On This day in comedy on September 16, 1983 Webster premiered on ABC.
Created by Stu Silver and produced by Emmanuel Lewis Entertainment Enterprises and Paramount, the sitcom starred Emmanuel Lewis as the title character and Alex Karras and Susan Clark as his adopted parents. The white couple (who were married in real life) were practically newlyweds when the groom’s 5 year old black godson lost his parents in a car accident. So the ex-bachelor and his bride take him in. Now these two adults (he a retired NFL player; she a socialite) have to navigate adapting to married existence and raising a child. That’s what it was supposed to be about anyway.
Originally “Webster” wasn’t “Webster”. Karras and Clark had their own production company and struck up a deal with ABC to produce a romantic comedy starring them, but when suits from the network saw Emmanuel Lewis in a burger commercial they wanted to give him his own show instantly. Based on the network’s new line-up it would be impossible. So they opted to shove Lewis into an upcoming show and it was going to be the couple’s series, “Another Ballgame”. At first the network wanted most of the focus on Lewis (which was evident when they changed the name of the show to “Webster” despite protests from Karras and Clark). The couple fought opening about rewrites and being minimized on their own show and Lewis would be taken from the set; often blaming himself for the discord.
Eventually ABC relented and gave into the couple. The network had a hit on its hands and didn’t want to blow it. Lewis was the new Gary Coleman and the chemistry with Karras and Clark worked. Thus, they increased the screen time of the newlyweds and off-camera, Karras and Lewis became close. The TV family grew to be more like a family. While on the show they were rendered homeless by Webster who set their Chicago high-rise apartment on fire messing around with the science kit. They moved into a basement and by the fourth season the show that had consistently been in the top 30 had now dropped to #46 and on May 8, 1987 the last episode aired; on ABC anyway.
Due to a contractual agreement with ABC, the couple’s show (now forever known as “Webster”) went into instant syndication with Paramount targeting the core audience of “Webster” – children. Because of this additional success it lasted two more seasons. It could’ve gone on even further, but Emmanuel Lewis (who was 4’3” was tired of playing a young kid when he was 17 years old in real life and graduating high school. Karras and Clark were also weary and so the actual final episode of “Webster” aired on March 10, 1989.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton