Ingredients for a well-publicized disaster: preheat television to Happy Days hot, take two parts Chachi, throw in a dash of Joanie, and mix in a few tunes. Now go ahead and stick your head in that oven, because if you can’t make a Happy Days spin-off work, you’re probably not long for the executive world.
By the start of the 1980’s, the long-running Happy Days had already spawned two more wildly successful series: Laverne and Shirley and Mork & Mindy. Somebody at ABC decided that three was a magic number, and Joanie Loves Chachi was born.
The new show took two popular characters from Happy Days and placed them in a brand-new setting. Returning to their roles as Charles “Chachi” Arcola and Joanie Cunningham (a.k.a. Shortcake) were two of that show’s hot young stars, Scott Baio and Erin Moran. Leaving behind the Fonz and the confines of Milwaukee for big city dreams, the two lovebirds relocated to Chicago to try their hands at a music career. Once they were settled, they assembled a rock band with hopes of hitting the big time. Unfortunately, their road to success was just as bumpy as the series.
Joining Chachi and Joanie were Chachi’s mom, Louisa, and her new husband Al Delvecchio, owner of Al’s Restaurant on Happy Days, (Al Molinaro defected from his kitchen in Milwaukee to reprise his role on the new series). Joanie and Chachi lived with Louisa and Al, who bought an Italian Restaurant in Chicago where Chachi’s band would often perform. The band members included Chachi’s two cousins, Annette and Mario, as well as their wacky drummer Bingo. Also making an appearance on the show was Chachi’s sketchy Uncle Rico (Annette and Mario’s father), who acted as the band’s agent.
In the early going, Joanie Loves Chachi was actually a ratings hit, finishing in the Top-5 as a mid-season replacement in the spring of 1982. Unfortunately for all involved, Happy Days’ magic touch was only working temporary magic in this case. When the 1982-83 fall season began, Joanie Loves Chachi found itself in a much less happy place, finishing an unheralded 68th in the Nielsen’s seasonal ratings and prompting ABC to pull the show from its weekly line-up.
But buck up, Chachi fans (and pull your head out of the oven, you poor TV exec). Scott Baio, Erin Moran and Al Molinaro all returned home to Happy Days the following season, ready once more to groove all week with you.
USA / ABC – Miller – Milkis – Boyett Prod – Henderson / 17×25 minutes / Broadcast 23 March – 23 December 1982
Creator: Garry Marshall / Producers: Garry Marshall, Thomas L. Miller, Lowell Ganz, Ronny Hallin / Theme Vocal: You Look at Me by Erin Moran, Scott Baio.
Erin Moran as Joanie Cunningham
Scott Baio as Chachi Arcola
Ellen Travolta as Louisa Delvecchio
Al Molinaro as Al Delvecchio
Art Metrano as Uncle Ricco
Derrel Maury as Mario
Robert Peirce as Bingo
Winifred Freedman as Annette
Chris McDermott as Suky