Sunday, Monday, Happy Days! Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days! Thursday, Friday, Happy Days! The weekend comes, My cycle hums, Ready to race to you!
—Happy Days opening theme song
A nostalgic ABC comedy series set in Milwaukee in The Fifties, focusing on squeaky-clean Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), who constantly gets into trouble through circumstance, naivete or the bad influence of his friends, and is usually bailed out by his parents or the super-cool Fonz. It was a low-rated show early on, but soon became a smash hit and #1 series that ended up having a massive legacy, and enduring fame. Early episodes achieved a kind of brilliant self-parody, but the show went way longer than it should have, and was ultimately the inspiration for the phrase Jumping the Shark.Happy Days originated as an episode of the Genre AnthologyLove American Style but also drew both cast and conceptual elements from the movie American Graffiti. It likewise spun off several shows, the most successful of these being Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.Richie the Everyman was paired up with Those Two Guys Ralph Malph and Potsie, and most episodes surrounded their hijinks. The Fonz was a former street hoodlum-turned friendly character (a pastiche of '50s greasers), who gave street-smart advice and aided the boys whenever he could, while trying not to lose his tough-guy edge. Richie's parents, Howard and Marion, were classic '50s sitcom parents in the Father Knows Best mold, and he had a little sister in Joanie. Later on, Chachi was introduced to the cast as Fonzie's cousin to skew the fanbase a bit younger. Eventually, by season eight (and one shark jump), Richie and Ralph had left the series, and Fonzie took over as the lead character. The focus also shifted to Joanie and Chachi as main characters, and started featuring many unpopular replacements and new characters, none of which had any lasting pop culture influence. It finally ended after ten long years with a Grand Finale of epic proportions: Joanie and Chachi got married, and Howard spoke to the audience as a clip of past events showed.Frequently parodied for being over-the-top, cutesy and having silly characters, it's also equally admired in pop culture for its iconic characters (Richie as the nice guy, Ralph as the jokester, Fonzie as the cool ladies' man, Howard and Marion as the ideal sitcom parents). Its influence in terms of character archetypes, tropes and catchphrases cannot be overstated.
There was one episode where Fonzie did this by snapping fingers over the phone.
In the Whole Episode Flashback about how Richie and Fonzie met, they're in an alley about to have a fight. Fonzie hits the brick wall of a building to turn all the exterior light off. Richie is stunned near-speechless, to which the Fonz simply explains, "It's a gift."
This show also provides examples of:
Absentee Actor: Anson Williams was absent in several episodes of the last three seasons because with Howard and Most gone from the show, the writers struggled to find things for Potsie to do.
The Ace: Fonzie turned into this around season 4, when the increasingly outlandish plots required him to be the best in the world at things that would have been impossible for any human, let alone a high school dropout mechanic.
Among other things, Fonzie successfully rode a killer bull, out-dueled a world champion fencer, fought a superpowered alien to a draw (though that may or may not have been All Just a Dream) and, most famously, beat a champion water-skiier at Jumping the Shark.
Even later, he became a high school shop teacher and still later, Dean of Students at the school where Ted McGinley was a physical education teacher (and later an administrator) — all seemingly without having earned so much as a GED. (By the end of the series, he had also purchased his auto repair shop and reportedly also was part-owner of Arnold's.)
Actually, he earned his highschool diploma in the fourth season by taking night school classes. The Fonz does not require sleep!
Actually, I Am Him: The letter from Fonzie's father reveals that it's only being read because he was too cowardly to admit he was the one delivering it.
All Just a Dream: "My Favorite Orkan", "Welcome to My Nightmare", and "The Spirit Is Willing"; although for the first and third, the reality is left ambiguous.
Fonzie, who started out as a side character in the first two seasons, managed to evolve into the main character of the show after Richie left, due to his Breakout Character status.
Joanie and Chachi also became the focal points of the show after Richie left, because of Chachi's appeal to teenage girls.
Attempted Rape: A final season episode has Joanie attacked by a student while substitute teaching. Fonzie came in just in time and threatened to kill the student on the spot ("You are DEAD!"). The student jumped out of the window to avoid Fonzie, and got caught on a flagpole.
