What’s lovable, funny, and small enough to fit in a dumbwaiter? Webster had the adorable answer. Though Webster Long stood at a mere 3 feet 4 inches, what he lacked in size, he made up for in personality and mischievous antics.
Set in Chicago in the early eighties, the story of Webster began when George Papadopolis and his wife Katherine Calder-Young (played by Alex Karras and Susan Clark, who were also married off-screen) returned from a cruise to find the adorable Webster orphaned and waiting on their doorstep. Years prior, George had promised a former pro football teammate that he would care for the man’s son in the event of a tragedy. When Webster’s parents were killed in a car crash, childless George and Katherine opened their home to the pint-sized seven-year-old child played by Emmanuel Lewis (who was actually twelve years old).
Bed-wettings, unnatural attachments to teddy bears and “facts of life” talks were not exactly Katherine’s cup of tea (her cup of tea was actually journalism). Once they took Webster under their wings, Katherine, whom Webster referred to as “Ma’am” (“cause it kinda sounds like ‘mom’”), and George were forced to make some serious lifestyle adjustments. George shed his gruff exterior to reveal a soft spot for Webster, and Katherine continually attempted to assume a mother’s role.
Sweeter than syrup and gooier than molasses, most of the episodes played up the kind of “cute kid” antics that were making Diff’rent Strokes such a success over on NBC. An ABC programming chief had spotted Lewis in a Burger King commercial, and seeing that the kid had that Gary Coleman vibe, a show was built around the miniature actor. Though most story lines were simple, occasional episodes were devoted to serious issues such as physically handicapped children and death.
In the fall of 1984, the Papadapolises moved out of their apartment into a Victorian house, and new cast members joined them. Bill and Cassie Parker owned and renovated the house, while Webster’s uncle Phillip Long stirred things up when he tried to obtain custody of Webster. Surprisingly, Webster actually out-cuted Diff’rent Strokes in its first seasons, shooting into the Top-25. But as the “adorable youngster” prime time craze died down in the mid-80’s (sorry, Punky Brewster), Webster’s ratings began to slide. After four years on ABC, Webster moved into syndication for two more seasons. After the changeover, Webster got a young playmate and brother figure in the house when George’s fourteen-year-old nephew Nicky moved in with them while his parents were overseas.
Six seasons were all the little guy could muster, but while he lasted, Webster warmed the hearts of Ma’am, George and everybody at home with his winning smile, his dumbwaiter-riding antics, and his sunny outlook on life.
USA / ABC – Paramount Television / x25 minute episodes / Broadcast 16 September 1983 – 11 September 1987
Emmanuel Lewis as Webster Long
Alex Karras as George Papadapolis
Susan Clark as Katherine Calder-Young Papadapolis
Henry Polic II as Jerry Silver
Eugene Roche as Bill Parker (1984-86)
Cathryn Damon as Cassie Parker (1984-86)
Ben Vereen as Uncle Phillip Long (1984-85)
Jack Kruschen as ‘Papa’ Papadapolis (1985-87)
Chad Allen as Rob Whitaker/Joiner (1985-86)
Gabe Witcher as Tommy (1987)
Carl Steven as Roger (1986-87)
Danny McMurphy as Andy (1986-87)
Nick DeMauro as Benny (1987)
Corin Nemec as Nicky Papadapolis (1987-89)