August 06, 2016


(ABC, November 8, 1980-November 28, 1981)

Hanna-Barbera Productions, Paramount Network Television

Henry Winkler – Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli
Ron Howard – Richie Cunningham
Donny Most – Ralph Malph
Frank Welker – Mr. Cool
Didi Conn – Cupcake
Wolfman Jack – Opening Narrator

             It’s not unusual for people to look back on a certain era (usually when they were kids) with fondness and fascination (heck, we’re living that now). For people of the 1970s, that era was the 1950s. Garry Marshall attempted to capture that nostalgic interest by creating a show set in an idealized version of 1950s America. Unfortunately, the networks passed on his pilot and it was used instead as an episode of the anthology series Love, American Style called “Love and the Television Set” (later renamed “Love and the Happy Days” in syndication). The episode ended up being used by George Lucas in his decision to cast the pilot’s star, Ron Howard, in his upcoming 1950s movie, American Graffiti.

             After the success of Graffiti, Marshall and ABC recast and reshot the pilot and it was picked up as the series Happy Days. The sitcom originally revolved around the Cunningham family in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Howard returned as middle child Richie, as did Marion Ross as his mother Marion and Anson Williams as one of his best friends, Potsie Weber. Joining them was Tom Bosley as patriarch Howard, Gavan O’ Herlihy and then Randolph Roberts as older brother Chuck (who was written off in the second season), Erin Moran as youngest daughter Joanie, and Donny Most as Richie’s other best friend, Ralph Malph. The breakout character, however, was initially a secondary one: Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), aka “The Fonz” or “Fonzie” to his friends. Fonzie was the personification of cool: he wore a leather jacket (originally a windbreaker as the network was concerned the leather would make him seem too shady) and rode a motorcycle (which was always with him at first as he was allowed to wear the leather jacket when riding it), could summon a legion of pretty girls with a snap of his fingers, play the jukebox without any money, and when he spoke everyone listened. Fonzie connected with audiences, and his role grew and evolved to become the star of the show. Plots would begin to move away from the family experiences in a 1950s backdrop to follow the antics of Fonzie and the people he interacted with.

The original principal cast of Happy Days: Winkler, Bosley, Williams, Most, Moran, Ross and Howard.

             Happy Days debuted on January 15, 1974, using Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” as its theme before adopting the more-recognized “Happy Days” by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. The series proved to be a success, although it would take a few seasons for it to reach the top of the ratings charts. The show managed to run for 11 seasons and became the launching point for several spin-off series: Fonzie’s gal pals Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall, Garry’s sister) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) became single roommates working at a brewery in Laverne & Shirley; Initially appearing in a dream sequence, the alien Mork from Ork (Robin Williams) was given a human friend in Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber) and his own show, Mork & Mindy; Howard Cunningham’s cousin and former Las Vegas showgirl, Nancy Blansky (Nancy Walker), was the subject of Blansky’s Beauties; After Blansky’s cancellation, Scott Baio’s character of Chaci was added to the Happy Days cast where he and Joanie eventually married and received their own brief show, Joanie Loves Chachi; and finally, Angel-in-training Random (Jimmy Brogan) acted as a guardian angel for a family in Out of the Blue (although a scheduling error had the show debut before the character’s technical first appearance on Happy Days).

             Happy Days also became the origin of the phrase “jump the shark.” The phrase was coined by Jon Hein in 1986 and is a term used to describe when something in entertainment begins using desperate attempts to keep viewers interested or boost ratings. It’s become the indication that something has gone on long past its prime and the people behind it are clearly running out of ideas. In the case of Happy Days, the term was quite literal as the show had Fonzie jump over a shark on water skis during the fifth season premier. Although the episode’s writer, Fred Fox, Jr., debated the validity of that phrase considering the show ran an additional six seasons, there was no stopping its entering into the American lexicon.

Fonzie, Mr. Cool, Cupcake, Richie and Ralph.

             While the Happy Days universe was spread out all over prime time, it was decided that wasn’t quite enough and the producers set their sights on their younger audience on Saturday morning. Often viewed as one of the show’s “jump the shark” moments, The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang was produced by Hanna-Barbera and Paramount Network Television and featured Fonzie, Richie and Ralph being whisked away in a malfunctioning time machine by the magical future girl Cupcake (Didi Conn). Also joining them was Fonzie’s new anthropomorphic dog, Mr. Cool (Frank Welker). The three Happy Days cast members supplied the voices for their animated counterparts (billed as “guest appearances”), despite the fact that Howard and Most had left the main show at the conclusion of the seventh season months before the cartoon premiered. The characters were designed by Ruben Aquino, Curtis Cim, Debbie Hayes, Don Morgan and Lew Ott.

Getting a Geico quote?

