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WATCH: Happy Days Premiered 47 Years Ago Today

  • On January 15, 1974, ABC premiered Garry Marshall's Happy Days, which managed to capitalize on the 1950s nostalgia of the era that it helped popularize in the first place. 

    The show was originally developed by Michael Eisner and Tom Miller as a show called New Family in Town, featuring Ron Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams. Although that pilot didn't sell, it did get repackaged as a short called Love and the Television Set, which aired in 1972 as part of Love, American Style, the popular anthology series where sitcom pilots went to die. This one managed to live on, as it inspired George Lucas to cast Howard in his hit 1950s-era film American Graffiti, which in turn prompted ABC to revive it with Marshall, and the initial result is what you see in the above clip, the first scene from the first episode of the show's first season.

    The first two seasons of Happy Days were shot single camera with a laugh track, and the original opening theme was a version of "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & The Comets. The show's classic theme didn't make the opening credits until Season 3. Howard starred as Richie Cunningham, a teenager coming of age in the '50s, Ross was his mother Marion, and Williams was Richie's buddy Potsie Weber, who started out as more of a devious character, but eventually just became the dumb guy. 

    Also of note is that the character of high school dropout Arthur Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler, was originally an ancillary character who barely spoke in the first episode and (gasp!) didn't even have the iconic leather jacket that is now in the Smithsonian. Instead, he walked around in a tan windbreaker, because ABC felt a leather jacket would make him "look like a hoodlum." Go figure. The Fonz would eventually become the breakout star of the series and the definition of "cool" to a whole generation of kids (not to mention Jules Winfield in Pulp Fiction). When Howard left the show in 1980, Fonzie became the focus, and is notable for being one of only two characters to appear in all 255 episodes of the series - Tom Bosley's Howard Cunningham being the other.

    Minor trivia note: Marshall's first choice to play The Fonz was Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees. How different would THAT have been?

    The show was a ratings juggernaut, which led to seven different spin-off attempts, two of which were very successful and two of which were cartoons. The 1976 hit Laverne & Shirley was also set in '50s-era Milwaukee at first, so there were crossover episodes with Happy Days. A 1978 episode titled "My Favorite Orkan" featured an alien named Mork (Robin Williams) who visits the Cunningham clan, who then later time traveled to the 1970s for his own show Mork & Mindy

    Not as successful was Joanie Loves Chachi, featuring Richie's little sister Joanie (Erin Moran) and Fonzie's younger cousin Chachi (Scott Baio). 

    Happy Days ran for eleven seasons on ABC, ending in 1984.

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    Andy Hunsaker has a head full of sitcom gags and nerd-genre lore, and can be followed @AndyHunsaker if you're into that sort of thing.

    TOPICS: Happy Days, ABC, Laverne & Shirley, Love, American Style, Mork & Mindy, Anson Williams, Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Ron Howard, Tom Bosley