchange student; Sarah ( Kimberly Russell), the artistic one; Eric ( Brian Robbins), the " cool dude" who hated being so smart that he was put in with the geeks; Janice ( Tannis Vallely), a 12-year old genius who hadn't had time to grow up; Alan ( Tony O'Dell), the proto-yuppie Republican; Darlene ( Robin Givens), the uptown rich girl; and Dennis ( Daniel J. Schneider), the chunky chemistry whiz who was overly fond of pizza.
Turnover in the cast was gradual and many of these fast-track students stayed in class for the full five-year run. Three of them didn't however. In the fall of 1989 Maria ( transfering to a performing arts school), Jawaharlal, and Janice ( who went to Harvard) all left the cast. They were replaced by Alex Torres ( Michael Delorenzo)a transfer from an all-boys school; beautiful Viki ( Lara Piper); and artistic Aristotle ( De'Voreaux White). Another notable addition was T.J.( played by Comedian Richard Pryor's daughter, Rain Pryor), a remedial-ed " problem student" whose slow learning had more to do with attitude than intelligence , and who ultimately fought her way into the IHP.
In the spring of 1990 a new Asian student, Jasper ( Jonathan Kwong) became the newest member the IHP.
Oddly Mr. Moore left before most of the students did, moving on in 1990 to pursue his dream of an acting career. He was replaced by free-spirited Scottsman Billy MacGregor ( Billy Connolly), who was more of a standup comic than the sometimes grumpy Moore.
Highlights of later seasons included a trip to Moscow ( Class was apparently the first American entertainment series ever to film an episode there-although some news programs and specials -such as Candid Camera in 1961-had preceded it), and another to the Johnson Space Center in Houston , where Arvid and Dennis placed an experiment on the Space Shuttle. The class also mounted full-scale musical productions of Little Shop of Horrors ( 1989) and Hair ( 1990). They all finally graduated in 1991 as the school, which had been renamed Millard Fillmore High School was about to be torn down. The following season Billy Connolly continued his role as Billy McGregor in a short-lived ABC sitcom called Billy.
The series was created by Michael Elias and Rich Eustis; Elias had actually served as a substitute teacher in the New York City school system while struggling to make it as an actor.
A Review from The New York Times
TV REVIEWS; HESSEMAN IN 'HEAD OF THE CLASS'
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: September 17, 1986
HOWARD HESSEMAN has perfected the look of someone who has survived the assorted countercultures of the 1960's with a touch of pride and a hint of resignation to the dreariness of the present. On the former series ''WKRP in Cincinnati,'' his Johnny Fever, the spaced-out disk jockey in dark glasses, was still hung over from the days of Haight-Ashbury and Timothy Leary. In fact, way back then, Mr. Hesseman was a member of San Francisco's Committee, an improvisational theater group, and did indeed spin records, as the phrase went, on an underground rock station.
Now Mr. Hesseman is in a new situation comedy called ''Head of the Class,'' making its debut on ABC at 8:30 this evening, and he is the primary reason this series could be the monster hit of the season. This time he is portraying Charlie Moore, a substitute teacher in a New York City high school. At first glance, Charlie is your basic nondescript citizen, slightly tweedy, rumpled and gray around the edges. But there, hanging over the back of his collar, is a telltale ''rat's tail,'' a slender cord of hair that is just long enough to let passers-by know that the rebel in his soul still grooves, albeit discreetly.
Arriving at the school for what is supposed to be only a day or two, Charlie is informed that he has already missed the Pledge of Allegiance. ''That's all right,'' he says, ''I did that at home.'' He then enters a classroom that looks like a hand-me-down from ''Welcome Back, Kotter'' and its many imitators, but there is a clever difference. Instead of having to contend with a cross section of average students, heavily larded with dese-and-dose routines, Charlie finds himself confronting the assorted geeks and nerds of the Individualized Honors Program. These youngsters are so smart that most substitute teachers simply read a magazine and let them proceed with their advanced studies. Charlie, though, has the impression that he might be able to teach them something.