             Debuting on ABC on November 8, 1980, The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang followed the characters as they travelled from one era to another looking to return to 1957 Milwaukee. However, the faulty time machine and Cupcake’s screwy magic usually ended up sending them farther and farther away from their goal. Cupcake also used her magic to disguise themselves in loosely era-appropriate attire (read: not very convincing disguises). Radio personality Wolfman Jack, who had worked with Howard in American Graffiti, was tapped to provide the opening narration for the program explaining the overall plot to the audience over a backdrop of 50s-esque music by Hoyt Curtin and Paul Dekorte. The show was written by Duane Poole, Tom Swale, Diane Duane, Joan Brooker, Paul Haggis, Michael Maurer, Jeffrey Scott and Alexandra Stoddart. Poole and Swale served as story editors with Barry Blitzer and Ray Parker.

Chariots of fire.

             The series ran for two seasons. During the second season, a Laverne & Shirley animated spin-off debuted called Laverne & Shirley in the Army. Upon the conclusion of The Fonz, Fonzie and Mr. Cool were moved over to that show for its 8-episode second season where the show was renamed Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz. It aired alongside the animated spin-off of Mork & Mindy as part of the Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour. Originally, Hanna-Barbera wanted to pair Fonzie up with Scooby-Doo, but beyond some artwork for the potential series no production had ever moved forward on it.

Puffy stickers.

             Like its parent series, Happy Days Gang received its own share of merchandising to help promote it and generate some extra income. Imperial released a set of puffy stickers, a miracle bubble shooter, Bubb-A-Loons (the plastic balloons you blow from a tube and stick) and a Hi-Bounce Ball all featuring images of the show’s characters. Larami made a wallet, Walkman and a Fonz Viewer. Gordy released a set of pins; Hasbro an acrylic paint-by-numbers set; APC a rub-down transfer game; and there was even a belt and handheld pinball game. In 2019, CBS Home Entertainment finally released the entire series to DVD.

Season 1:
“King for a Day” (11/8/80) – The gang ends up in 1 Million B.C. where Ralph is made the king for a day of a tribe of cave people, which could end up costing him his life.

“May the Farce Be With You” (11/15/80) – The time machine and Cupcake’s magic send the time machine to the moon in 2057 where the gang has to foil an alien invasion plot.

“Arabian Knights” (11/22/80) – In ancient Iraq, the gang is enlisted to help King Nebuchadnezzar II rescue his Hanging Gardens from an evil prince.

“Bye-Bye Blackbeard” (11/29/80) – The gang has to help Blackbeard find a lost treasure.

“Westward Whoa!” (12/6/80) – The gang ends up in the Old West and in the company of Billy the Kid.

“Ming Fu to You, Too!” (12/13/80) – Cupcake uses her magic to defeat an evil sorcerer and retrieve the Hongwu Emperor’s throne.

“The Vampire Strikes Back” (12/20/80) – The time machine finally ends up back in 1957, but in Transylvania courtesy of Count Dracula.

“You’ll Never Get Witch” (12/27/80) – Cupcake is captured by a witch hunter during the Salem Witch Trials.

“The 20,000 Drachma Pyramid” (1/3/81) – Ralph falls in love with Cleopatra in ancient Egypt.

“It’s a Jungle Out There” (1/10/81) – The gang has to save the Incas from Francisco Pizzaro.

“Gone with the Wand” (1/17/81) – The gang must rescue King Arthur from the clutches of the evil Black Knight.

“Science Friction” (1/24/81) – Cupcake uses her magic to bring the gang into Jules Verne’s imagination.

“Greece is the Word” (1/31/81) – The gang has to save Hercules from Medusa.

Season 2:
“The French Correction” (9/12/81) – In 1625 France, the gang has to find the missing king while protecting the queen from an evil count set on conquering the kingdom.

“The Ridiculous Renaissance” (9/19/81) – The gang ends up in Italy where they meet Leonardo da Vinci.

“Fonz Boone” (9/26/81) – Ending up in the days of the American frontier leads the gang to save the legend of Daniel Boone.

“Haiku Humor” (10/3/81) – In 17th Century Japan, the gang meets poet Matsuo Basho and Ralph is challenged to a samurai showdown.

“It’s All Downhill From Here” (10/10/81) – The time machine ends up at the 1953 Mount Everest Expedition led by Sir Edmund Hillary.

“Three Scientists & A Coconut” (10/17/81) – The gang ends up on a Cuban Island with Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, and Marie Curie.

“Fords & Sorcery” (10/24/81) – Cupcake helps Henry Ford with his car business.

“There’s No Place Like Rome” (10/31/81) – The gang encounters Emperor Nero in Ancient Rome.

“The Other Gang” (11/7/81) – A short circuit strands the gang in 1927 Chicago where they meet Al Capone.

“Fonz’s Christmas Carol” (11/14/81) – The gang uses the time machine to give cold Charles Dickens the Christmas spirit.

“Ralph Takes Flight” (11/21/81) – Ending up in 1935 Hawaii puts the gang as passengers on Amelia Earhart’s famous flight.

“All’s Fair at the World’s Fair” (11/28/81) – The time machine becomes the star attraction of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Originally posted in 2016. Updated in 2024.

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