Attending Your Own Funeral: Fonzie; When a crime ring attempts (but fails) to kill him with a Time Bomb, the gang decides to fake Fonzie's funeral in order to lure them out into the open. Of course, this also lures out a lot of cameos from recurring and spinoff characters.
Back for the Finale: Richie, Lori Beth, Al, and Jenny Piccalo. Surprisingly, Ralph fails to return, although the explanation given for his absence is that he went back to college (mentioned in "Welcome Home, Part 1").
Badass Beard: One episode has Fonzie growing one. When Fonzie decided to shave it off at the end, Potsie collects some of the leftover hair to sell it to a waiting crowd of girls outside.
Big Damn Heroes: Fonzie's specialty. If Richie or Joanie is in trouble, Fonzie will always burst in to save the day.
Billing Displacement: Averted when the producers wanted to change the name of the show to Fonzie's Happy Days to reflect The Fonz's growing popularity. Both Ron Howard and creator Garry Marshall threatened to leave the show if the producers did so, and even Henry Winkler himself objected to this proposal, feeling that Ron Howard was the real star of the show.
Bob & Ray: Appeared in the season 7 episode "Here Comes the Bride, Again".
Bratty Teenage Daughter: Joanie became one in the third season. If Richie is trying to keep literally anything from his parents for whatever reason, no matter what it is, expect Joanie to have conveniently "heard it from a friend" and blurt it out to Howard and Marion against his wishes.
In an outtake from the final show, after Mr C. toasts his family and friends one by one as written in the script, Tom Bosley breaks character to look around saying "Chuck! Where's Chuck?!?"
Breakout Character: This trope used to be CALLED "The Fonzie". He went from an occasionally glimpsed greaser character to a centrepiece of the show thanks to his tough persona and catchprases, to finally the main character of the show. The network even wanted to rename the show Fonzie's Happy Days in the later seasons, and only didn't because Henry Winkler objected — he felt that Ron Howard was the real star.
The Bride With A Past: In "Fonzie's Getting Married", Howard recognizes Fonzie's fiancée as a stripper that he saw at a hardware convention.
Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The Leopard Lodge, which features Howard as the Grand Poobah. Potsie becomes a member later in the run, and eventually tries to recruit Fonzienote who's blackballed, Chachi and Roger.
Career Building Blunder: Chachi accidentally burns down Arnold's. Al (the owner) is upset about the fire but doesn't blame Chachi because it was an accident. Fonzie chews Chachi out about it; then appoints Chachi as his representative at the new Arnold's (in which Fonzie's partner with Al), because Fonz knows Chachi will make sure not to screw up again.
The Casanova: Fonzie. He could snap his fingers and women would run up and make out with him!
The Cast Showoff: Anson Williams as Potsie. One episode even stops in its tracks so Potsie can sing "Deeply," an original song Williams recorded, even though it's a '70s pop song out of place in the '50s setting.
When actress Jane Lynch was on Jimmy Kimmel Live, she said she wrote a fan letter to Anson Williams when she was a teenager in the 70s and she got a written response back from him. Kimmel showed the letter and in it Williams asked Lynch if she and her friends would write to the show asking for more Potsie singing! Lynch didn't but if Williams responded to every fan letter the same way and most of them complied, it explains why Potsie sang so much on the show!
Scott Baio and Erin Moran would become this later on, mainly due to the teen idol status of the former (who released back-to-back albums in the early-'80s).
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The original. After being played by three different actors, the third quitter led to Garry Marshall just axing the concept entirely, and one day he ran up the stairs to his room and never returned. A very famous TV example, often subject to Lampshade Hanging in other media about the show.
K.C. (Crystal Bernard) vanished after the tenth season with no explanation.
Cool Car: Ralph's car from the first season that Fonzie drove in "Guess Who's Coming to Visit?" Richie also gets one in "Richie's Car", although it turns out to be stolen.
Cool Teacher: Fonzie becomes the auto shop teacher of Jefferson High in Season 8, as well as the Dean of Boys at vocational school Patton High in Season 11.
Roger starts out as coach for Jefferson and later gets promoted to principal of Patton.
