Welcome Back, Kotter
Two iconic 70's sit-coms complete with popular catch-phrases, laugh-tracks and singable theme songs. (God I miss singable theme songs.) I watched both. I laughed at them. Thought "Sit on it" and "Upper your nose with a rubber hose" were hilarious. I think I probably liked Welcome Back a little better, because the ensemble worked better and there was slightly more of an edge, especially when Kotter and the Sweathogs would do their schticks, especially the Marx Brothers routines. (At the time, Gabe Kaplan did a lot of stand up on Carson and stuff, I THINK He was the one who did a funny impression of a drunk Ed Sullivan that my father found hilarious, although it might also have been Steve Landesberg.)
But the most interesting thing about these shows is that the characters they are most known for weren't the leads.
You couldn't get bigger than the Fonz in 1974 or Vinnie Barbarino in 1975. Break-out stars who completely took over their shows and two young, sexy actors who were clearly headed for super-stardom.
So why when I see Henry Winkler in a promo for a Vince Vaughan movie about a teacher who becomes a wrestler or a mixed martial arts fighter or something, is doing third or forth lead as the coach, whereas John Travolta is still a star who makes the front pages if a masseur accuses him of something untoward?
Was there a charisma gap between the two that I wasn't aware of in 1975/76? Is the difference between a Jew playing an Italian and an actual Italian playing an Italian. Is it the fact that Henry Winkler stuck with his series until the bitter end and when he did make a movie it was Night Shift with Michael Keaton, where in an effort (?) to get away from the Fonz, he played the nebbishy nice guy, where as John Travolta went directly from being Vinnie Barbarino to being Tony Manero and then being Danny Zuko. (Even if you hate everything the "plot" of Grease stands for and you never want to hear any of those songs every again, I still defy you not to start singing along when the opening chords of "Summer Nights" start at your local karaoke bar.)
Because while Henry Winkler has worked consistently, he was never a star of that magnitude again, whereas Travolta managed to survive Moment by Moment, and Battlefield Earth.
Maybe after you've been Tony Manero and Danny Zuko, you get the chance to be Vince Vega and Edna Turnblad eventually and nothing can ever take that away from you. But that still leaves the initial mystery of who has onsceen magic and luck that transcends looking good in a leather jacket and who doesn't.
However...Henry Winkler, when interviewed seems like a happy guy. I don't know if he always had peace with not being the kind of star that Travolta became so quickly, but these days, post various tragedies and tabloid headlines and whatever he does or doesn't get from his buddies in Scientology, you wonder how happy Mr. Travolta actually is, although lots of money and Kelly Preston is not chopped liver.
To quote Pete Townsend, "Stardom in action, that's all they've got."