Synopsis by Hal Erickson
One of the most critically acclaimed (and, sadly, least watched) of the MTM dramatic series of the 1970s and 1980s, the weekly, hour-long The White Shadow debuted November 27, 1978 on CBS. Ken Howard was cast as basketball pro Ken Reeves, star forward of the Chicago Bulls, who was forced to retire after one too many knee injuries. At the invitation of his old college friend Jim Willis (Ed Bernard), Reeves accepted a coaching job at Carver High School in Los Angeles, where Willis was principal. Referred to as "The White Shadow" by the predominately black student body, Reeves slowly but surely won the respect of his players, most of whom came from underprivileged homes and a few of whom were in the "high-risk" category. As he molded the perennially losing team into winners, Reeves also did his best to help his players straighten out their troubled personal lives. Meanwhile, Reeves faced resistance from the school's black vice principal Sybil Buchanan (Joan Pringle), who regarded the "White Shadow" as just another limousine liberal who went around raising the expectations of inner-city kids but did not follow through to make sure that those expectations were met. In a similar vein, Ken's sister and brother-in-law Katie and Bill Donahue (Robin Rose, Jerry Fogel) could not for the life of them understand why Ken didn't leave Carver for a better-paying job in one of the lily-white suburbs. During the series' first two seasons, Reeves' team included Kevin Hooks as Morris Thorpe, Eric Kilpatrick as Curtis Jackson, Byron Stewart as Warren "Cool" Coolidge, Timothy Van Patten as Mario "Salami" Petrino, Ken Michelman as Abner Goldstein, Ira Angustain as Ricardo "Go Go" Gomez, John Mengatti as Nick Vittaglia and Russell Phillip Robinson as team manager Phil Jefferson. Those first seasons were generally somber in tone, dealing realistically with the myriad of problems facing urban kids of the era, including drugs, domestic abuse, gang pressure, sex and learning disabilities. In the series' most shattering moment, Curtis Jackson was killed at the very end of Season Two when he had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a liquor store holdup. In addition to "lightening up" the story material during its third season, The White Shadow also underwent a large cast turnover (logically, in that several of the students had graduated high school). New team members included Larry Flash Jenkins as Wardell Stone, Wolfe Perry as Terry Rutherford, Stoney Jackson as Jesse B. Mitchell and John Laughlin as Patrick Falahey, Art Holliday as Eddie Jackson. Also, Sybil Buchanan--no longer Reeves' enemy, but not exactly his friend either--had become principal, replacing the departed Jim Willis. In addition, former football pro Rosey Grier joined the cast at this time as wrestling coach Ezra Davis. Despite its lukewarm ratings, The White Shadow enjoyed a healthy fan following amongst younger viewers, especially those in big cities. The series also won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Directing", and was nominated in several other categories. The White Shadow ran until August 12, 1981.