Happy Days was one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, lasting ten years and 255 episodes, but it wasn’t always thus. In 1972, Garry Marshall produced a pilot about a middle class family in the fifties, called “New Family in Town.” While ABC didn’t pick up the show, the network decided to use part of it as a segment titled “Love and the Happy Days” on an episode of Love American Style.
Then came American Graffiti. In 1973, George Lucas’ film (actually set in ’62), which starred a talented young cast headed by Ron Howard, sparked a nostalgic embrace for the poodle-skirt era. ABC then rethought the pilot but had a couple of suggestions for Marshall: One was the inclusion of a tough thug, and the other was that Richie was to be played by 70’s heartthrob Robby Benson. Luckily for Marshall, Benson didn’t want to do TV, and the two conspired to flub his screen test. Ron Howard was cast as Richie, and Henry Winkler won the part of the “tough guy,” Arthur Fonzarelli.
Originally, the show was about two typical, wholesome teenagers living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the fifties: Richie Cunningham and Warren “Potsie” Webber, who attended Jefferson High and hung out at the drive-in diner Arnold’s. Arthur Fonzarelli was intended to be a minor character, adding an element of toughness in the otherwise apple-pie scenario.
But you can’t contain the Fonz. The slicked-haired, leather-wearing toughie found his popularity soaring, and Fonzie was made at once more prominent and less threatening. Fonzie became Richie’s close friend and a surrogate older brother, as well as the most quotable man on television (“Ayyyyyyy!,” “Sit on it!,” “In my office!”). Richie actually did have an older brother named Chuck, but he was disposed of, without explanation, in the second season.
Now out of the official best friend role, Potsie became part of a daft duo with Ralph Malph. Ralph, who had originally been a bit more worldly than Richie and Potsie, became a coward who often proclaimed, “I still got it,” after making one of his typically bad jokes.
At the Cunningham home, Richie’s dad Howard gave fatherly advice without being as one-dimensional as some of those TV dads of the fifties. A hardware store owner and lodge club member, Howard was married to Marion, a dutiful mother and housewife who wasn’t above telling her husband to “sit on it” (see, we told you Fonzie was quotable).
When the show began in 1974, kid sister Joanie Cunningham was a Junior Chipmunk who annoyed her mother by wearing her Mickey Mouse ears at the table. Eventually, Chachi Arcola came along, Fonzie’s young cousin and a big fan of Joanie’s, and the show had yet another memorable duo.
But the heart and humor of the show was Richie’s relationship with The Fonz. Richie was impressed with Fonzie’s freedom and his incredible, almost magical effect on women. In turn, the Fonz admired Richie’s honesty and integrity, as well as his close bond with his family (Fonzie himself had been abandoned by his own parents). The contrast provided for a wonderful and enduring friendship.
In 1980, Ron Howard had abruptly left the show to pursue different projects. On the show, Richie and Ralph had joined the army and were shipped off to Greenland. In 1982, Joanie and longtime beau Chachi moved to Chicago to become rock stars, but when the spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi fizzled, the two returned to Happy Days for the final season.
By this time, the show had changed greatly. Staying in Richie’s room was Marion’s nephew, Roger Phillips, who was principal of a vocational high school where Fonzie was Dean of Boys (Yes, the same Fonzie who battled toughs, won a marathon dance contest for Joanie, jumped a shark tank on his motorcycle, and could start Arnold’s jukebox just by hitting it. Alas, how the cool have square-ified…). The emotional final episode brought back Richie, who had earlier married longtime steady Lori Beth, to witness the marriage of Joanie and Chachi.
Helping spark a full-scale nostalgia revival, Happy Days set the stage for The Wonder Years, Brooklyn Bridge and That 70’s Show. It was a phenomenal hit, and everything it touched (except Joanie Loves Chachi) turned to gold. Independent-minded girls Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney got their own show, Laverne and Shirley, while a very different guest star (actually an alien…well, actually Robin Williams playing an alien) became the star of the spin-off Mork & Mindy. Not only were all of these shows tremendously successful on their own—in fact, the parent show and its two spin-offs spent at least one week ranked #1, 2 and 3—but each show also spawned at least one Saturday morning cartoon.
For years, Happy Days was the one show everybody in the house could agree on. Moms and dads liked the “those were the days” feel, kids wanted to be Fonzie (or Fonzie’s girl, as the case may be), and everybody left feeling pretty swell. If those weren’t happy days, then we don’t know what would be.
There were three spin offs from Happy Days. 1.Mork and Mindy, 2.Laverne and Shirley and 3.Joanie Loves Chachi.
In 1992 there was a 90 minute documentary look back at the show.
A number of cartoons series also appeared in the 1980’s, these were; The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (1980-82), Laverne and Shirley in the Army (81-82), Laverne and Shirley with the Fonz (82-83) and Mork and Mindy (1982-83).
USA / ABC – Miller-Milkis Prod. – Henderson Prod. / 256×30 minute episodes / Broadcast 1974 – 1984
Creator: Garry Marshall / Producers: Jerry Paris, William Buckley, Tony Marshall, Bob Brunner
HENRY WINKLER as Arthur ‘The Fonz’ Fonzerelli
RON HOWARD as Richie Cunningham (1974-80)
TOM BOSLEY as Howard Cunningham
MARION ROSS as Marion Cunningham
ANSON WILLIAMS as Warren ‘Potsie’ Webber (1974-83)
DONNY MOST as Ralph Malph (1974-80)
ERIN MORAN as Joanie Cunningham
SCOTT BAIO as Charles ‘Chachi’ Arcola (1977-83)
PAT MORITA as Arnold Takahashi (1975-76/82-83)
AL MOLINARO as Al Delvecchio (1976-82)
CATHY SILVERS as Jenny Piccalo (1980-83)