With few exception, most of us would have rather had teachers like Mr. Moore (Head of the Class) or attended classes with Zack Morris (Saved by the Bell) then the ones they got stuck with in real life. TV presented these and so many others as the ideal. As families are all heading back to school, here is a list of some favorite American series based on the classroom. We left out shows where the focus was mostly on home life or friendships outside of school and included some interesting trivia about each show below.
Our Miss Brooks
Aired: October 3, 1952– May 11, 1956
Starred: Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Don Porter, Robert Rockwell, Jane Morgan, Jesslyn Fax, Richard Crenna, Nick Adams, Gloria McMillan, Joseph Kearns, William Ching, Gene Barry, William Newell, Philp Van Zandt, Marjorie Bennett, Joseph Forte
Beginning as a CBS radio sitcom in 1948, Our Miss Brooks could be found simultaneously on TV beginning in 1952. Interesting, the radio show outlasted the TV series by one year. Arden played Madison High School teacher Connie Brooks who later taught at an upscale private school in 1955. Instead of just focusing on the classroom, the series followed Brooks’ interacting with other teachers and life out of school as well.
The Emmy Award-winning series ran for 130 episodes and Arden received an honorary membership of the National Education Association and received an award from the Teachers College of Connecticut’s Alumni Association in 1952 “for humanizing the American teacher”. The show was even adapted for the big screen in 1956.
According to Wikipedia, Our Miss Brooks “was considered groundbreaking for showing a woman who was neither a scatterbrained klutz nor a homebody, but rather a working woman who transcended the actual or assumed limits to women’s working lives of the time.”
Aired: September 11, 1969 –January 11, 1974
Starred: Lloyd Haynes, Denise Nicholas, Michael Constantine, Karen Valentine, Patsy Garrett
Set in the racially diverse Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles, California, many of the stories took place in room 222, an American history classroom taught by Pete Dixon (Haynes). His lesson often reflected on tolerance and understanding during the political climate of the times including the Vietnam War, women’s rights, race relations and Watergate. Other characters in the series included guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Nicholas), principal Seymour Kaufman (Constantine) and student teacher Alice Johnson (Valentine).
Room 222 won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding New Series In 1970 while Constantine and Valentine won for Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series.
Welcome Back Kotter
Aired: September 9, 1975 – May 17, 1979
Starred: Gabe Kaplan, Marcia Strassman, John Sylvester White, Robert Hegyes, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Ron Palillo, John Travolta, Melonie Haller, Stephen Shortridge
Gabe Kaplan starred as Mr. Kotter, a teacher who returns to James Buchanan High School in Bensonhurst, a fictional version of his own real high school in Brooklyn. In fact, the real school is shown during the show’s opening credits. Kotter’s class was filled with lazy students known as “Sweathogs” of which Kotter was a founding member years before. Instead of just “babysitting” the class who would no-doubt eventually drop out, Kotter found a way to reach and inspire his class which included Vinnie Barbarino (Travolta), Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Washington (Hilton-Jacobs), Juan Epstein (Hegyes) and Arnold Horshack (Palillo). These characters were also inspired by Kaplan’s real classmates.
Though the show was an instant hit for ABC, Boston’s local affiliate (WCVB-TV) refused to air the show due to the city’s controversial busing program which had caused protests and riots. They were concerned that the show would only make matters worse. However, since the show usually portrayed the Sweathogs antics as juvenile rather than destructive (they were patterned after the Marx Brothers after all), the show was brought to the Boston screens starting with the fifth episode.
In 1976, the show’s theme song, written and recorded by John Sebastian from The Lovin’ Spoonful, became a #1 hit. Lunchboxes were made and Mattel even created a set of Welcome Back Kotter action figures in 1977. However, the show’s ratings began to slip in third season. A female Sweathog, Angie Grabowski (Melonie Haller) was added to the cast and Kotter became the father of twin girls.
The fourth season was the shows last with John Travolta becoming a big movie star only appearing in ten episodes and due to some off-screen conflicts, Kaplan himself also reduced his appearances on the show. As the show was winding down, three spin-offs were considered including one called Rich Man, Poor Man; Horshack! which was never developed outside of a backdoor pilot episode and Mr. T and Tina which starred Pat Morita and was only remotely related to the show. It only lasted five episodes before being cancelled.
