Owing much to the commercial success of George (Star Wars) Lucas's nostalgic movie American Graffiti, Paramounts Happy Days premiered on U.S. television screens on January 15, 1974 and by the airing of its 255th and final episode on July 12, 1984 it had more than established itself as one of the world's best-loved situation comedies.
Set in the late 1950'S, the show originally focused on the Cunningham family. Father and mother Howard and Marion (TV veterans Tom Bosley and Marion Ross), and their three children-college aged Chuck, (A character who would vanish never to be mentioned again by the end of the first season), younger brother Richie (former child actor and future top-flight movie director Ron Howard), and 12 year old sister Joanie. (Erin Moran). When not at the Cunningham home the bulk of the youngster's adventures revolved around the local diner and hub of teen-aged Milwaukee social life, 'Arnold's'.
But what sealed the show's popularity was the introduction of the leather-jacketed, perennially 'cool' biker character of Arthur 'Fonzie' Fonzarelli (a star making performance from the talented Henry Winkler). With the arrival of Fonzie, the centrepiece of the show's core became the relationship which developed between the slightly 'square' Richie and the older, worldly-wise biker. What helped set the series above other sitcoms of the day was the fact that over the course of its run the characters actually grew -evolved. Richie went over the course of Ron Howard's time on the show from callow high school kid, to college student, and ultimately to adult Hollywood scriptwriter with a wife and children of his own. Even the Fonz himself became a more fully rounded, three dimensional character who apart from becoming a respected business owner, also went on to a career as 'Dean of Boys' at the George S. Patton Vocational High School.
The series also spawned three spin-offs: The short lived Joanie Loves Chachi, Laverne & Shirley, and perhaps most notable of all, Mork and Mindy. (The show which helped lay the foundations of the future movie super stardom of Robin Williams). Happy Days finished after a run of ten and a half years and countless characters from 'Potsie' Webber and Ralph Malph, to Jenny Piccolo (played by Phil Silvers' daughter Cathy Silvers) and the aforementioned Mork from Ork, during which time it became the symbol for a safer, simpler, bygone era that had never truly existed in the first place. One of the Fonz's ubiquitous leather jackets is now displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and its endearingly likeable characters are immortalised in perpetual re-runs.
Happy Days also gave rise to the idiom "Jump the Shark", used to describe the moment a television show begins to decline in quality. The phrase was borne out of the fifth season episode where a water-skiing Fonzie, wearing swimming trunks and a leather jacket proves his bravery by jumping over a shark. For many viewers this was seen as the point where writers ran out of ideas and Happy Days became a caricature of itself.
Happy Days has become a part of the fabric of television folklore and for that, if nothing else, the series deserves one of Arthur Fonzarelli's world famous (and much imitated) thumb's up.
Published on December 20th, 2018. Written by SRH & Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.