Corpsing: Noticeably after the switch to a Studio Audience in the third season, some of the regular cast members seemed to be having a tough time holding in their laughter or keeping a straight face when the audience erupted, most notably Henry Winkler, Fonzie himself.
Fonzie also appeared in the first episode of Mork and Mindy. Mork also made a second appearance here after his show began.
Dad the Veteran: Howard Cunningham is a perfect example of a kindly, wise Standard '50s Father. But when he needed to be, he could remind his children (and he even reminded the Fonz at one point) that he'd been in the army during "the war" (it is assumed he's talking about World War II), and could still throw down if he needed to. Despite the fact that it was later revealed that he had been a file clerk or a cook (depending on which episode you're watching) he was still the one character that even Fonzie tried to avoid angering.
Potsie, initially one of the major characters as Richie's best friend, was even featured in the original Love, American Style precursor to the show. As Fonzie took on the role of Richie's brotherly figure, Potsie became less important to storylines, and instead was paired alongside Ralph Malph as Those Two Guys. He stuck around when Richie and Ralph left the series to join the Army, in various different roles, before joining Howard's Leopard Lodge and getting a job at Cunningham Hardware. Unfortunately, he all but vanished by the last season, in which he only appeared in six episodes, not including the finale, and no explanation was given for his absence. Despite these sporadic guest appearances in Season 11, he was only demoted to co-star status in the opening credits.
Lori-Beth became Richie's steady girl in one of the opening episodes of Season 5. When Richie left to join the Army in Greenland, she stuck around, getting married to him over the phone, and giving birth to Richie's son when he was away. Eventually, she pretty much just stopped appearing entirely unless it was a special occasion, having little way to play off the others. Finally, in one of the episodes of the final season, she was given the chance to properly leave the show by joining Richie and Richie, Jr. in moving to California, so that Richie could pursue his dream of becoming a screenwriter.
Diagonal Billing: Erin Moran and Scott Baio for season 10 guest appearances (the two were starring in Joanie Loves Chachi at the time).
Disappeared Dad: Fonzie's dad walked out on him as a kid, which is a noted sore spot in a number of episodes. One Christmas Episode sees Fonzie receive a gift from his dad and him express anguish about it. The man that delivers the gift turns out to be his dad, but Fonzie doesn't learn this until the end of the episode as he was too scared to tell him the truth.
Drop-In Character: The poor Cunningham house pretty much has people showing up unannounced throughout its entire history.
Early Installment Weirdness: Possibly one of the trope codifiers. Just look at one of the early episodes, from one of the first two seasons, and then compare it with an episode airing anytime after the 1975-1976 season premiere – the episodes differ substantially. Just a few of the examples:
The first two seasons used "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley And His Comets as its theme (in lieu of Pratt and McClain's "Happy Days," which incidentally became a hit in its own right).
Fonzie appeared far less often or was less essential to the plots. The show was more focused on the Cunninghams, Richie in particular. Fonzie early on was also much more of a jerk than most people know him to be, when he became the all around good guy after becoming a major character. Possibly explained/retconned in a later episode detailing how Richie met him.
In many of the first season episodes, perhaps due to ABC's demands, Fonzie wore a greyish windbreaker instead of his black leather jacket.
Potsie was the more wordly confidant. By the fall of 1975, Potsie was dumbed down considerably and became Ralph's joking sidekick.
Ralph himself wasn't initially a cowardly jokester; in fact, he seemed to be one of the more popular kids at the high school, and occasionally indulged in pranking, without his trademark "I still got it!" line.
The layout of the house, to accomodate a three-camera setup that was filmed in a studio, was far different, with the kitchen on the left and the living room at stage right. The reverse was seen in later years.
Arnold's also had a different look early on.
The first two seasons used a laugh track. Late in the second season (spring 1975), shows were taped in front of a studio audience ... and the "big applause" era had started.
Easily Forgiven: After realizing and confessing that he had accidentally burned down Arnold's, Chachi is easily forgiven by owner Al and everyone else, with the exception of Fonzie.
Egocentric Team Naming: after Arnold's burns down, and Al & Fonzie are preparing to reopen. (Fonzie has invested his life savings.) Al wants to call the new establishment Big Al's, and Fonzie wants to call it Fonzie's. They finally compromise and call it...Arnold's.
