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The White Shadow is an Americanmarker drama television series that ran on the CBS network from November 27, 1978, to March 16, 1981.


Thematically similar to Welcome Back Kotter, but more dramatic than comedic, The White Shadow starred Ken Howard as Ken Reeves, a white professional basketball player who retires from the NBA after a severe knee injury with the Chicago Bulls. During his retirement, Reeves took a job as a basketball coach at Carver High School, mostly black and Hispanic urban high school in South Central Los Angelesmarker. Carver's principal is Jim Willis (Jason Bernard in the pilot, Ed Bernard for seasons 1 and 2), Reeves' old college roommate. Sybil Buchanan, played by Joan Pringle, is the vice principal who was against Reeves' hiring and clashed with Reeves in the areas of discipline and education on more than a few occasions. In season 3, Willis is promoted to a position with the Oakland Board of Education and Buchanan becomes principal of Carver.

According to the storyline, Reeves and Willis were roommates at Boston Collegemarker. Reeves played college basketball and went on to be drafted into the NBA and played mostly with the Chicago Bulls.

The show was produced by Bruce Paltrow for MTM Enterprises. On November 8, 2005, the series' first season was released on DVD, with the second season following on March 7, 2006.

The White Shadow was the first ensemble drama on prime-time television with a predominantly African-American cast. With 54 episodes, it is the third-longest running drama with a predominantly African-American cast in the history of American prime-time television. Only Soul Food and The Wire have had more episodes.

The show's title is derived from a statement by Reeves in the last scene of the pilot episode, where he told the members of the team that he would support them and be right behind them, to quote Thorpe, "like a white shadow".

Main Cast ("Roster")