With Michael Elias and Rich Eustis as the executive producers and writers of the premiere episode, ''Head of the Class'' discovers that although these students have minds that might humble computers, they are in danger of becoming social misfits. They can give Charlie all the relevant facts concerning the Cuban missile crisis, but the prospect of going to a school dance overwhelms them. ''It's dehumanizing to women and I am not going to have any part of it,'' sniffs one wizard. Charlie, of course, good old Charlie, sets about showing this unusual gang how to be human.
He also sneaks in an offbeat lesson or two. His wards do not know, for instance, the significance of the common baseball in the Cuban missile crisis. Charlie explains that Fidel Castro was once an aspiring pitcher and that if he had not been rejected by the major leagues, he would not have gone into politics. Ridiculous, the students insist, that's like saying if Ronald Reagan had been a better actor, we'd never have had the ''Star Wars'' Strategic Defense Initiative. ''Well?'' drawls Charlie happily, watching them ponder his point for the day.
Directed by John Tracy, this first episode of ''Head of the Class'' skips along brightly as Mr. Hesseman gets first-rate support from the younger cast members: Dan Frischman as Arvid, the gangling clown with the large eyeglasses; Leslie Bega as Maria, who has grounded herself for getting a B in one course; Daniel J. Schneider as Dennis, a kind of quart-sized John Candy ''with a deep commitment to lasagna,'' and Brian Robbins as Eric, the John Travolta type who finds being so smart an embarrassment. Depending on future scripts, of course, they could all wind up in television's giant garbage bin for failed series about teachers and students. But ''Head of the Class'' is off to a spiffy start. In tandem with ''Perfect Strangers,'' which is shown at 8 P.M., it could give ABC this season's brightest hour of sitcoms.
An Article From TV Guide ( May 16-22, 1987 Ed).
A Teacher Learns His Lesson
Goodbye Dr. Johnny Fever of WKRP! Howard Hesseman's new role in Head of the Class has helped him straighten out his personal life
By Jeff Kaye
Howard Hesseman stands in the foyer of his pink Hollywood hills home wearing a navy-blue swimsuit and a fluffy towel around his sholders. A smoking cigarette dangles from his lips and a yard-long grasshopper-shaped chandelier is suspended from the ceiling overhead.
" I just got off the massage table," he says, running his hand through a tangle of blond hair. " I'm going to go jump into the jacuzzi."
He peers into the dining room, obviously impatient. " Is my secretary around here somewhere?"
He's already spent an hour this Friday morning working out with his personal trainer by the backyard pool. He's only got a few minutes for a whirlpool if he's going to make it to the Burbank Studios by 11 A.M. to begin preparations for tonight's taping of his ABC sitcom, Head of the Class.
Hadwig, his Swiss secretary, finally appears and Hesseman pads through the quirky elegance of his living room-the walls were painted by an imported New York artist with a 1-inch brush-to soak.
The whirlwind of the show has transformed Hesseman; he's busy building up his biceps and keeping pace with a pack of young co-stars.
" I discovered that I like a little more schedule in my life than I thought I did," he says. " I like getting up at about the same time every morning."
For several years before Head, the heaviest commitmants in Hesseman's day were to his garden, his travel agent and his therapists. There were occasional movie roles and a brief stint on CBS's One Day at a Time. He made trips to Europe and Asia. He walked his dogs.
The first TV series in which Hesseman had a major role, WKRP in Cincinnati, died in 1982 and the actor, who played the cool and enigmatic disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever, was adrift with notions of becoming a movie star. Just one month before the cancellation, his mother died after a long battle with cancer .
" I really didn't look at the emotional effect that either event had on me," he recalls. " I felt I was prepared for both things and took them in stride."
" Then I began to sense that perhaps I was sitting on something that it would better serve me to express. There seemed to be a lot of repressed hostility, repressed resentment, repressed sadness in my life."
" Once I started thinking about it, it was easy to connect that up with the cancellation of the show and the death of my mother. It took me a year or so before I acknowledged the painful vacuum created by the cancellation of WKRP-that I missed those people, that I missed the character, and that I missed the admittedly retentive quality of series work."
