‘Happy Days’ Almost Changed Its Name in Season 3 — but Ron Howard Refused to Let Them
Happy Days was a TV classic. The comedy about life in the ’50s lasted 11 seasons on ABC and spun off other classics like Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. Happy Days went through big changes, too. Star Ron Howard reveals they even tried to change its name in season 3, but he wasn’t having it.
Howard wrote a book with his brother, Clint, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family. They appeared on Rob Lowe’s Literally podcast to discuss it. Ron told the story of how ABC executives wanted to change the title to something more Fonzie (Henry Winkler) centric but Howard refused.
Fonzie was ‘Happy Days’ secret weapon in the ratings battle
Arthur Fonzarelli was a cool greaser who rented the Cunninghams’ garage. Fonzie became friends with Richie Cunningham (Howard). The longer Happy Days was on, the cooler Fonzie got. Fonzie started to draw all the attention, and a new executive wanted to capitalize on him.
“We had done two seasons,” Howard told Lowe. “Henry had exploded in the character and it really was, that thing had set in. It would take another year or two to really peak but it was happening. Fred Silverman moved from CBS over to ABC. In the second season, Good Times with Jimmie “J.J.” Walker and [his catch phrase] ‘Dy-no-mite’ had started beating our show.”
Ron Howard said no to ‘Fonzie’s Happy Days’
Howard said he wrote in The Boys how he felt about Fonzie getting so much attention. Happy Days was supposed to be the Richie Cunningham show and he saw Winkler taking over. Howard was able to cope with those feelings, but naming the show after Fonzie was one step too far.
“Fred Silverman basically beleieved that Fonzie with the whoa could beat J.J. with the dy-no-mite,” Howar dsaid. “But he wanted to go all the way to call the show Fonzie’s Happy Days. I declined to cooperate with that.”
The Fonzie phenomenon
After decades of Happy Days in syndication, Fonzie is just taken for granted as part of the show. Howard reminds the reader and listener what it was like to see Fonzie blow up in real time. If you watch the first season, Fonzie really is a tangential character in the ensemble.
“It was seismic, it was really incredible, it was kind of Beatlemania in a way for a while around Henry,” Howard said. “Somehow through all of that, and I write about this in the book as well because there was some turmoil there and some disappointment from me in terms of the way the studio lost their interest in the straight man and fell in love, as they understandably with this phenomenon of a character which Henry built from the ground up.”
Richie may have become Fonzie’s sidekick, but Howard gives Winkler total credit for making Fonzie who he was. Winkler put in the work, and in turn the Happy Days writers ran with it. Ultimately, Richie would enlist and Fonzie would become the main character of the show.
“From day one he was inventing and owning that character and they just said, ‘Hey, we know how to write for this guy’ and they went for it,” Howard said. “Everything about it was appropriate. I was annoyed by the way higher ups then dealt with me and responde to me. I write about that in the book.”
Source: Literally with Rob Lowe podcast