Aired: September 27, 1982 –March 7, 1983
Starred: Sarah Jessica Parker, Amy Linker, Merritt Butrick, John Femia, Tracy Nelson, Jami Gertz, Claudette Wells, Jon Caliri
Patty Greene (Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Linker) just wante to fit in at Weemawee High School near New York City in Square Pegs. They were among the eight freshman featured on the show created by former Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts. Patty is well-adjusted but awkward around the “popular” students and all Lauren wants is to be a part of that crowd. Their friends include comedian wanna-be Marshall Blechtman (Femia), new wave Johnny “Slash” Ulasewicz (Butrick), valley girl Jennifer DiNuccio (Nelson), the dense Vinni Pasetta (Jon Caliri) and sassy LaDonna Fredericks (Wells).
The show’s theme song featured music by The Waitresses who also appeared as a band playing at a school dance. Other musical talent who appeared on the show included former drummer for The Doors, John Densmore who played himself and a member of Slash’s band and the group Devo. Bill Murray even guest starred in one episode.
Despite good reviews from critics, Square Pegs struggled in the ratings but it wasn’t the ratings the ultimately did the show in. During production of the show, which took place at the abandoned Excelsior High School about 20 miles from CBS Television in Los Angeles, Embassy Television received a number of reports of drugs and alcohol abuse on the set in the presence of minors. There was apparent rampant drug abuse among the teen cast as well causing Embassy to cancel production of the show.
Aired: January 7, 1982– April 7, 1983 and October 15, 1983 – May 18, 1987
Starred: Debbie Allen, Olivia Barash, Jesse Borrego, Loretta Chandler, Lee Curreri, Cynthia Gibb, Erica Gimpel, Albert Hague, Billy Hufsey, Carlo Imperato, Janet Jackson, Carol Mayo Jenkins, Valerie Landsburg, Ann Nelson, Nia Peeples, Gene Anthony Ray, Lori Singer, Ken Swofford
Partially sponsored by Yamaha musical instruments which were featured prominently during the show, Fame was based on the 1980 motion picture of the same name which followed the lives of students and teachers at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. The fictional school was based on the very real Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York. Despite this, most of the show was filmed in Los Angeles.
Four of the movie’s characters and stars also appeared on the show including introverted Bruno Martelli (Curreri), dancer Leroy Johnson (Ray), the German music teacher Benjamin Shorofsky (Hague) and dance instructor Lydia Grant (Allen) who was also the show’s original choreographer. She also directed many of the episodes. Other characters taken from the movie (but played by different actors) included dancer Coco Hernandez (Gimpel), Montgomery McNeil (Paul) and English teacher Elizabeth Sherwood (Jenkins).
The series won a number of Emmy awards, and in 1983 and 1984, was voted the Golden Globe Awards: Television, Best Series, Musical/Comedy. Critics raved about the series when it debuted on NBC, but the lack of ratings caused the network to cancel the show after two seasons. However, the show was picked up for syndication for four more seasons.
Head of the Class
Aired: September 17, 1986 –June 25, 1991
Starred: Howard Hesseman, Dan Frischman, Dan Schneider, Tony O’Dell, Robin Givens, Kimberly Russell, Leslie Bega, Jory Husain, Tannis Vallely, Khrystyne Haje, Brian Robbins, Billy Connolly
Set at Millard Fillmore High School in Manhattan, Head of the Class was created by Michael Elias who had previously worked as a substitute teacher before becoming an actor. The show followed a group of gifted students led by history teacher Charlie Moore (Hesseman). The students included nerdy Arvid Engen (Frischman), smart aleck computer whiz Dennis Blunden (Schneider), preppy, politically-minded Alan Pinkard (O’Dell), spoiled rich kid Darlene Merriman (Givens), the most down-to-earth of the bunch, Sarah Nevins (Russell), perfectionist Maria Borges (Bega), exchange student Jawaharlal Choudhury (Jory Husain), 10-year-old Janice Lazarotto (Vallely), poetry-loving Simone Foster (Haje) and tough guy Eric Mardian (Robbins).
Although the ABC was a reasonable hit, Hesseman himself was not a fan of the show and has been known to have called it a “disposable frivolity.” He left the show after the fourth season and was replaced by Billy McGregor (Connolly) explaining that Mr. Moore had gotten his big break was appearing in a touring show of Death of a Salesman. After the show ended after five years, Connolly starred in a spinoff called Billy which aired for one season.