So Hesseman started seeing therapists-at one point, two for him alone and one for him and his live-in girl friend French-born actress Caroline Ducrocq. He had begun his metamorphosis earlier by giving up drugs.
" That was a major change," he adds , explaining that he " just wanted to see what it was like" and discovered " I like it better."
Johnny Fever vanished, taking the mustache, the shades, the roadie jacket and " Hey man" slur with him. His replacement, teacher and sometime actor/director Charlie Moore, is an affable, clean-shaven grown-up in pressed slacks; a former 60's activist determined to show a class of adolescent geniuses that there's more to life than grade-point averages.
" Johnny didn't get into overt emotional exchanges with people," explains Hesseman, 47. " He was a loner, an outlaw, a fringe participant, so it was easy for him to lay back and snipe.
" I think Charlie senses the wisdom of some kind of balance. He's trying to get these kids to come out of the emotional closet."
A contemlative drag on a cigarette brings a final analysis, for the moment, Hesseman has himself on the couch.
" There's some of me in both characters," he allows. " A lot of me is like Johnny and I'm discovering that the more I pursue Charlie Moore, there is more to me that is willing to participate, that wants an open exchange."
During a five-minute break on the Head of the Class set, Hesseman labors at the chalkboard doing a bit of decorative adlibbing. He steps away to reveal a list: " JFK-63, Malcolm X-65, RFK-68." The roster of assasinations is a realistic touch for the cameras, the kind of flourish that executive producers Michael Elias and Rich Eustis had hoped Hesseman, a true 60's relic, would bring to the show.
In another episode , Charlie Moore tells a student about the time he performed nude on-stage. Sure enough, hanging in his memento room at home is an old photograph of Hesseman, long-haired and almost completely undraped under the bright lights.
Says Elias, " We wanted the teacher to be not a burnout case, but someone who could say, ' It's not bad to occasionally question authority.' We wanted Howard."
Hesseman's reputation as a rebel dates back to the early '60's when as a college dropout from Salem, Ore., he wound up in San Francisco. He performed in non-Equity theater, worked in a coffeehouse, hung out in jazz joints and did a stint as an underground disc jockey. Eventually, he found success as a member of the improvisational comedy ensemble The Committee.
Years of Committee performances on the road and in Los Angeles and San Francisco, led to film and television roles, which led, in 1978 , to Johnny Fever, cult status and a very comfortable Mediterranean-style home.
Freelancing between WKRP and Head brought Hesseman roles in such films as " Dr. Detroit," Police Academy 2" and " Clue." But the work didn't bring him any particular acclaim.
" My movie career wasn't going as well as I might have hoped," he confesses.
More than a year ago, Hesseman , who had said publicly after WKRP that he was through with TV-series work, spread word around Hollywood that he was interested in returning.
" Television seemed interested in me," he says. " I'm of some value to them." And he admits, " The money is nice doing a series."
He signed on with Head-a sort of Welcome Back, Kotter with honors students replacing the hoodlums-after reading the pilot script.
" Realistically there are limitations in network TV-extraordinary and considerably negative, inhibiting limitations," says Hesseman. " We are all just basically walking and talking to kill time between commercials."
But Head, he adds, " seemed to offer some real potential within the limited framework of half-hour situation comedy on network tv." On one episode a joke is based on the nine levels of Hell in Dante's Inferno. " I love jokes that are for three guys in the back of the theater," says Hesseman with pride. " There's a real danger in trying to make sure everybody gets the joke. All the edges get rounded off and then its like any other show.
" I personally don't want to do that kind of stuff."
A veteran actor in the midst of a youthful cast, Hesseman plays the Moore role even when the cameras aren't rolling.
" Charlie Moore is a tender person and Howard is the same way," says Robin Givens, who is Darlene Merriman on Head.
During rehearsal, Hesseman stops frequently to ease the kids through emotional or carefully timed comedic bits.
" Do you feel comfortable staying there and not walking out of the room?" Hesseman asks Tony O'Dell, who as Alan Pinkard, snobby, conservative genius, must blow up at Moore in this episode.