Character Actor/Actress Role/Uniform No. Description
Ken Reeves Ken Howard Head Coach No-nonsense coach hired to whip some "hard-nosed back-breakers" into a cohesive team, also to steer them in the right direction in life after high school. Attended Boston Collegemarker on a basketball scholarship, where he and Jim Willis were roommates. Drafted into the NBA by the Chicago Bulls
Jim Willis Jason Bernard in pilot,
Ed Bernard thereafter
Principal of Carver High Reeves' roommate at Boston Collegemarker who offers him the job at Carver after Reeves' final game with the Bulls. Remains Reeves' most ardent supporter through his difficulties. After Carver wins the city championship, he takes a job with the Oaklandmarker Board of Education.
Sybil Buchanan Joan Pringle Vice-principal, later principal of Carver High Reeves' main antagonist over matters of education and discipline. At first, a love-hate relationship, but mutual respect between the two grows as each season goes on. Divorced from her husband, despite an attempt at reconciliation. Becomes pregnant with twins and decides to raise them on her own. Eventually becomes principal of Carver High, much to Reeves' chagrin.
Warren "Cool" Coolidge Byron Stewart Center-45 One of Reeves' few players with a legitimate shot at a career in basketball. Special bond with the coach because of their unusual heights (Reeves is 6'6", Coolidge 6'8"). Was almost goaded by a crooked agent into signing a pro contract after one of his best games. Dated Diana and contracted venereal disease. Tried to pursue a career in acting. Also tried out for the Harlem Globetrotters, but was advised to finish school. Later resurfaced as a hospital orderly in St. Elsewhere.
Morris Thorpe Kevin Hooks Guard-11 As a basketball player, a point guard and ballhawk on defense. According to Reeves, as good a defensive player as Dean Meminger. Eloquent speaker. Dated Karen LeGrand, a Caucasian girl with an unsavory reputation. Talented artist; struggled between pursuing a career in art or basketball. Father played semi-pro ball. Mother's name is Wanda. Thorpe was voted as one of America's 100 favorite characters in the history of television.[181609]
James "Hollywood" Hayward Thomas Carter Guard-21 Highest IQ of all the players, and one of the biggest attitudes. Father died young, so he took care of his mother, Roberta, and his little brother, Jackie. Almost murdered a drug dealer after his cousin died from a drug overdose. Went to college and, after an impressive freshman year, was offered a summer job at a law firm. Almost did not take it because of pressure from his old peers, but the lawyer who interviewed him convinced him of his potential and to break away from his element.
Milton Reese Nathan Cook Guard/Forward-24 Talented singer. Appeared on his way to a college scholarship, but had to deal with a girlfriend who tried to fake a pregnancy so he would not take the scholarship. His run-ins with Reeves' discipline led him to try to transfer to Oak Ridge, but he later relented. Graduated and tried to get a job as a nightclub singer, but was fired and started a brawl with the owner. Ended up doing community service and talked a girl out of committing suicide over the phone. Later became a cab driver while still pursuing his singing dream.
Curtis "C.J." Jackson Erik Kilpatrick Forward-34 Overcame an alcohol problem with Reeves' help. Old girlfriend Delores, who he wanted to marry, turned out to be a prostitute. Was once offered money by a bookie to shave points at one of Carver's games. Was fatally shot while witnessing a liquor store holdup before the team was to play for the city championship.
Mario "Salami" Pettrino Timothy Van Patten Guard-3 Tough-as-nails Italian with New York roots. Aspires to be a professional boxer, initially against his father's wishes. Drives the "Motel California", a 1963 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which he constantly tinkers with. Once obtained amphetamines for a sprained knee and was baited by his teammates into handing them out before a game, which almost got Reeves fired. Was the object of attraction of a history teacher for Sadie Hawkins Day. His combative nature almost got the best of him when he broke the jaw of a player from a rival high school during an on-court fight and the player's parents had him arrested for battery shortly after his 18th birthday.
Ricardo "Go-Go" Gomez Ira Angustain Guard-15 Team's resident Mexicano. Often in trouble with the law, occasionally with his old street gang, the Aztecs. Abusive father at home, whom he eventually gets his mother and younger sister away from. Graduated and became a car mechanic, but struggled to make ends meet with a pregnant wife.
Abner Goldstein Ken Michelman Forward/Center-31 Team's "outcast", struggled to fit in with the predominately Afro-American team. Lives with Jewish grandparents; father and mother died in a car crash when he was 11. Follows the Jewish customs, but never a proclaimed Jew. Naive in his relations with the team, often letting his desire to be "cool" and fit in open him up to being hurt by their rejections. Confronted the team over his mistreatment. Graduated and was offered a full four-year scholarship, but knew he wasn't ready to be out on his own, so he joined the Marine Corps. After a year, finally found the courage to ask a girl out that he admired from a distance while at Carver.

