Before NBC and CBS eschewed adult soap opera programming and started programming divisions concentrating on weekday, young adult programming, ABC-TV blazed the trail with their Afterschool Special that ran for 25 years from October 1972 to January 1997. The series topics, which touched on illiteracy, drug abuse, bullying, spousal abuse, and teen pregnancy, earned a record-breaking 51 Daytime Emmys.
The series has far too many standout episodes to mention, but here’s just a few of them, starring actors you know all too well.
Santiago’s Ark (1972), about a 14-year-old Puerto Rican boy who builds a boat to sail around Central Park, co-starred Bill Duke (Predator, Commando; recently in American Satan and Mandy). Child actor René Enríquez would go onto star for several seasons as Lt. Ray Calletano on NBC-TV’s Hill Street Blues.
Other standouts include Me and My Dad’s Wife (1976; Kristie McNichol), Schoolboy Father (1980; Rob Lowe), Stoned (1980; Scott Baio), and Dinky Hocker (1979, the late Wendie Jo Sperber from Back to the Future). Then there’s Rookie of the Year (1973), which starred Jodie Foster (Silence of the Lambs, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane) as an 11-year-old girl who joins her brother’s Little League Team.
But it’s this first episode of the sixth season that aired on October 12, 1977, that we loved the most. You’ll recognized Russell “The Professor” Johnson from Gilligan’s Island and a then 16-year-old Perry Lang, later of Alligator, Spring Break, Eight Men Out, and 1941.
Lang is Hewitt Calder, a mentally-challenged teen cared for by his father (Johnson). Hewitt comes to make friends with Willie Arthur (Moosie Drier, later of American Hot Wax, Hollywood Nights). Together, they overcome the school bully, Nully (played by Tom Gulager, the son of Clu, the star of Return of the Living Dead and Hunter’s Blood), and teach the neighborhood kids that “Everybody Matters.”
Sadly—even with all of the uploads of Afterschool Special episodes—this one’s missing. And that’s a damn shame, because Perry is incredible in his acting debut. He’s long since moved into directing, with credits across all three major TV networks, along with the 2018 Christian-based film, Interview with God.
You can watch the episodes mentioned in this review—and more—on a pretty nifty catch-all playlist we found on You Tube.