" Not really."
" What would make you feel more comfortable?"
Hesseman is patient, he is Howard the acting coach, between turns as Charlie, the substitute teacher.
" He could be very intimidating if he wanted to," says Khrystyne Haje, who plays sweet, poetic genius Simone Foster on the show. " But he's supportive and nurturing instead."
Maturity and compassion were not traits Hesseman always brought to the set, recall former colleagues from WKRP.
" He definately was not nurturing," says WKRP creator Hugh Wilson. " He was the devil's advocate on everything."
Adds Bill Dial, a WKRP writer-producer, " Howard got into some disagreements and conflicts with producers from time to time. I think more against CBS than anything else. He felt like he was on a one-man crusade against Standards and Practices.
The ex-WKRPers, who have remained friends with Hesseman, attribute the changes at least partially to the new character he plays.
" Fever was angry," says Dial. " His new character is more in control."
While Hesseman has managed to collect some of the accouterments of a successful actor-like a closetful of Armani suits and he quips " enough shoes to shod an emerging nation"-he has maintained the politics of a self-described " pacifist-anarchist."
" I don't advocate violent, destructive behavior," Hesseman says of his stance, " but I do think you have the right to say what you think about the issues."
In his case, this has meant raising money for medical supplies for leftist rebels in El Salvador and helping launch the Great Peace March from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.
An anti-apartheid poster by artist and friend Keith Haring is part of Hesseman's classroom set; a button with the same message is a frequent accessory to his wardrobe.
Hesseman says he hasn't felt any " official" pressure to stifle his views, " but that's not to say that people as individuals don't say, ' Don't you think you ought to give this some thought?'"
In his trailer for lunch, Hesseman goes through some of his mail while Hadwig heats the vegetable soup that Caroline packed for him that morning. He's happy, positively buoyant, in fine European linens and white aerobic shoes. All the personal remodling-the visits to the chiropractor , the therapy sessions, the daily swims and " cardiovascular suicidal movies" with the trainer-is having an effect.
" I'm tempted not to send a card back to anyone who addresses me as Howie, you know what I mean?" he says with mock disgust, a letter in hand. Feigning resignation, he sighs and then scribbles his signature on a photograph of himself and sticks it on a pile of envelopes that Hadwig will mail out later.
In the next letter, a down-and-out fan asks Hesseman to get him a job on the show.
" To my mind, most people aren't going to try that approach," Hesseman says. " Although," he jokes, " I have."
A letter from 97-year old Norman requests an autographed photo of Hesseman for his older sister.
Hadwig interupts with a list of chores. Does he want pest-control people in his house? ( No. Too much poison.) Does he want a new top for his ' 64 Olds convertable? ( Yes. And have them check out the Mustang.) How does he get a replacement for the giant cedar that was struck dead by lightning in his back yard?( The tree people haul one in by crane or helicopter.)
Hesseman zips through the mundane decisions, business calls and photo signing while reading letters out loud in weired dialects and talking back to the mostly adoring correspondents.
A knock on the door means there's time for one last letter. This one is long and neatly typewritten from a guy named Jerry, who can't say enough good things about Howard. Hesseman reads it and straightens the tiny " rattail" in his hair.
" He's very accurate in his flattery," deadpans the new, improved Howard Hesseman. Healthy, radiant, and on schedule, he's on his well-shod feet and out the door.
An Article from The New York Times
Review/Television; 'Head of the Class' Goes to Moscow
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: November 2, 1988
The new Soviet openness creeps into prime-time entertainment as the ''Head of the Class'' gang makes a trip to Moscow to debate their Russian counterparts in a special hourlong show at 8:30 tonight. The series, you may remember, stars Howard Hesseman (''WKRP in Cincinnati'') as Charlie Moore, a teacher who finds himself in charge of a class of advanced students at Monroe High School in Manhattan. These students have higher I.Q.'s than their teachers, a situation that has led to countless weeks of wisecracks and ratings success for ABC.