Other notable cast members

Character Actor/Actress Role/Uniform No. Description
Phil Jeffers Russell Philip Robinson Team Manager Depicted as a responsible, introverted individual who, in many episodes, did not speak at all. It was eventually revealed that he had a very outgoing personality until he became addicted to drugs (specifically, PCP) at the age of 12.
Nick "New York" Vitaglia John Mengatti Guard-51 Salami's troubled cousin from New York who came to live with the Pettrinos by agreement from his parents. Constantly complaining about the slower lifestyle of Los Angeles as compared to New York. Signs with Carver's baseball team, being an ace pitcher. Leaves the Pettrinos after a falling-out over a car-repossessing job of his and Salami's, but comes back.
Eddie Franklin Art Holliday Forward/Center-31 Showed up at tryouts late during final cuts in worn out sneakers, jeans and a tattered sweatshirt. Challenged Coach Reeves to a one-on-one and convinced him to let him on the team. Reeves would comment later, "a little meat on him and a new pair of sneakers and he might give Coolidge trouble." Gave Coolidge a fellow tall "brother" to hang with. He, Coolidge, and Thorpe were the targets of unfair and brutal treatment by police during a mistaken arrest for mugging a senior citizen.
Wardell Stone Larry Flash Jenkins Guard-34 "Class clown" type who talks a good game, but rarely produces. Prone to mischief, he blows up a toilet in the locker room and tries to steal a Trans-Am Firebird. While he and his friend are joyriding in the stolen car, they are blocked by a stalled car with an unconscious lady inside. Stone pulls the lady from the car, but it explodes before he can move it. Stone is lauded a hero and milks the attention for all it is worth until his hat is found in the car he and his friend stole that night.
Paddy Falahey John Laughlin Forward-15 Tough, Irish kid "who thinks he's Jimmy Cagney" according to Reeves. Became the team's "white heavy". Was confronted by a girl who he supposedly got pregnant.
Jesse Mitchell Stoney Jackson Guard-24 When the team decided to call themselves "Shower of Power", he took the role of lead singer. Not much else to do other than that.
Teddy Rutherford Wolfe Perry Forward-21 Talented, intelligent and articulate (what was he doing at Carver?). One of three Carver players who actually dunked in games, Coolidge and Franklin were the others. Only storyline that involved him was his distraught feelings over unfair grades handed out by a teacher experiencing burnout, especially considering he enjoyed the class and earned his good grades in it.
Ezra Davis Roosevelt Grier Wrestling coach Wrestling coach and good friend of Coach Reeves who sometimes filled in for him during absences from the basketball team. Tried unsuccessfully to recruit Coolidge and Franklin for the wrestling team. Sympathetic to the need of a mobile health-care clinic because he himself suffers from high blood pressure.

Cast notes

Jason Bernard, who played Jim Willis in the pilot episode, and Ed Bernard, who portrayed Jim Willis for the remainder of the first season, and season two full time are not related.

John Mengatti and Larry Flash Jenkins had walk-on roles on the show prior to becoming regular cast members.

Brian Stokes Mitchell appeared as Lucius Robinson in Season 1.

Inconsistencies/Continuity problems

A recurring continuty issue in this series was Ken Reeves' fictional pro basketball career. Inconcistencies follow:
  • In the first season episode "The Offer", Reeves tells Sally Adams, a TV sports reporter, that he was drafted 16th in the NBA Draft out of Boston College by the Chicago Bulls and spent 10 seasons in the starting line-up.
  • In another first season episode, "Wanna Bet?", Reeves meets a street-hustling basketball player named Bobby Magum (played by Michael Warren), who seems to recognize him, having followed his whole NBA career. Bobby recites the facts that Reeves played eight years with Chicago, Denver, and Milwaukee, and averaged "a paltry six points per game." Reeves replies that he also played with Detroit.
  • Several former Chicago Bulls players are mentioned alluding to being teammates of Reeves, and they would fit in with the time frame before the show debuted. Mentioned are Chet Walker, Bob Love, Tom Boerwinkle, and Artis Gilmore.
  • In "That Old Gang of Mine", Reeves meets a police lieutenant named Diaz while trying to stop a gang fight that Gomez is involved in. Lt. Diaz says Reeves played with Chicago and Denver and reminds Reeves he lost money betting on the Bulls when he played.
  • In "Little Orphan Abner", Reeves tells Goldstein's grandparents that he spent 12 seasons with the Bulls.
  • In the second season episode "Links", Reeves tells Bob Beardsley, the owner of the country club, that he spent the last six years of his career with the Bulls.
  • In contrast to telling Bobby in "Wanna Bet?" that he played with Detroit, in Season 3, he and his father met Mickey Mantle in New York. Mantle asks Reeves if he played with Detroit, and Reeves replies no.
  • A running joke in the series (especially in Season 3) is Reeves' ineptitude against many of the NBA stars of his supposed era. In "Wanna Bet" of Season 1, Bobby Magum says to Reeves, "Rick Barry lived off you, man." In Season 3's "If Your Number's Up, Get it Down", Reeves calls Red Auerbach for fundraising help and Auerbach recalls a game in which John Havlicek scored 46 points with Reeves guarding him. In "Vanity Fare", a local businessman remembers when Dave DeBusschere scored 20 points off Reeves in one quarter. And, finally, in "Christmas Story", a Catholic priest friend of Reeves reminds him of his inability to guard Bill Bradley.

