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Head of the Class

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Head of the Class
Head of the Class (title card).jpg
GenreSitcom
Created byMichael Elias
Richard Eustis
StarringHoward Hesseman
Billy Connolly
Theme music composerEd Alton
Composer(s)Ed Alton
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes114 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Michael Elias
Rich Eustis
Producer(s)Alan Rosen
Frank Pace
Larry Spencer
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time22–24 minutes
Production company(s)Eustis/Elias Productions
Warner Bros. Television
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original networkABC
Original releaseSeptember 17, 1986 (1986-09-17) –
June 25, 1991 (1991-06-25)
Chronology
Related showsBilly

Head of the Class is an American sitcom that ran from 1986 to 1991 on the ABC television network.[1][2]

The series follows a group of gifted students in the Individualized Honors Program (IHP) at the fictional Millard Fillmore High School in Manhattan, and their history teacher Charlie Moore (Howard Hesseman). The program was ostensibly a vehicle for Hesseman, best known for his role as radio DJ Dr. Johnny Fever on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (1978–1982). Hesseman left Head of the Class in 1990 and was replaced by Scottish personality Billy Connolly (in his first major American production) as teacher Billy MacGregor for the final season. After the series ended, Connolly appeared in a short-lived spin-off titled Billy.

The series was created and executive produced by Richard Eustis and Michael Elias. Eustis had previously worked as a New York City substitute teacher while hoping to become an actor.

Synopsis[edit]

Head of the Class is mainly set in the classroom of academically gifted high school students, all in the Individualized Honors Program at Millard Fillmore High School in New York City. (Exterior shots of the school were of NYC's Washington Irving High School[3].) As the series opens, Charlie Moore has been assigned as a substitute teacher to the IHP class.

The teachers and school administrators seen regularly are:

  • Charles P. "Charlie" Moore (Howard Hesseman), a dedicated, if unorthodox history teacher who is committed to ensuring his genius-level students succeed academically while also gaining emotional intelligence. He originally came to NYC to pursue acting, and maintains an interest in theatre throughout the run of the show. He leaves the school after season 4, having landed the lead role in a touring production of Death of a Salesman.
  • William C. "Billy" MacGregor (Billy Connolly), Mr. Moore's replacement in season 5. A cheerful Scotsman, Billy is more brash and energetic than his often laid-back predecessor, but is equally concerned with his students' overall well-being.
  • Dr. Harold Samuels (William G. Schilling), the blustery, overweight principal of Filmore High. Dr. Samuels created the IHP program, and is very protective of it, while relishing the students' achievements and valuing the prestige they bring to the school. He also distrusts the teaching methods of both Charlie and Billy, concerned that these methods – which often involve helping the IHP students branch out of their comfort zones, as well as using unorthodox methods of teaching the class subject at hand – might distract them too much from their studies.
  • Bernadette Meara (Jeannetta Arnette), the sometimes flirty but level-headed assistant principal. There is some romantic tension between Ms. Meara and Charlie, and she later has a romantic friendship with Billy.

Head of the Class deals with an entire classroom of academically gifted high school students. The IHP students comprise a diverse range of personalities, ethnicities, and academic specialties. For the first three years of the show, the IHP class has ten students:

