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The White Shadow is an American drama television series starring Ken Howard that ran on the CBS network from November 27, 1978, to March 16, 1981, about a white former professional basketball player who takes a job coaching basketball at an impoverished urban high school with a racially mixed basketball team. Although the lead actor Howard was white, the series broke new ground as the first television ensemble drama to feature a mostly African American cast, with African American actors playing the high school principal and vice-principal, the majority of the teenage basketball players, and other supporting roles. The White Shadow also dealt with controversial subject matter such as sexually transmitted disease and gay sexual orientation among high school students.
|The White Shadow|
|Genre||Drama, basketball, school|
|Created by||Bruce Paltrow|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||54 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer||Bruce Paltrow|
|Running time||48 minutes|
|Production companies||Company Four|
|Original release||November 27, 1978 –|
March 16, 1981
Although The White Shadow was not a big ratings hit, it drew praise from critics and helped pave the way for later realistic dramas such as Hill Street Blues and My So-Called Life. It was the first series developed by executive producer Bruce Paltrow, who went on to create and produce the medical drama St. Elsewhere. The show also made popular TV stars of both Howard and Kevin Hooks, who portrayed high school basketball player Morris Thorpe. In the years since its cancellation, a number of journalists have praised the show and in some cases recalled being fans of the show as children or teenagers. In particular, sports columnist Bill Simmons has written about the show's strong influence on his life.
Ken Howard plays Ken Reeves, a white professional basketball player who retires from the Chicago Bulls of the NBA after a severe knee injury. Upon his retirement, Reeves takes a job as the head basketball coach at the fictional Carver High School, a mostly black and hispanic urban high school in South Central Los Angeles.
Carver's principal is Coach Reeves' former Boston College classmate Jim Willis (Jason Bernard in the pilot, and Ed Bernard — no relation to Jason, but his best friend in real life — for seasons 1 and 2). Sybil Buchanon (Joan Pringle) is the vice principal, who was against Reeves' hiring and frequently clashes with Reeves in the areas of discipline and education. In season 3, Willis is promoted to a position with the Oakland Board of Education and Buchanan becomes principal of Carver High.
The subject matter of episodes included illicit drug use, child abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, gambling, prostitution, sexual orientation, and physical and mental disabilities. However, the show often incorporated humor, such as a joke made by a character, even when dealing with serious subjects. Episodes often ended with an issue left unresolved, contrary to other TV shows where the characters' problems were resolved by the end of the episode.
- Ken Howard as Coach Ken Reeves
- Jason Bernard as Principal Jim Willis (pilot episode)
- Ed Bernard as Principal Jim Willis (seasons 1–2)
- Joan Pringle as Vice-Principal (later Principal) Sybil Buchanon
- Byron Stewart as Warren Coolidge
- Kevin Hooks as Morris Thorpe
- Timothy Van Patten as Mario "Salami" Pettrino
- Thomas Carter as James "Hollywood" Hayward (seasons 1–2, 3 episodes season 3)
- Nathan Cook as Milton Reese (seasons 1–2, 1 episode season 3)
- Erik Kilpatrick as Curtis "CJ" Jackson (seasons 1–2)
- Ira Angustain as Ricardo "Go-Go" Gomez (seasons 1–2, 1 episode season 3)
- Ken Michelman as Abner Goldstein (seasons 1–2, 1 episode season 3)
- Russell Philip Robinson as Team Manager Phil Jeffers (seasons 1–2)
- John Mengatti as Nick "New York" Vitaglia (seasons 2–3)
- Art Holliday as Eddie Franklin (season 3)
- Larry "Flash" Jenkins as Wardell Stone (season 3)
- John Laughlin as Paddy Falahey (season 3)
- Stoney Jackson as Jesse B. Mitchell (season 3)
- Wolfe Perry as Teddy Rutherford (season 3)
Stewart reprised the role of Warren Coolidge, from 1984–88, in the Paltrow-directed series St. Elsewhere. On episodes of St. Elsewhere, Coolidge could often be spotted wearing a Carver High School t-shirt, and he discusses how he had to give up basketball due to injury, later moving to Boston and taking a hospital orderly job at St. Eligius. Van Patten plays a character named Dean in a St. Elsewhere three episode story arc in 1985 – in the final episode for Dean, this causes some confusion for Coolidge, who calls out "Heyyy!! Salami!!" when he sees Dean on a St. Eligius elevator, to which Dean replies "You got the wrong guy, pal.", leaving Coolidge trying to plead his case with a confused "No - it's Warren." as the elevator doors close.
Hooks, Van Patten and Carter all later pursued careers as directors.
The concept for the show originated from Ken Howard's own experiences as a high school basketball star at Manhasset High School on Long Island. Howard was one of the few white basketball players at the school and the only white player in the starting lineup, and had been nicknamed "The White Shadow". According to Howard, there were few racial tensions at his own high school, which was also not located in a "ghetto", but the team encountered such tensions when they played elsewhere. Howard has said that the humor in The White Shadow was based on that of his former teammates, who were "really funny". After graduating high school, Howard went on to be captain of the basketball team at Amherst College.
When Howard and Bruce Paltrow pitched the idea for a show about a white coach and a racially mixed basketball team, CBS initially wanted it to be a half-hour sitcom and avoid dealing with controversial material involving sex, drugs and crime. Howard later said that he and Paltrow were "not going to turn this into Welcome Back, Kotter". They persuaded the network to make it a one-hour drama series and furthermore allow the show to address realistic, controversial subjects. They also strove for realism in the basketball scenes.
The memorable funk instrumental theme song for the show was composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. Although not released on record during the show's run, it later appeared on Post's albums Television Theme Songs (1982) and NYPD Blue: The Best of Mike Post (1999).
The program has intermittently been seen in syndication and on cable since ending its network run (including airing on ESPN Classic), and as of 2016, the show airs (intermittently) on the Heroes & Icons classic TV network. Decades also aired the show as part of the Decades Binge August 27–28, 2016, June 9–10, 2018. and March 20-21, 2021. Aired on TV Land in the late 1990s.
In popular cultureEdit
In the 1996 film The Cable Guy, antagonist Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey) references the show during his basketball game, remarking, "Let's see what you got, White Shadow" to Rick (Jack Black), the friend of the movie's hero, Steven M. Kovacs (Matthew Broderick).
The animated show by Aaron McGruder, The Boondocks, had a character who Huey called the White Shadow. He claimed to be a government agent sent to spy on Huey, but was only ever seen by Huey causing Huey to believe he may just be a figment of his imagination. He only had 2 appearances, the first being in "The Real" and in the last episode of season 3 "It's Going Down".
In a 2016 episode of The Flash titled "Potential Energy", the character Wally West referred to main character Barry Allen as "The White Shadow", because he was a Caucasian boy adopted by an African-American family.
- Fearn-Banks, Kathleen; Burford-Johnson, Anne (October 3, 2014). Historical Dictionary of African American Television. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-8108-7917-1.
- "The White Shadow". distribution-point.com.[dead link]
- The White Shadow - Heroes and Icons. TV.com.
- "Decades schedule". Decades.
- "The White Shadow DVD news: Season 1 Release Info". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on January 22, 2012.
- "The White Shadow DVD news: Season 2 artwork". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on January 22, 2012.
- Thamel, Pete (September 9, 2010). "Turkey Channeled 'White Shadow' as Basketball Caught On". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2022.