Happy Days — a 1970s tv show about the 1950s — has provided inspiration for family-centered sitcoms that have come since. It also lives on through its influential characters, especially Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, who quickly became a fan favorite on the series.
The show spent 10 years on the air, and while not every episode was a hit, it certainly lives on as fond memories for viewers who saw it in its original run and who have experienced it in the many reruns since. We have to wonder if the show would have been so successful if it had run under its original name, which was scrapped for reminding audiences of cigarettes.
‘Happy Days’ was focused on the Cunninghams
When the idea for what would become Happy Days was just starting out, the series was conceived as being set in the 1920s. Show creator Garry Marshall was quick to let executives know that he didn’t have the knowledge to pull of that idea, but he could fondly remember his own years growing up in the 1950s, and he would be happy to turn that experience into comedic gold.
At the heart of the series was the Cunninghams. This traditional family featured Marion (Marion Ross), Howard (Tom Bosley), and their three children: Chuck, Richie, and Joanie. Chuck, however, was soon written out of the script due to some casting issues, so the story featured only the younger two Cunningham siblings while the third was perpetually absent. This left Richie (played by Ron Howard) as the nominal protagonist of the series. He and his friends — Potsie and Ralph — were often at the center of the plot.
Henry Winkler’s Fonzie filled in the big brother role
As time went on, it became clear that audiences resonated most with a character who wasn’t in the Cunningham’s nuclear family. Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli had stolen America’s heart and, in many ways, he stepped in to fulfill the big brother role left vacant by an absent Chuck.
As Marshall explained, “It soon became obvious because we heard the audience loved Fonzie. It soon became obvious that Fonzie was like the older brother and that was the relationship that was working.”
While Fonzie’s rise to the top of the show’s attention caused some tensions with Howard, the viewer response was undeniable. Fonzie was the star of the show and the cultural force that would help propel it into sitcom fame.
It was Fonzie’s face that popped up on t-shirts and lunchboxes, and it was his catchphrase “Ayyyy!” that fans were shouting. It was also Fonzie’s allure that helped the show last for an impressive 11 seasons — even if the last few were a little rough around the edges and offered up the origins of the infamous “jumped the shark” phrase for a show that refused to hang it up when its time has come.
‘Happy Days’ originally had a different name
It’s hard to imagine Happy Days as being called anything else after its long-standing influence in American culture, but the series had a different name when it started out. The creators wanted to call the show COOL, as Mental Floss reports.
The emphasis on the hip factor of the series in this suggested title hints that maybe the creators did, in fact, know that Fonzie and his now-famous portrayal of cool would be a big draw after all. Certainly the motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing, suave greaser was a better fit for that title than the wholesome Richie Cunningham.
Whatever the case, COOL was shelved when test audiences reported that it reminded them of cigarettes. Not wanting to lean into an unsavory association, the creative team went in another direction. It was producer Carl Kleinschmitt who came up with the winning suggestion: “How about calling it Happy Days? That’s what we’re going to show.”
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