  • Arvid Engen (Dan Frischman), a generally upbeat, skinny, bespectacled nerd. Arvid is a mathematics expert, and budding scientist.
  • Dennis Blunden (Dan Schneider), an overweight, wisecracking computer whiz whose fields are chemistry and physics. Cynical, prone to playing sometimes cruel practical jokes, and not always entirely ethical, Dennis has a knack for getting the socially inept Arvid involved in various schemes.
  • Alan Pinkard (Tony O'Dell), an ultra-conservative preppy and egotist; his area of expertise is political science and he is a devout fan of Ronald Reagan. Alan competes for the highest grades in the class with Darlene.
  • Darlene Merriman (Robin Givens), a spoiled rich girl who is probably even more self-centered than Alan and whose specialties are speech and debate. Both Alan and Darlene held the ambition of being named class valedictorian.
  • Sarah Nevins (Kimberly Russell), who did not appear in the pilot. Cheerful and well-liked, unlike most of the rest of the class Sarah does not seem to have any one particular area of expertise. (She does mention her ambition to be a doctor.) Sarah's the most down-to-earth of the IHP class and was once cited as having the lowest G.P.A.
  • Maria Borges (Leslie Bega), who is very passionate about getting A's, going as far as grounding herself in the pilot episode for getting a 'B'. Though initially wanting to be a psychiatrist, she eventually decides she wants to be a singer.
  • Jawaharlal Choudhury (Jory Husain aka Joher Coleman), a recently-arrived student from India whose expertise is natural science.
  • Janice Lazarotto (Tannis Vallely), despite being only 10, is in high school and the IHP class because of her advanced intellect. She is already qualified to enter Harvard, and is in fact deluged with admissions offers from colleges, but her parents insist Janice attend high school in order to mature emotionally.
  • Simone Foster (Khrystyne Haje) a quiet, sensitive redhead with a particular fondness for poetry. A notable development in the show is the relationship between Simone and Eric.
  • Eric Mardian (Brian Robbins), an aspiring writer and, outwardly, the most unlikely member of the IHP. Eric wears black leather, drives a motorcycle, acts tough, and ostensibly dislikes anything academic (to Dr. Samuels's delight, he is the only one in the class not on the academic team, although he would never leave the IHP). Eric constantly hits on Simone (on whom he has a crush) and the two eventually have an on-again-off-again romance.

Also seen in a recurring role during seasons 1 and 2 is Marcia Christie as Lori Applebaum. Lori is an attractive Fillmore High student who is not in the IHP; Arvid has an ongoing crush on her.

There was some turnover in the cast in seasons four and five. At the beginning of season 4, it is announced that Janice -- despite being younger than the others -- has been accepted to Harvard as a sophomore, and has left the school. It's also established that Maria transferred to Performing Arts High School, and Jawaharlal moved to California with his family. (Two season 4 episodes were actually leftover from season 3; these three characters appear in these "leftover" episodes.) New students in the IHP include:

  • Aristotle McKenzie (De'voreaux White), an aspiring filmmaker described by Dennis as "an extra from Do the Right Thing" for his dreadlocks.
  • Viki Amory (Lara Piper), a new-ager interested in quantum physics and skin-revealing clothing.
  • Alex Torres (Michael DeLorenzo), an aspiring archaeologist and self-styled ladies' man who transferred from parochial school.
  • Theola June "T.J." Jones (Rain Pryor), who had first appeared as a potential IHP member in season three, and is seen frequently thereafter. She is eventually added to the cast partway through season 4. T.J., who had a chip-on-her-shoulder attitude, was originally in the remedial class at Fillmore before proving she had the capacity to join the IHP.
  • Jasper Kwong (Jonathan Ke Quan) is introduced as a new transfer student late in season 4.

At the beginning of season 5, it's announced that Mr. Moore got his big break, accepting the lead role in a touring version of Death of a Salesman, and has quit teaching. Billy McGregor becomes Mr. Moore's replacement. The students are now in their final year of high school, and as the series concludes, Fillmore High School is slated for demolition immediately after graduation. The entire class graduates, with Dennis getting accepted at MIT, Arvid at Cal Tech, and Alan at Harvard. On-again off-again couple Simone and Eric, who had become engaged, decide to cancel their engagement and go their separate ways, though they don't discount the possibility of getting back together after they finish college. As well, Janice unexpectedly turns up for the graduation ceremony, as she had never formally received her high school diploma. (By this point, she had already graduated from Harvard, and was lining up a job interview at IBM.) The series concluded with the class all receiving their diplomas.

