One of the recurring little subplots of Welcome Back Kotter was the distinction between private and public existence and the tensions that could come when the boundaries between them were breached. The show would often start with these idyllic little private moments when Gabe and Julie would share an “uncle” joke at the breakfast table or elsewhere in the apartment and then pick up the main story somewhere in the school.
Even in the first episode, however, it was shown that the Kotters’ home was not just their own – the Sweathogs considered it and treated it like an extension of their classroom or territory and it was up to the Kotters to decide whether to welcome them in or try to shut them out (usually the former since the latter rarely worked). The Sweathogs never questioned their basic right to be there. They expected Kotter to be available for anything, wherever or whenever it was needed, and generally he was. There was no private life, no secrets. His life was their life and was open to them like a book.
It helped (or didn’t, depending on your position) that the apartment (save for a closet, the bedroom and the bathroom that must have been there even though no show would ever acknowledge such a thing) was open concept. Nothing was hidden. Everything was visible. Even the shelves were open. No cupboards, no secrets, no surprises.
No place to hide.
For the most part, Kotter’s availability was considered a good thing. He was such a dedicated teacher that he’d take the kids into his own space and turn any moment into a moment to help or teach. His initial resistance to the invasions faded and he surrendered his privacy to his job.
The reason I bring this up is that a rather secretive sports organization is now in the position of having to let the cameras come to a places they rarely permit and I’m curious as to how it will play out – particularly given the way this season has spun out of control.
Privacy and the guarding/control of information has been a Leaf issue for ages. Toronto has four daily papers, two full-time sports radio stations and is home to two competing cable sports networks that recently joined forces and bought the team. With the Leafs being the number one sports story for good or ill, the coverage and attention is relentless.
The Leafs react by ferociously guarding their information. They control what they can. Access is restricted. The most private areas are closed. Players are interviewed in scrums in the hallways or from behind a podium. Famously, anything from a hangnail to seventeen different simultaneous compound fractures is referred to as an “upper/lower body injury.”
At times, given space and air to fill and often limited information with which to do it, the local media simply resorts to reporting on its own reports. Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox mused about whether it might be worthwhile to trade Phil Kessel. This led to a three-day cycle where every outlet dealt with the question Cox raised. Should Kessel go? Should he stay? What could be obtained for him? There was no actual story, but since the issue was now “out there,” every single one of them had to (or said they had to) deal with it.
Now, by virtue of being one of the teams to take part in next year’s Winter Classic, the Leafs may (I’m still not certain they’ve confirmed a new season) find themselves the subjects of next season of 24/7 – the HBO series that goes into the dressing room and shows the largely personal, private side of the two teams involved.
When this was first announced, the Leafs were playing well and there was the possible dynamic of the young up-and-coming Leaf team against the battle-scarred old warhorses of Detroit. Now, with the Leafs having collapsed entirely and facing an uncertain outlook, it’ll be a very different feel. I’m not sure that it becomes more or less compelling. A lot will depend on whether they’re still a train wreck come next fall.
What could make 24/7 interesting, if it happens, is that all the privacy walls will be breached by a new voice that isn’t part of the local scene. There will be no old scores to settle and the team will be seen by fresh eyes. Just as Sidney Crosby was humanized by being shown in the context of his teammates, fans will see – for better or worse – a more complex, complete portrayal of the athletes than we normally get to see.
Even though it’s yet another show dedicated to the Leafs, it’s one that might prove interesting – if it happens.
One thing that always irked me about university texts was that the courses that generally demanded the largest number of the biggest, most expensive textbooks were often the ones that made the least actual use of them. At least now, given the possibility of e-books, no back injuries will come out of the wasted money.