A reboot of the series is in the works to appear on HBO Max sometime in the future.
Saved by the Bell (Good Morning Miss Bliss)
Aired: July 11, 1987 –May 22, 1993
Starred: Hayley Mills, Dennis Haskins, Joan Ryan, Max Battimo, Dustin Diamond, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Heather Hopper, Lark Voorhies, T.K. Carter, Mario Lopez, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Elizabeth Berkley, Ed Alonzo, Leanna Creel
Network: Disney Channel / NBC
Some will be surprised to learn that the NBC show Saved by the Bell was originally called Good Morning Miss Bliss. It was to star Sandy Duncan as a teacher at John F. Kennedy Junior High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, but the role eventually went to Disney legend, Hayley Mills. It was meant to be a new prime time TV series, but the network decided against it. However, Disney agreed to air 13 episodes on Disney Channel. If it did well, Disney agreed to purchase 77 more episodes.
Among Miss Bliss’ students were Zack Morris (Gosselaar), Lisa Turtle (Voorhies), Samuel “Screech” Powers (Diamond), Mikey Gonzalez (Battimo) and Nikki Coleman (Hopper). Haskins played the school principal, Mr. Belding.
Miss Bliss received poor ratings, so Disney dropped it, but NBC reclaimed the rights to the show giving it a new name, a new location (Bayside High School in Bayside, California), adding new characters A.C. Slater (Lopez), Kelly Kapowski (Thiessen) and Jessie Spano (Berkley) while dropping the other characters (Mikey and Nikki). The Saturday morning sitcom actually premiered during prime time on August 20, 1989.
Saved by the Bell ran for three seasons ending with a graduation episode on December 21, 1991. But almost as soon as the credits rolled up the screen, the show was picked up for a fourth year. The problem was that Thiessen and Berkley had already moved on to other projects, so the producers added new character, Tori Scott (Creel) to the mix. The show officially ended on May 22, 1993. But that wasn’t really the end.
In 1992, NBC created the made-for-TV movie, Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style which took the teens to the wedding of Kelly’s grandfather, Harry Bannister (Dean Jones) in Hawaii. Then in 1993, the spinoff series Saved by the Bell: The College Years debuted on prime time. Initially, the show was to feature Zach, Slater and Screech but Kelly was later added to the dorms. The show lasted only one season, but ended on a cliffhanger, so NBC created another made-for-TV movie, Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas which brought the whole six original character together again for the wedding for Zach and Kelly.
Saved by the Bell: The New Class
Aired: September 11, 1993 to January 8, 2000
Starred: Robert Sutherland Telfer, Isaac Lidsky, Jonathan Angel, Bianca Lawson, Natalia Cigliuti, Bonnie Russavage, Dennis Haskins, Christian Oliver, Sarach Lancaster, Spankee Rogers, Dustin Diamond, Richard Lee Jackson, Salim Grant, Samantha Becher, Ben Gould, Lindsey McKeon, Anthony Harrell, Ashley Lyn Cafagna, Tom Wade Huntington
While NBC was creating the Saved by the Bell: The College Years spinoff, they were also creating a second spinoff for Saturday mornings called Saved by the Bell: The New Class. Unlike the College show the New Class had an amazing seven-year run. In the beginning, Mr. Belding (Haskins) was the only character to reprise his role, however Screech (Diamond) was brought on the series to serve as Mr. Belding’s administrative assistant.
The New Class was known for its multiple casting changes with each season introducing one to three new characters. In the end, only Mr. Belding appeared in all seven seasons of the show.
Sweet Valley High
Aired: September 5, 1994 –October 14, 1997
Starred: Brittany Daniel, Cynthia Daniel, Ryan Bittle, Amy Danles, Bridget Flanery, Shirlee Elliot, Jeremy Vincent Garrett, Andrea Savage, Michael Perl, Harley Rodriguez
Network: Syndication / UPN
In 1994, the pages of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High came alive on the small screen with real-life twin sisters Brittany and Cynthia Daniel playing the roles of flirty Jessica and responsible Elizabeth Wakefield living in the fictional town of Sweet Valley.
Distributed by Teen Dream Productions, the show was shown in syndication for its first three years before premiering on UPN for its fourth and last season.