In the series, the students often faced off against the rival Bronx High School of Science. Also, in every season, the IHP students produced the school musical. Musicals staged by the students included Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, and Hair. A number of someday-famous actors made appearances on the show, including Brad Pitt.[4]

Show open[edit]

The opening of the show features various New York landmarks as well as Charlie Moore's journey to work every day. He hitches a ride on the back of a truck, grabs a hot dog for breakfast, is unable to use the subway due to a fire, and cannot find a taxi to take him to the school, forcing him to walk out of frustration. Charlie arrives late to class to the chagrin of Dr. Samuels but once he enters the classroom, his expression immediately brightens as he sees the students. The opening was changed for the final season, after Hesseman had left the show.

Cast[edit]

Regular characters[edit]

  • Charles P. "Charlie" Moore – Howard Hesseman (1986–1990; Seasons 1–4) is the history and social studies teacher who teaches the honors program to intellectual geniuses and help them aim for their dreams.
  • Billy MacGregor – Billy Connolly (1990–1991; Season 5) took over Mr. Moore's class in season 5. He is from Scotland and just like Mr. Moore he helps them aim for their stars.
  • Harold Samuels – William G. Schilling (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5) is the high school principal and also like a pushy academic parent who wants their IHP students to win academic bowl. He is Mr. Moore's boss and friend.
  • Bernadette Meara – Jeannetta Arnette (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5) is the vice principal or secretary of the school and is friends with Charlie Moore.
  • Maria Borges – Leslie Bega (1986–1989; Seasons 1–3)
  • Arvid Engen – Dan Frischman (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5)
  • Darlene Merriman – Robin Givens (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5)
  • Simone Foster – Khrystyne Haje (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5)
  • Jawaharlal Choudhury – Jory Husain (aka Joher Coleman) (1986–1989; Seasons 1–3)
  • Alan Pinkard – Tony O'Dell (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5)
  • Eric Mardian – Brian Robbins (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5)
  • Sarah Nevins – Kimberly Russell (1986–1991, Seasons 1 (except pilot) –5)
  • Dennis Blunden - Dan Schneider (1986–1991, Seasons 1–5)
  • Janice Lazarotto – Tannis Vallely (1986–1989; Seasons 1–3, guest in Season 5)
  • Alex Torres – Michael DeLorenzo (1989–1991; Seasons 4–5)
  • Viki Amory – Lara Piper (1989–1991; Seasons 4–5)
  • Theola June "T.J." Jones – Rain Pryor (1988–1991; Seasons 3–5)
  • Jasper Kwong – Jonathan Ke Quan (1990–1991; Seasons 4–5)
  • Aristotle McKenzie – De'voreaux White (1989–1991; Seasons 4–5)

Recurring characters[edit]

Season synopses[edit]

Season one (1986–1987)[edit]

Out-of-work actor Charlie Moore began the first season as a substitute teacher, but warmed to the IHP class immediately, making it his mission to get them to think rather than merely to know. Although they are gifted academically, the IHP students had plenty of problems in their personal lives, and Mr. Moore not only is there to listen, he shows an unswerving ability to get the students to solve their own problems while making it seem like they came up with the answers on their own. By Episode 6 ("Teacher's Teacher"), the class's original teacher Mr. Thomas (Roscoe Lee Browne) had returned to Fillmore High, seemingly ready to return to the IHP class once Mr. Moore's tenure ended. After observing Mr. Moore's unorthodox teaching methods for most of the episode (much to Charlie's chagrin, as it also made apparent how much he would miss the IHP students), Mr. Thomas ultimately reveals he had no intention to return but came to observe Mr. Moore after hearing concerns about him from Dr. Samuels. Seeing Mr. Moore in action, Mr. Thomas gives him his blessing, leaving Mr. Moore to become their full-time teacher, knowing the IHP will be in good hands. Throughout the first season, Mr. Moore attempted to get the class involved in more than just their studies, encouraging them to play volleyball and make a music video for the school's time capsule (this marks the first foray into the fondness of Head of the Class for musical production numbers). At the same time, the class brought Mr. Moore into the present, acclimating him to the importance of personal computers. Near the end of the season, the IHP faces their Russian counterparts in an academic tournament, foreshadowing their famous trip to Moscow in season three.