Also fictional bands "Johnny Fish and the Fins" & "Leather Tuscadaro and the Suedes"
Embarrassing First Name: Fonzie's first name is Arthur. With the exception of Marion, Fonzie doesn't let anyone call him that.
Filth: One notable example of this is in "No Tell Motel", where Richie continuously sends letters to his family with adult jokes in them. At the end, Fonzie cuts the raunchy bit out before Marion reads the letter.
Fonzie was initially a street-smart ex-hoodlum with a Hidden Heart of Gold. He was rough and tough, but more-or-less tolerated the main cast. Then he became The Ace, and increasingly got more friendly - eating "veggies", declaring "reading is cool", etc. - until by the end of the series he'd adopted a young boy and was essentially as friendly as any other character.
Potsie was originally Richie's ostensibly more wordly best friend and prone to giving advice (whether useful or not), but as Fonzie more and more took on that role, he became flanderized into a hopeless ditz.
Ralph's fondness for telling jokes was upped starting Season 3, along with his cowardice in more outlandish episodes following the shark jump.
Many characters were low-key in the early seasons. However, in the switch to filming in front of a live audience, the characters obviously (and understandably) became less so. Mr. Cunningham, for example, became more prone to over-the-top yelling.
Not to mention a nearly identical opening title sequence — titles in neon, "Rock Around the Clock" as the theme music, shots of a drive-in restaurant, etc..
While the show's concept (and the Love American Style episode that introduced the main characters) actually predated American Graffiti, it was that film's success that led the network to greenlight it for production.
Food Slap: At one point in the final season episode "Welcome Home (Part Two)," Chachi found himself eating in the kitchen (as there were not enough seats in the dining room). Richie soon becomes increasingly frustrated, to the point that when Chachi asks for a roll, Richie throws it at him quite hard. Chachi announces that he'll get his own gravy.
Framed Face Opening: The opening sequence also presented each of the characters in a circle outline over a spinning vinyl record playing on a jukebox.
French Jerk: Jacques Du Bois an arrogant and obnoxious fencing champion who stays with the Cunninghams in the episode "The Duel". Fonzie beats him in a fencing match.
Frozen in Time: The series made it into the Sixties about halfway through, though they did their best to hide it (made all the more obvious by Chachi's '70s hair and modern-style outfits). However, the finale is clearly shown to take place in 1965.
Glamorous Single Mother: Ashley Pfister, Fonzie's first and only regular girlfriend. She's raising an adorable daughter and working a full-time job as an accountant, all with never a hair out of place.
Grand Finale: And one hell of one, too — old clips, old characters, a marriage, and Howard speaks to the audience.
Jenny Piccalo, Joanie's "bad influence", more "experienced" friend who was often mentioned in passing at the dinner table (along with "you don't hang out with that Jenny Piccalo!"). She was this for many years, before suddenly emerging as a major character after the Re Tool. It was revealed that the man-hungry girl was more talk than action.
Clarence, the cook at Arnold's, was also unseen for most of the show's run until finally appearing in a couple season 10 episodes (where he was revealed to be a dwarf, played by 4' actor Gary Friedkin).
Speaking of Arnold's, the original (pre-Pat Morita) Arnold himself was unseen for the first two seasons. The only time he's ever even indicated to be there is when Ralph tries working at the restaurant in a first season episode and drops some dishes, which results in the unseen Arnold yelling "RALPH!" from the kitchen.
Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Potsie has a very bad relationship with his dad and if it weren't played for laughs, you'd think he was the victim of some severe emotional abuse. By "White Christmas," however, Potsie makes it clear he's sick of it.
Hormone-Addled Teenager: Jenny Piccalo. Joanie also seemed to be this in some of the mid-seasons, most likely due to her friendship with Jenny. It was toned down when Joanie and Chachi became a couple.
House Fire: Or, rather, Malt Shop Fire; the season 7 episode "Hot Stuff" has Chachi forgetting to turn of the grill while closing Arnold's for the night and setting the place ablaze.
Housewife: Marion is one of the greatest television examples out there.
