Sitcom about a seven-year-old African-American orphan who is adopted by white parents.
156 episodes of 30-minute duration. ABC and Syndication. 1983-1989.
This 1980's family sitcom had a format similar to the already-popular Diff’rent Strokes – very cute black child adopted by a white family.
Emmanuel Lewis (who was actually 12 when the series began) played seven-year-old Webster Long, whose mom and dad were killed in a car accident. Enter George Papadopolis (Alex Karras), a former football star who took the child in to keep a promise made to Webster’s dad, George’s former team mate. George was a big bear of a man who loved the idea of being a father. But his new wife Katherine (Susan Clark) was an emotionally reserved socialite with no clue about parenting. As in any good family comedy, love triumphed and Katherine accepted the young boy as her son. The family lived in an upscale Chicago high-rise--George was a television sportscaster and Katherine was a family psychologist; her male secretary was Jerry Silver (Henry Polic II) . Eugene Roche and Cathryn Damon played neighbors Bill and Cassie Parker, who leased an old Victorian home to the Papadopolis family in Seasons Two and Three, after Webster accidently burned their apartment with his science kit. Entertainer Ben Vereen was seen occasionally as Webster’s uncle Phillip Long, who had a problem with Webster being raised by a white couple.
Karras and Clark were actually married in real life–he was a pro football player turned actor and she was an Canadian actress who appeared in a number of films and TV series. The two were originally set to star in a sitcom about a newly-married couple, but that was before ABC executives spotted Lewis in a commercial for Burger King. The network quickly developed a series that was part family sitcom, part romantic comedy–with the emphasis on young Emmanuel. (Clark did not want the series to be named Webster; the network overruled her).
Webster was an instant hit following its September 1983 launch, but Karras and Clark were unhappy with ABC’s demand for “all Webster, all the time” at the expense of their characters. There were fights over scripts and battles with the network and the studio; by the second season, an agreement was reached where Karras and Clark would get major storylines, and young Lewis would get production credit alongside the couple. Webster lasted four seasons on ABC, but not unlike some previous network sitcoms such as Mama’s Family and Charles In Charge, it resumed production with new episodes for syndication. A new character was added–George’s nephew Nicky (Corin Nemec, who would eventually star in Parker Lewis Can’t Lose), a sort of an older brother figure for Webster. Nicky was gone by the sixth and final season; the other stars also felt the time was right to call it a day as well. The last Webster episode aired in the spring of 1989. The four-foot-three Lewis later went on to graduate from college and continued to act in occasional TV and film roles. In 1981, Lewis reached number two on the Japanese music charts with a song called City Connection.
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