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Webster is an Americanmarker situation comedy that premiered on ABC on September 16, 1983, and ran on that network until September 11, 1987, but continued in first-run syndication until 1989. It has largely been compared to NBC's Diff'rent Strokes.


The show, set in Chicagomarker, revolved around Webster Long, a seven-year-old African-American orphan (Emmanuel Lewis) whose biological parents, Travis and Gert Long, were recently killed in a car accident. He is then taken in by retired football star George Papadapolis (Alex Karras), with whom Travis had played professional football in the 1970s, and his wife Katherine (Susan Clark), an upper crust socialite with no housekeeping skills whatsoever.

George and Katherine's new married life was part of the premise, but it was Webster who was the main focus of the show. The Papadopolises lived in a luxurious high-rise apartment in Chicago, with burly George now working as a sportscaster at local station WBJX-TV, and Katherine becoming an accomplished family psychologist. Sarcastic Jerry Silver (Henry Polic II) was Katherine's male secretary, who was her professional and personal confidant. The apartment complex shown in exterior shots of the first two seasons is The Mirabella condominium building, located at 10430 Wilshire Blvd, in the Westwood district of Los Angeles, Californiamarker.

Webster also had an uncle, Phillip Long, played by Ben Vereen, who had issues with Webster living with a white couple and sought to adopt him and take him to live in Chicago's South Side. After his numerous attempts at the latter during the second season, Phillip moved to Hollywoodmarker to launch an acting career. In the later seasons, Phillip would return in a few guest appearances.

Shortly into the second season, Webster accidentally burned down the family's apartment with a science kit and the family moved to a large Victorian house located at 1432 North State Parkway in Chicago's Gold Coast.

The show continued on with its usual tone, besides some of the newer inventive plots. Many more of Webster's friends and classmates passed through, including Rob Whitaker (Chad Allen). A recent product of divorce whose mother had custody of him, Rob was kidnapped by his father in one episode, which led the Papadopolises, Rob's mother, and the community to rally in hopes of finding him. When he returned, it was Katherine who successfully intervened with Rob's father. Later in the third season, for unexplained reasons, Rob's last name became Joiner. Bill and Cassie Parker (Eugene Roche and Cathryn Damon) leased the Victorian house to the Papadopolises during the show's second and third seasons, until George and Katherine bought it outright (this was Damon's last TV series role, as she died from cancer a year after leaving Webster). George's jovial aging father, George Sr. (Jack Kruschen), known to all as "Papa" Papadopolis, began appearing occasionally in the fall of 1985. Over the course of the fourth season, ratings dropped sharply. The show, which had been a Nielsen top 10 series, now ranked 50th. ABC chose not to renew Webster.

The series' popularity and interest among younger viewers prompted Webster to continue in first-run syndication starting in fall of 1987. At this time, the Papadopolis household gained a new member in George's nephew Nicky (Corin Nemec), who moved in when his parents went off to work in Nigeriamarker, on assignment for the UN. Nicky provided Webster with a sort of "brother figure", and the two got along famously. However, Nicky was gone from the show at the start of season six (Nemec would later reach greater fame as the star of Fox's Parker Lewis Can't Lose). While plots continued to mature somewhat with Webster's onset of pre-teendom, the same "cutesy factor" remained, thanks in part to Lewis' timing and portrayal. However, this was something Lewis was slowly getting tired of, despite the fact that he had more creative control over Webster at this point (with Emmanuel Lewis Entertainment Enterprises co-producing with Karras and Clark's Georgian Bay Ltd.). Early in the 1988-89 season, with Lewis clearly outgrowing the title role, Karras and Clark also decided that the time was right to move on. The last episode was taped in early 1989 (but aired that March), which did not signify an end of any sort, but was played out as a high event - the cast went on a space adventure with guest star Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf, from Star Trek: The Next Generation (in the ep. titled "Webtrek").

USA Network aired reruns of the show from September 22, 1997 to March 13, 1998. It also aired on WGN September 21, 1998 to September 2, 1999.