Season two (1987–1988)[edit]

Season two began involving the IHP in the school as a whole, with Mr. Moore involving the class in the school literary journal and encouraging a lampoon of the school newspaper. Mr. Moore also decides to put on a school production of the musical Grease, and encourages the IHP (who are initially reluctant) to participate, alongside other Fillmore students.

While first season had some episodes that showed Charlie's personal life outside school, these become increasingly rare as the series continues. Beginning in season 2, we no longer see Charlie's apartment, and episodes consistently focus on the lives of the IHP students.

Season three (1988–1989)[edit]

"Mission to Moscow"[edit]

In 1988, Head of the Class broke new ground as it became the first American sitcom to be filmed in the Soviet Union and was entirely filmed in Moscow.[1]

The IHP is invited to come to the country for a rematch of the academic meet that happened in season one, which ended in a tie. The class has a lot of experiences while in Moscow: Dennis and Arvid take an interest in two beautiful women, until they realize they might be KGB spies; Eric meets up with his relatives in what is a very positive experience for him; capitalist Alan has an argument with a die-hard socialist in a store (who is also on the opposing Russian academic team); Sarah and Darlene decide to record the sights and sounds of Moscow; Simone goes to put flowers on a poet's grave and meets up with a charming Russian musician; Dr. Samuels believes that his hotel room is bugged, but ends up making a fool of himself; and Charlie has a brief romance with a schoolteacher.

The IHP eventually wins the meet and the respect of the Russian team. The episode concludes with both teams attending a concert in Gorky Park swaying to the song "Far Away Lands" (written and performed by American David Pomeranz and Russian rock star Sasha Malinin).

Season four (1989–1990)[edit]

The fourth season saw some significant changes to the cast of characters – Maria, Jawaharlal and Janice left (Maria went to a performing arts school, Jawaharlal moved to California, and Janice went to college). Several new characters took their place: Alex Torres (Michael DeLorenzo) was a Hispanic athletics student, somewhat stereotypically portrayed as having an eye for the ladies. Although Alex seemed attracted to Darlene particularly, both he and Eric competed for the affections of another new IHP student, the blonde hippie Viki Amory (Lara Piper). Another new character was aspiring filmmaker Aristotle McKenzie (De'voreaux White). T.J. Jones (Rain Pryor), a recurring character since the third season, joined the IHP in the fourth season (a remedial student with a streetwise attitude, T.J. was found to be smart enough to join the IHP). Also, the character of Jasper Kwong (Jonathan Ke Quan) was added to the IHP class late in the season. The students' final year of high school was split over seasons four and five. Howard Hesseman left the show after the fourth season.

Season five (1990–1991)[edit]

In the first episode of season five, Scottish teacher Billy MacGregor (Billy Connolly) arrived to replace the departed Charlie Moore (in the first episode of the season, it is explained to the dismayed IHP students that Mr. Moore's acting career finally took off). Despite initial uncertainty and some hostility from the students, Billy proved to be a successful replacement for Charlie. He insisted that the students refer to him by his first name, and although he was more rousing and less laid-back than his predecessor, he proved to be just as wise and caring (Billy also had a habit of boisterously greeting his class every morning with the phrase, "good morning, geniuses", and facetiously barking to his students to, "get out of here", when the bell rang at the end of the class. He also taught his class in a manner more akin to a stand-up comedian than a teacher). Many episodes from this season focused on Billy having to adapt to living in America, and his attempts to romance Ms. Meara. Other aspects of Billy were his dislike of an outdated French textbook, which actually prompted one student to take a spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Paris, and his encouragement to the male students that the best way to get girls was to be themselves. The season (and the program itself) concluded with the IHP students graduating from high school. Janice Lazarotto (from seasons one–three) returned for a guest appearance in the finale, in which T.J. is named class valedictorian and the school is closed down and demolished.

