Happy Days: the first episode blows out 48 candles

Happy Days: the first episode blows out 48 candles

Happy Days

On January 15, 1974, Happy Days aired for the first time in the USA, the sit-com that idealized the life of young Americans between the 1950s and 1960s. The series has entered the hearts of many fans, especially thanks to the numerous reruns that our television networks have broadcast continuously over the years.

But that's not all: Happy Days has also had a decidedly impressive cultural impact , so much so that it even coined recurring expressions in the language of television or cinema, as well as heavily influencing pop culture in general and many products that are part of it. In celebrating this special birthday, we retrace the origins of the series and what it meant within the television and film industry.

A series that shouldn't have existed

Before airing any television series, a “Pilot Episode” is produced and shot which, usually, is shown to investors or the network to judge whether the whole series is worth producing or not. Happy Days was also not exempt from this practice (although it should have been the first episode of a series called New Family in Town), but unfortunately it did not appeal and, initially, the series was not produced.

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When the episode titled "Love and the Happy Days" (which already starred Ron Howard and Anson Williams in their roles as Richie and Potsie and Marion Ross in the role of Marion Cunningham), the ratings were really excellent, so much so that, in the end, it was decided to produce a new series starring the Cunningham family, entitled Happy Days.

The great success thanks to the characters

The series set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tells the life of adolescents in the 1950s, especially those of the Cunningham family and all the people who gravitate around them. Unlike the elusive "pilot episode", the series obviously boasts a fair number of characters, who have made it successful.

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The Fonzie Phenomenon

However, the character who perhaps pushed the show's popularity to the stars is undoubtedly Arthur Fonzarelli, said Fonzie, played by Henry Winkler. "The Fonz", as it is called in the original, had to be a secondary and unimportant character, destined to remain almost in the shadows, but the public loved him so much that the writers were almost forced to promote him as protagonist, together to the Cunninghams who, over the course of the series, will acquire almost like a third (or fourth?) child.

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Everything about Arthur Fonzarelli has become part of the culture pop and, in general, almost anyone at least once in their life has tried to light something with a fist, or has worn a leather jacket saying the typical: "Heey! ". And it is precisely the mythical garment that has become a true cult object for enthusiasts and collectors: just think that one is even kept at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington!

Furthermore, it is precisely from the character of Fonzie that derives the famous expression used in television for "jump the shark" ("jump the shark"), which indicates the moment in which a certain serial (or even cinematographic) product reaches an elusive "point of no return", after which will lose both quality and popularity, identifying that moment as the beginning of decline.

This expression derives from the episode of Happy Days in which the brave Fonzie decides to literally take a "leap of one shark ”with water skis. For many, that episode was declared too excessive and totally out of the standard of the series and is identified as the very beginning of the decline of the entire series.

The Spin offs

Happy too Days gave rise to a series of spin-offs, some successful and some not so successful, which decided to tell some parallel stories of characters who passed through Milwaukee and who interacted with the protagonists.

What America had more successful was Laverne & Shirley, which even surpassed the parent series in some respects. This spin-off series tells the story of two ex-girlfriends of Richie and Fonzie (Laverne and Shirley in fact), employed in a brewery also in Milwaukee.

There was then The girls of Blansky, series went aired for only one season and was not very successful, unlike the previous one. It starred Nancy Blansky, Howard Cunningham's cousin, and took place in the present of that era (ie the end of the 1970s).

Out of the blue had, instead, as protagonist Random, a guardian angel who appeared in one of the episodes of Happy Days. The thing considered strange by many is the fact that the series had already been on the air for a couple of episodes when the character was seen in the "mother series"; for this reason it is almost definable as a "crossover episode" where the character appears.

T rered to coincide with the tenth season of Happy Days, Jenny and Chachi was produced, which tells the story of Jenny and Chachi intent on making a splash as musicians in Chicago. After two very short seasons and very low ratings, the two characters were returned to the parent series.

Perhaps the best known spin-off in Italy is Mork & Mindy, which arises from the need to "ride the wave" of science fiction brought by Star Wars in those years, wanting the producers to bring an alien also on the set of Happy Days. Thus was born the character, who appeared for a couple of episodes, of Mork, played by Robin Williams, who so impressed the production with his skill and his comedy that he earned a starring series, giving the actor his first real leading role.

Where are the protagonists today?

Many years have passed since the last episode of Happy Days and, of course, its protagonists have not remained idle, especially the two main protagonists of the series: Ron Howard and Henry Winkler.

The first, he participated in a couple of other film roles such as American Graffiti and The Gunman, before turning totally on the role of director. Ron Howard is credited with several cult films in the history of cinema such as Splash - A Mermaid in Manhattan, Cocoon or Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and all the films on Dan Brown's novels, also receiving several Oscar and Golden Globe awards. His most recent work is Elegy Americana, released on Netflix in November, tells a modern vision of the American dream through the eyes of three different generations.

As for the second, however, immediately after Happy Days he decided to temporarily stop his acting career, devoting himself only to a few sporadic roles as producer of some TV series (such as MacGyver, for example). He returned to play some roles at the beginning of the 90s in films such as Scream or Waterboy, continuing then in the 2000s with other parts also in television series such as Arrested Developement.

An interesting project that saw him protagonist is the author of a successful series of children's books that continues today starring the character of Hank Zipzer, a nine-year-old boy suffering from dyslexia just like the actor.

Howard and Winkler are excellent friends since the days of the series, so much so that the latter acted as godfather at the baptism of the first daughter of the late Richie Cunningham; the two decided to return to their respective Happy Days roles in a short film in 2008 to support Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

A good memory

With the its light-heartedness, its characters and its stories, Happy Days will remain in the hearts of all fans of sitcoms and TV series in general, who have been able to tell a past era in a light-hearted and fun way, taking root so much inside of popular culture to coin even expressions still used today.

The world of television owes a lot to Happy Days, which has been able to entertain the public in a light and amusing way without too many pretensions and without ever taking itself too seriously.

On Amazon you will find the box with the legendary first four seasons of Happy Days and you can buy it simply by clicking on this link.

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