Freaks and Geeks
Aired: September 25, 1999 –October 17, 2000
Starred: Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Samm Levine, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Becky Ann Baker, Joe Flaherty, Busy Philipps
The short-lived Freaks and Geeks series by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow was set in William McKinley High School in Chippewa, Michigan near Detroit (this was named after Feig’s own high school). Set during the 1980-1981 school year, the show focused on Lindsay Weir and her brother Sam who attend the school as new students. The normally academically smart Lindsay tried to shed her smart image by hanging out with a group of slackers or “freaks” while Sam settled in with the “geeks.”
The show became more popular when it was off the air than on. It was cancelled after just 12 episodes due to low ratings. But the show has been remembered fondly by many and often makes the list of best TV shows of all time for publications.
Aired: October 23, 2000 – January 30, 2004
Starred: Jessalyn Gilsig, Chi McBride, Anthony Heald, Nicky Katt, Thomas McCarthy, Loretta Devine, Joey Slotnick, Rashida Jones, Sharon Leal, Jeri Ryan, Jon Abrahams, China Jesushita Shavers, Joey McIntyre, Natalia Baron, Michael Rapaport, Kathy Baker, Fyvush Finkel
Created by David E. Kelley, this drama series for FOX took place at Winslow High School in Boston and centered on the lives of the teachers, students and administrators at the school with the slogan, “Every day is a fight. For respect. For dignity. For sanity.” The show was praised for its drama and ethnically diverse cast. It was the winner of the 2002 Peabody Award (“Chapter Thirty-Seven”) from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. However, when FOX moved the show from Mondays to Fridays, the rating tanked causing the network to pull the plug on the series.
Friday Night Lights
Aired: October 3, 2006 –February 9, 2011
Starred: Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Gaius Charles, Zach Gilford, Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons, Scott Porter, Aimee Teegarden, Michael B. Jordan, Jurnee Smollett, Matt Lauria, Madison Burge, Grey Damon
Network: NBC / DirecTV
Friday Night Lights is an American sports drama television series developed by Peter Berg, that was inspired by the 1990 nonfiction book by H. G. Bissinger, which was adapted as the 2004 film of the same name. Set in the town of Dillion, Texas where high school football is a big deal, Eric Taylor (Chandler) served as the team’s coach while his wife Tami (Britton) served on the school’s faculty. When not playing football, the show’s themes consisted of topics like family values, school funding, racism, drugs, abortion, etc.
While praised by critics and fans alike, Friday Night Lights just couldn’t drum up good ratings. It ran for two year on NBC before the network cancelled it. However, due to passionate fans, NBC was able to strike a deal with DirecTV to co-produce the show for three more seasons and allowing the service to air the shows months before they would be shown on NBC.
Aired: May 19, 2009 –March 20, 2015
Starred: Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Jessalyn Gilsig, Jane Lynch, Jayma Mays, Kevin McHale, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Matthew Morrison, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Jenna Ushkowitz, Heather Morris, Mike O’Malley, Naya Rivera, Darren Criss, Harry Shum Jr., Chord Overstreet, Jacob Artist, Melissa Benoist, Blake Jenner, Alex Newell, Becca Tobin, Dot-Marie Jones
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, Glee was a musical comedy-drama series centered on New Directions, the glee club at William McKinley High School. While practicing for upcoming choir competitions, the students would deal with a variety of issues each week including race, sexuality, relationships and occasionally homework. The large cast included club director Will Schuester (Morrison), Terri (Gilsig) Will’s wife, the mean cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Lynch) wanting to axe the glee club’s budget and guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury. The students consisted of pregnant cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Agron), gay student Kurt Hummel (Colfer), wheelchair-bound Artie Abrams (McHale), self-important Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), quarterback Finn Hudson (Monteith), vocal diva Mercedes Jones (Riley), delinquent Noah Puckerman (Salling) and shy girl Tina Cohen-Chang (Ushkowitz).
The songs covered on the song were released on iTunes during each week’s broadcast as well as compiled on CDs. Over 36 million digital single sales and eleven million album sales were made worldwide. The cast even toured with live concerts in 2011 and Glee: The 3D Concert Movie was produced.
During its first season, Glee was nominated for 19 Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, six Satellite Awards and 57 other awards! During the show’s 121 episodes, over 729 music performances were presented.