Episodes[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedNielsen ratings[5]
First airedLast airedRankRating
122September 17, 1986 (1986-09-17)May 6, 1987 (1987-05-06)3016.4
222September 23, 1987 (1987-09-23)May 11, 1988 (1988-05-11)2316.7
(Tied with The NBC Sunday Night Movie)
322October 19, 1988 (1988-10-19)May 10, 1989 (1989-05-10)2017.1
426September 27, 1989 (1989-09-27)May 2, 1990 (1990-05-02)2614.8
522September 11, 1990 (1990-09-11)June 25, 1991 (1991-06-25)2614.5

Novel tie-in[edit]

One major novelization was released, with the plotlines based on six episodes of the show.[citation needed] The book makes all the chapters flow together as one story, even though they didn't happen one right after the other on the show. It was written by Susan Beth Pfeffer and released in December 1989 by Bantam Books. The book is 120 pages long, with six chapters, each based on a different episode.[citation needed]

  • Chapter 1 – "First Day", based on the 1986 episode "First Day", written by Lisa Rosenthal (otherwise known as the pilot)
  • Chapter 2 – "A Problem Like Maria" is based on the 1986 episode "A Problem Like Maria" written by Cynthia Thompson
  • Chapter 3 – "Crimes of the Heart" is based on the 1987 episode "Crimes of the Heart" written by Valri Bromfield
  • Chapter 4 – "Cello Fever" is based on the 1987 episode "Cello Fever" written by show creators Rich Eustis and Michael Elias
  • Chapter 5 – "Trouble in Perfectville" is based on the 1987 episode "Trouble in Perfectville" written by George Beckerman
  • Chapter 6 – "Parents Day" is based on the 1987 episode "Parents Day" written by Ellis Bufton and Scott Glaze

All copyrights belong to Warner Bros. The novelization erroneously credits "First Day" as having been made in 1988 rather than 1986.

Spin-off[edit]

A year after Head of the Class left the air, Billy Connolly reprised the role of Billy MacGregor for a short-lived spin-off series, Billy.

Home video and syndication[edit]

Head of the Class has never been released on DVD.[6][7] No official reason has been forthcoming from Warner Home Video, although the show had multiple musical episodes, and licensing music rights for home video is often a sticking point for many series, including WKRP in Cincinnati, which also featured Hesseman.[8][9]

The show also seems to appear infrequently in syndicated reruns, airing on local stations and then briefly on TBS during the 1990s, and on Nick at Nite in the early 2000s. Antenna TV began airing the series in January 2018.

International broadcasts[edit]

  • In Canada, the series was simulcast on the Global Television Network throughout its original run.
  • In Australia, the series aired on the Nine Network.
  • In the UK the show aired on BBC Two and in Ireland on RTÉ One.[10]
  • In Indonesia, it was aired by RCTI.
  • In Italy, the series arrived in 1989 and first season was aired by Telemontecarlo. Then it was aired by Italia 1, from 1992 to 1993.
  • In Mexico, the series aired on Televisa between 1994 and 1996, under the name Mi Profesor Favorito.
  • In Latin America, the series aired on Warner Channel during mid-late 1990s.
  • In Chile, the series aired on TVN.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b O'Connor, John J. (November 2, 1988). "Review/Television; 'Head of the Class' Goes to Moscow". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Head of the Class". The New York Times.
  3. ^ http://www.nysonglines.com/lexington.htm
  4. ^ Staff, PageSix com (December 3, 2012). "Mike Tyson: 'Brad Pitt had sex with my wife'".
  5. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present (Ninth Edition). Ballantine Books. p. 1691-1962. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  6. ^ "Head of the Class (1986)". TV Shows on Demand. Archived from the original on 2017-08-11.
  7. ^ Humphrey, Amber (May 30, 2012). "5 TV Shows That Aren't On DVD — And Should Be". Film School Rejects.
  8. ^ Bylund, Anders (December 29, 2005). "How TV shows on DVD suffer from music licensing". ars TECHNICA.
  9. ^ VanDerWerff, Todd (March 26, 2015). "The weird legal reason many of your favorite shows aren't on DVD". Vox.
  10. ^ "BBC - Comedy Guide - Head of the Class". Archived from the original on April 8, 2005. Retrieved 2015-07-26.

External links[edit]