I Owe You My Life: Potsie saves Fonzie's life in one episode. All he wants in return is to 'pal around' with the Fonz ... all the time.
Ladykiller in Love: Fonzie, in three episodes of Season 4 with Pinky Tuscadero, and with Ashley Pfister for the majority of Season 10.
Long-Runner Cast Turnover: The only four actors who remained on the show throughout its entire run were Henry Winkler (Fonzie), Tom Bosley (Howard), Marion Ross (Marion) and Anson Williams (Potsie). Ron Howard and Don Most bost left the show to pursue other opportunities after Season 7. Erin Moran left during Season 10 with Scott Baio to star on Joanie Loves Chachi, but returned for the final season. Several characters were put on the show to fill the presences left behind by several of the show's main actors. The cast had virtually been turned upside down by the end of the show's run, with so many different transitions and replacements for episodes, that you wouldn't be able to figure out that the original season's main cast members were only Ron Howard, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, and Tom Bosley.
Malt Shop: Arnold's, the most famous television example probably ever. This isThe Fifties, after all- it'd virtually be impossible to not have one here. (In the later seasons, the place was made over into an early-'60s coffee house.)
Missing Mom: Fonzie's mom is revealed to be this, though the circumstances aren't quite clear. One episode is centered around him encountering a woman he believes is his mother. The woman manages to convince him that she's not, but after he leaves, the audience sees she has a picture of Fonzie as a baby.
No Party Given: Averted in "The Not Making of the President," about the 1956 election, where the Republican Eisenhower gets the support of both Howard and Fonzie ("I like Ike! My bike likes Ike!") and Richie supports Democrat Adlai Stevenson.
Only Known by Their Nickname: Starting in the second season, "Arnold's" was owned by Matsuo Takahashi (played by Pat Morita). Everyone calls him "Arnold", however; he jokes that it was easier and cheaper to answer to "Arnold" than to buy the letter signs to rename the Malt Shop "Takahashi's".
And then there's Potsie, who's first name is actually "Warren." According to him, he liked making things out of clay as a child, and one day, his mother just called him "Potsie," which stuck.
Only Sane Man: Richie, Fonzie, and Howard all consider themselves one in comparison to the others.
Panty Shot: Joanie in a couple of episodes donned in her cheerleader outfit.
Parental Abandonment: Fonzie—one right after the other. In one episode, he encounters his father, who never identifies himself directly. In another, he meets a diner waitress who could be his mother, but it is never made entirely clear if she is. In both instances, we see that leather armor is no guard against heartbreak.
Parental Neglect: Potsie, which is curiously Played for Laughs. Not as bad as some examples, but his parents seemed overly gleeful to give him money to get away from them; likewise, they dumped him with the Cunninghams to get away from him; and, after his dad said something angrily, Potsie expressed that he was just glad his dad was talking to him again.
Richie and Ralph Malph were both drafted into the army after both their actors quit the show.
Ashley and Heather were abruptly written out of the show after season 10, with an explanation that Ashley got back together with her ex-husband. This was because the show had a budget cut and had to cut back on its number of regulars.
Quiet Cry for Help: In an early episode, Richie is home alone when a burglar breaks in and ends up holding him prisoner. Potsie and Ralph come over to see Richie, who answers the door and tells them he can't go out with them or let them in, while drawing "HELP" with his finger on the door. But the way he makes the "p" makes it look like he's drawing "HELF", which they don't understand. The burglar gets it though, and explains that Richie is asking for help before dragging Potsie and Ralph in too.
Real Fake Wedding: In one episode, Fonzie agrees to be Jenny Picalo's date to a party on a boat, and he agrees to a fake wedding. However, Roger later tells Fonzie that he thinks a wedding ceremony on a boat, even if it's meant to be fake, means that the marriage is legally real. Of course, in this case Jenny had not intentionally tricked Fonzie into marrying her, though she is happy to learn the news. And Roger eventually finds out that he was wrong and they are not legally married.
Real Song Theme Tune: A re-recorded version of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" was used for the first two seasons...