Another continuity issue was the exact academic status of most of the players. Examples include:

  • In season 1's "Bonus Baby", agent Walter Preston discusses with Coolidge the ramifications of turning professional with one year left of high school (and sacrificing four years of college), which would imply that he was a junior when the show started airing. Yet, Coolidge was a regular character for all three seasons, meaning he somehow had another year.
  • Thorpe also seemed to have found another year in season 3 after supposedly being in line for a scholarship (which would imply he was a senior) and being evaluated by a basketball scout in season 2's "Artist."
  • In season 2's "The Hitter", Coach Reeves is looking at Gomez' medical records and states Gomez is a junior. But, after season 2, Gomez supposedly graduates.
  • In season 1's "Pregnant Pause", Reese is scouted for a possible scholarship (implying that he is a senior), but he returns for season 2.

Other inconsistencies:

  • In the episode "Here's Mud In Your Eye", it is stated that Curtis Jackson is an only child. However in "The Death of Me Yet", he is depicted as having a younger brother named Willie.
  • Coolidge also has some inconsistencies with his family situation. In the season 2 Christmas episode "A Christmas Present" he mentions wanting to buy a doll for his younger sister and in another season 2 episode, "No Place Like Home", he is shown to have a brother and a sister. However, in the season 1 episode "Bonus Baby", he stated that he and his mother live alone.
  • In the Las Vegas-based season 1 episode "We're in the Money", Goldstein asks Reese at the roulette table how old his brother is and Reese replies that he's 5. In the season 2 episode "Cross Town Hustle", Reese is shown having dinner at home and nobody is at the table except for Reese and his parents. Additionally, his parents appear to be somewhat old even to have a 17-year-old son, so it seems very unlikely that they would have another child who was only five years old.
  • In the season 2 episode "Links", Reeves tells Bob Beardsley that his father taught him to play golf. But, at the end of season 3's "Reunion", Reeves gets into a heated argument with his father about his not making time for him, his sister Katie, and his late mother while growing up. Also, Reeves' father doesn't appear to be the type to play golf.
  • In Season 3's "Vanity Fare", when Reeves is late for the team's game against South, Salami jumps up and gives the team a pep talk, mentioning the fact that he was team captain last year. However, he seems to have forgotten that, in season 2's "Albert Hodges", he was named team captain at first, but Reeves replaced him with Hayward after Albert Hodges organized a protest.

"Singing in the Shower (Shower of Power)"

One of the recurring themes in The White Shadow was the Carver High players harmonizing and singing familiar 50's and 60's R&B tunes in the locker room shower after practices, usually with Milton Reese (Nathan Cook) as lead singer. In the Season 1 episode "LeGrand Finale", the team gets voice and harmonizing lessons from Art Leonard (incidentally, played by Harry Danner, Bruce Paltrow's brother-in-law), the Carver High music and drama teacher. While their vocal ranges seemed to change slightly from episode to episode, this episode firmly established the following:
- Falsetto: Reese (although it is almost certain that his actual range made him a tenor)
- 1st Tenor: Thorpe
- 2nd Tenor: Hayward, Salami, Goldstein
- Baritone: Jackson
- Bass: Coolidge
Gomez was apparently tone deaf, as he was advised to simply lip-synch or play the tambourine.
In Season 3, the shower singing wasn't as prevalent, but it was the center of the episode "Vanity Fare". From this episode, it appears that Falahey, Rutherford, and Stone have voices in the bass/baritone range. Mitchell sounds like a first tenor, while Vitaglia was probably a second tenor.

Unlike other shows themed around musical groups like The Partridge Family, the cast of The White Shadow did their own singing (as opposed to lip synching) during the shower scenes. According to commentary by former cast members on the Season 2 DVD, the late Nathan Cook (Reese) was clearly the best singer.

Some of the better known hits sung by "The Team" include:


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