After his turn as America’s favorite burnt-out DJ on WKRP in Cincinnati, Howard Hesseman returned to TV as Charles Moore, a struggling actor and substitute teacher assigned to take over the Individual Honors Program at New York’s Millard Fillmore High School. Series co-creator Rich Eustis had actually worked as a New York City substitute while hoping to become an actor, incidentally.
Watching down on Charlie from above (meaning the office, not heaven) were Dr. Harold Samuels, the school’s principal who constantly put pressure on the kids to win academic contests, and assistant principal Bernadette Meara. And though the kids didn’t seem to socialize with other students in the school, they didn’t all necessarily get along with each other either. Darlene stood out as preppy snob, who often rejected the advances of tough guy genius Eric Mardian. Darlene’s male counterpart in snobbery was Alan Pinkard; Maria Borges was the grade-obsessed over achiever who eventually transferred to a performing arts high school; the prototypical nerd was Arvid Engen, and Arvid’s best pal was science jock Dennis Blunden.
Simone was the quiet, literary-minded girl (who eventually had an unlikely flirtation with Eric), and Sarah was her artistic friend. Around for the first three seasons were Indian student Jawarhalal Choudhury and twelve-year-old prodigy Janice Lazarotto, who eventually left to attend Harvard. Joining the class in its later years were Vicky Amory, Alex Torres, De’voreaux White, Aristotle McKenzie, Jasper Kwong and inner-city student T.J. Jones.
The kids may have been geniuses, but they didn’t always know which bubbles to darken on that great Scan-Tron test sheet we call life. There were plenty of disappointments—both academic and romantic—but Mr. Moore was always there to play counselor as much as he played teacher. There were lessons on tolerance (after a mock court session Eric dubbed “Twelve Angry Nerds”), academic integrity (after that same bad boy Eric invented a story to win a journalist’s prize), and above all, learning to get along. The kids had a thing or two to teach Charlie as well, by the way: In one episode, Charlie got a big ego deflation when, after grilling each of the girls in the class as to who had developed a crush on him, he discovered it was really Dennis’ computer.
After the fourth year, Mr. Moore, who had finally landed an acting gig, left his job as a teacher and was replaced by Billy MacGregor, played by comedian Billy Connolly. After the show’s cancellation in 1991, Connolly reprised the character on the short-lived 1992 sitcom Billy.
Head of the Class was notable for its diverse cast made up of characters of different ethnicities, and in 1988, it became the first prime time series to film as episode in the Soviet Union when the kids took on their Soviet counterparts in a battle of wits. In a nod to Glasnost, the match ended in a draw. Once more, the brainiacs point the way to a better future for all of us…
USA / ABC – Eustis Elias Prod./ 112×25 minute episodes 1×50 minute episode / Broadcast 17 September 1986 – 15 January 1991
Creator/Executive Producers: Rich Eustis, Michael Elias / Producer: Alan Rosen
Howard Hesseman as Charlie Moore (1986-90)
William G Schilling as Dr Harold Samuels
Billy Connolly as Billy MacGregor (1990-91)
Jeannetta Arnette as Bernadette
Michael DeLorenzo as Alex (1989-91)
Dan Frischman as Arvid
Robin Givens as Darlene
Khrystyne Haje as Simone Foster
Tony O’Dell as Alan
Lara Piper as Viki
Tannis Vallely as Janice (1986-89)
Jory Husain as Jawaharlal (1986-89)
Leslie Bega as Maria (1986-89)
Rain Pryor as T J (1988-91)
Brian Robbins as Eric
Kimberly Russell as Sarah
Dan Schneider as Dennis
De’voreaux White as Aristotle
Jonathan Ke Quan as Jasper (1990-91)