School of Rock
Aired: March 12, 2016 –April 8, 2018
Starred: Breanna Yde, Ricardo Hurtado, Jade Pettyjohn, Lance Lim, Aidan Miner, Tony Cavalero, Jama Williamson
Based on the movie of the same name, School of Rock was a musical-comedy television series featuring a group of fine, rule-abiding students who are given a unique music teacher to turn their lives upside down. Set in Austin, Texas, the show centered on Dewey Finn, a musician strapped for cash looking for work and accepts a substitute teaching position at a local middle school. To his surprise, he finds that teaching can be fun when one can inspire their students.
Set in Austin, Texas, the series follows a group of rule-abiding students who learn to take risks and reach new heights thanks to substitute teacher Dewey Finn (Cavalero), a down-on-his-luck musician who uses the language of rock and roll to inspire his class to form a secret band. Throughout the school year, these middle-school classmates find themselves navigating relationships, discovering their unknown talents and learning lessons on loyalty and friendships.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series
Aired: November 8, 2019 – Present
Starred: Olivia Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett, Matt Cornett, Sofia Wylie, Larry Saperstein, Julia Lester, Dara Reneé, Frankie Rodriguez, Mark St. Cyr, Kate Reinders, Joe Serafini
Inspired by Disney’s High School Musical film series, this new show for the Disney+ streaming service is identified as a mockumentary musical drama. It is set at East High School in Salt Lake Utah (where the original movie was filmed) and follows the school’s new drama teacher, Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) and her desire to present a stage version of the first HSM movie. The second season focused on the kids bringing Beauty and the Beast to life.
The cast of characters include musical theater enthusiast Nini Salazar-Roberts (Rodrigo), guitarist, skateboarder and former flame of Nini Ricky Bowen (Bassett), E.J. Caswell (Cornett) and jock theater enthusiast, transfers student Gina Porter (Wylie), Big Red (Saperstein) the understudy stage manager, feminist Kourtney Greene (Renee), choreographer Carlos Rodriguez (Rodriguez), STEM teacher Benjamin Mazzara (St. Cyr) and Seb Matthew-Smith (Serafini) who played the role of Sharpay in the first season.
Disney was so proud of the new series that it was renewed for a second season before the first one even aired. It premiered as a special on Disney Channel, ABC, and Freeform on November 8, 2019, ahead of its launch on Disney+ on November 12.
Saved by the Bell (Revival)
Aired: November 25, 2020 – Present
Starred: Haskiri Velazquez, Mitchell Hoog, Josie Totah, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Belmont Cameli, Dexter Darden, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren, Mario Lopez, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiesessen, Lark Voorhies
One of the crown jewels for NBC’s streaming service Peacock is a new version of Saved by the Bell. It serves as both a sequel and revival of the original series. It is not filmed in front of a live audience and is edgier with a little language thrown in too. The new show actually mocks the original’s wholesome charm.
Berkley and Lopez appear in every episode of the new series as a school counselor and P.E. teacher. Gosselaar and Thiessen also reprise their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Morris, the Governor and First Lady of California. Voorhies appeared in one episode as a grown-up Lisa Turtle working as a fashion designer living in Paris.
As for the students, the show features underprivileged Daisy Jimenez (Velazquez), Mac Morris (Hoog) son of Zack and Kelly, Lexi-DeFabrizio (Totah) a transgender cheerleader, ultracompetitive quarterback Aisha Garcia (Pascual-Pena), Jamie Spano (Cameli) the dumb-as-rock football captain (and son of Jessie) and drama student Devante Young (Darden).
Aired: December 7, 2021 – Present
Starred: Quinta Brunson, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, Chris Perfetti, Sheryl Lee Ralph, William Stanford Davis
One of ABC’s biggest hits of 2021 didn’t even air until December 7 as a midseason replacement series. Abbott Elementary not only stars Quinta Brunson, but she created it as well. The comedy mockumentary series takes place at an underfunded and predominantly black, Philadelphia public school where the teachers are being recorded for a fictional documentary.
Brunson plays Janine Teagues, a second-grade teacher who is determined to make a difference in the lives of her students while making the lives of her fellow teachers more complicated. It’s a tough job. Most of the new teachers don’t make it past year one. Janine’s coworkers include the experienced kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard, second grade teacher Melissa Schemmenti, history teacher Jacob Hill, the tone-deaf school principal Ava Coleman, and recent substitute hire Gregory Eddie who would rather work at a more successful school.
In 2022, Abbott Elementary has been nominated for six Primetime Emmy awards.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.