Replaced the Theme Tune: ... after which came a new recording of an eponymous Thematic Theme Tune that had originally been used for the show's closing credits. This theme, performed by Pratt & McClain, was issued as a single in 1976 and became a Top 5 Billboard hit...
Recurring Extra: Hillary Horan, a brunette actress who had wordless parts in dozens of episodes, often as the drummer in Richie's band. Her character's name was finally revealed as "Daphne" in one of her last appearances.
Re Tool: After Richie and Ralph left, the show was re-tooled to fit Fonzie as the main character and feature a primarily teenage supporting cast, with Joanie, Chachi, former The Unseen Jenny Piccalo, and Eugene or Melvin Belvin.
Really, that was the secondRe Tool. The first came in season 3, when the show went from a single-camera production with Laugh Track to a three-camera, Studio Audience setup (with a concurrent shift to a broader, more cartoonish style of comedy).
And then it was Re Tooled yet again when Joanie and Chachi left for their own failed spin-off to focus on Fonzie's new long-term relationship, K.C. Cunningham, and Roger's nephew, nearly all of which was swept under the rug for the final season when Joanie and Chachi returned.
Reunion Show: Two, in 1992 and 2005. The second one is notable for taking place in a facsimile of the original Arnold's and giving the year the show began as 1975 instead of 1974.
Separate Scene Storytelling: Several examples, including one where Richie's great-uncle tells him about his cousin, who was a crusading DA trying to shut down speakeasies in 1920s Chicago. Richie plays the DA, Mr. C plays the speakeasy owner, Mrs. C plays a Carrie Nation type, Al is the Dumb Muscle for the local gangster (Fonzie), etc.
Shaggy Dog Story: In "The Deadly Dares", Richie and Potsy want to join a gang, The Demonds, but first need to go through six deadly dares, which range from pulling typical pranks to doing embarrassing things (like go to a dance dressed as women and dance with men). After going through with all of those dares, Richie and Potsy decide they don't want to be members after all.
Shoo Out the New Guy: Pinky Tuscadero and the band's "black drummer" "Sticks" were both hyped in promos as new characters, but neither appeared for more than an arc before disappearing. Pinky's sister "Leather" was a stand-in for Pinky (whose actress apparently caused problems) but was again not common. Other examples include down-home hick cousin K.C. Cunningham (Wings Crystal Bernard) and Fonzie's temporary girlfriend and her daughter for the second-to-last season.
Out of the Blue (1979) - Centered on the guardian angel Random that aides Chachi in "Chachi Sells His Soul." There has been debate over whether this was a true spin-off or not, as the series premiered before the cited episode. It's been suggested that was merely a scheduling error on the network's part.
Katmandu (1980) - Centered on the girl from "Fonzie Meets Kat".
The Thing That Would Not Leave: Potsie, in later seasons. He would often overstay his welcome after following Howard home from the hardware store; Howard would look for ways to get Potsie to leave (convincing Fonzie to take him to play ski ball, tell him to walk out the door and then slam it on the confused Potsie, etc).
Title Drop: By Howard, at the end of the last episode.
In the episode in which Mork "spins on to pay for his spin-off", he reports to Orson about human relationship problems (the framing device for the clip show). At one point Orson remarks "So they are not all happy days." Mork responds that there were sad days too and mentions that humans tend to forget things like McCarthy and the Korean War.
Took a Level in Dumbass: Potsie was always a little on the dim side, but he inevitably got dumber as the seasons went on.
The Worst Seat in the House: Richie knows the keyboardist of Johnny Fish and the Fins from summer camp so he gets his friends free tickets (after the band stays in his house to escape from their rabid fans), but they're in the nosebleed section. Nobody believes Richie actually knows the guy and thinks he's lying and got bad seats because that's all he could afford. The girl he asked to go with him goes with someone else instead because the other guy has better seats, so instead Richie takes his dad. Then his friend from the band gives him a Shout-Out during the concert and suddenly he's a big man again. The girl comes up to where Richie is sitting and wants to be with him, but he says, "Sorry. This seat's taken."
Young Entrepreneur: Chachi seemed to be one of these when he was introduced, although this character trait had completely vanished during the series reboot in Season 8, so that his personality could shift more into the Mr. Fanservice zone.