Arriving in Moscow on an Aeroflot plane, the students are urged by their competitive principal, Dr. Samuels (William G. Shilling), to ''study, study, study'' and prepare to ''meet the enemy.'' Our irrepressibles, of course, with Mr. Moore's support, soon find a way to get some time off for exploring the city.
The nerdy Arvid (Dan Frischman) and the fat Dennis (Daniel Schneider) head for the space museum, but are sidetracked by two local girls who, the boys are convinced, could be K.G.B. agents. And Darlene (Robin Givens) and Maria (Leslie Bega) decide to produce a videotape that is turning out to be a touristy cliche of themselves standing in front of famous sites. And so on.
The point, naturally, is that our brash Americans will confront some of their misconceptions about the Soviet Union and, in return, perhaps give the Russians something to think about. A very attractive Russian teacher, for instance, tells an admiring Mr. Moore what she believes about Americans: everybody is in debt, there is no culture and everybody owns a gun. Mr. Moore laughs, but rather uneasily as he points out that only one in four Americans owns a gun.
Alan (Tony O'Dell), who is already committed to the Young Americans for Freedom and is aiming for a career as chairman of a corporate board, meets an equally bright and ambitious young Communist. Alan, archly: ''I would like to congratulate you on your rudimentary knowledge of English.'' Ivan, sneering: ''I would like to sympathize with you on your complete ignorance of Russian.'' There are, obviously, little lessons embedded in the fairly standard sitcom banter.
There is even some pointed humor. On a visit to St. Basil's Cathedral, the story is told that Ivan the Terrible thought the building was so beautiful that he had the architects blinded. Not missing a beat, Mr. Moore adds, ''I think they're all working now for Donald Trump.''
An element of innocence is woven through much of this student-exchange enthusiasm. Visiting Chekhov's grave, the beautiful Simone (Khrystyne Haje) gasps, ''How beautiful!'' and almost swoons when a young musician quotes the playwright in the original Russian. But there's no knocking the good intentions, the laudable effort to make contact and understand each other. The Russian teacher confides to Mr. Moore that she now wants her students to ''get used to this new openess.'' With Richard Eustis and Michael Elias as executive producers, ''Head of the Class'' makes a modest but diverting contribution to the still evolving situation.
An Article from USA TODAY
Published on September 11, 1990
'Class' gets a new head this season
By Jefferson Graham
HOLLYWOOD-Last spring, ABC had only bad things to say about Head of the Class.
" The perception at the network was that the show...had run its course," says executive producer Michael Elias.
Because ABC, in more upbeat times, had agreed to a two-year renewal, the network was stuck with Class, relagating it to midseason status.
But thanks to Connie Sellecca and producer Ed Weinberger, Head is back tonight at 8:30, airing between hits Who's the Boss? and Roseanne.
When Weinberger dumped Sellecca as star of the new Baby Talk, ABC pulled it off the fall lineup, putting Class in its place.
" People who tune in will see a new Head of the Class," says Elias. Literally. Howard Hesseman is gone, replaced by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.
Elias and partner Rich Eustis tried to sign Howie Mandel to no avail. They set after Connolly , whom they saw on HBO.
" He has a Robin Williams quality to him," says Elias. " Howard was a straight man to the kids. Billy is more aggressively funny."
The season opener introduces the new teacher, and centers on their reactions to Charlie Moore ( Howard's character) leaving.
The show is in its fifth season and as such, the students-including Robin Givens, Khrystyne Haje and Dan Frishchman-should have graduated.
This year ,perhaps sensing finality, the students are all seniors, and stories will deal with getting into college and what they'll do with their lives.
And if Class is renewed?
Says Elias," We could always ...have the kids come back as student teacher."
For a Page dedicated to Head of the Class go to http://nostalgiacentral.com/television/tv-by-decade/tv-shows-1980s/head-class/
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20061112171016/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/headoftheclass.html
For some Head Of The Class-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/head-class
For a Review of Head of the Class go to https://web.archive.org/web/20111225223137/http://www.televisionheaven-usa.com/overview2.htm#head
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Keywords: Head of Class Cast (Links Updated 7/18/18)