Series development and changes

Alex Karras and Susan Clark were married in real life, as well as on the show. After starting their own production company, Georgian Bay Ltd., ABC approached the couple about a sitcom development deal, which resulted in the proposed series titled Another Ballgame. In this, Karras was the ex-NFL player who quickly found true love on a cruise with socialite Katherine (Clark), and the premise was a raucous romantic comedy. ABC picked it up for the fall 1983 schedule, but major changes would occur before the premiere.

After seeing Emmanuel Lewis in a Burger King Commercial, Lew Erlicht, who served as programming chief for ABC, wanted to feature the actor in his own series. At this time, Another Ballgame producer Stu Silver desired to create an original show based on the lead characters portrayed by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in the film Woman of the Year. Silver saw Alex Karras and Susan Clark's on-screen chemistry as being very reminiscent of this.

The network felt the need to cast Lewis in a project quickly, before he grew another inch (like Gary Coleman, Lewis would end up as a dwarf at 4'3".), and what they had in mind was their own version of NBC's Diff'rent Strokes; the only similarity being that both shows had young black boys as leads who were very small for their age being raised by white people, and who would retain a certain amount of cuteness even as their portrayers got older. Also, with the number of comedy pilots greenlighted for that fall's schedule, it was likely that Lewis would not be able to get his own series and timeslot, unless he was worked into already existing comedy projects. So, among others, co-producers on Another Ballgame were approached about working Lewis into the show. Stars Karras and Clark liked the idea of the sudden marriage and instant adoption of a young black boy, and the Webster character was created from there.

The premise of Webster's parents' death, and his adoption into the Papadopolis household, originated with the second phase of the pilot, which had the show's title changed to Then Came You. The only other modifications to happen from here was the network's decision to have the show's major focus to be on the Webster character, instead of it being a split romantic/family comedy; and to phase out cast member Art LaFleur, who, once getting to air, only appeared in the pilot. Amazingly, Karras and Clark did not object to this round of changes initially, as creative control was still in their hands with their production company. However, Clark originally forbade their co-producers and ABC from changing the title to Webster, as she wanted to maintain the ensemble aspect of the series. While early promotions for the sitcom carried the title Then Came You, network politics would end up defying Clark's wish; the brass ultimately settled on Webster just before its September premiere. (It is safe to assume that the Webster theme song, "Then Came You", originated during the second phase of the pilot.)

Even though the show was an instant hit, the result of the final product was not what Karras and Clark foresaw as their ideal starring vehicle. The first season was fraught with tension, not only between Karras and Clark but with them and Paramount. After the initial episodes that set up the show's premise (George & Katherine's wedding, Webster's arrival and the resulting adjustments), most of the plots became exclusively Webster-driven, even though it was the writer's intention to get Alex and Susan's character's own storylines in as much as possible. The couple battled all season with the brass over production, which, fortunately, never delayed taping, but caused bad vibes for everyone present, especially Lewis. It was reported that Lewis was often whisked away off the set whenever Karras and Clark argued and demanded rewrites, and it became so severe that Lewis blamed the trouble not only on his title character, but on himself. After the end of season one, things started to cool down, as the network stopped pushing hard for "all Webster, all the time", and Paramount eventually came to an agreement with Alex and Susan that they would continue to get prominent storylines for their characters - as long as Emmanuel Lewis, who ABC saw as a money maker above all else, would get production credit alongside Karras and Clark. This is what launched "Emmanuel Lewis Entertainment Enterprises, Inc."

Finally, by season three at the latest, the stormy relations of the first season disappeared on set. The main cast bonded well from then until the end, with Karras becoming a surrogate father figure to Lewis. As famed TV director Joel Zwick remarked, "as far as TV sitcom families go, it took them longer than most to acclimate to each other."

DVD Releases

Webster has yet to be released on DVD. It is unknown if it ever will be released by CBS DVD and Paramount Home Entertainment, who own the rights.

See also


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