The ‘Laverne & Shirley’ Series Finale Was a Backdoor Pilot to Another Show
Originally called Laverne DeFazio & Shirley Feeney, the ABC sitcom Laverne & Shirley was a pop culture phenomenon in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Over the course of its eight seasons, the TV show (starring ’80s celebrities Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams) was an audience favorite and won critical acclaim, including more than half-a-dozen Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
The series finale aired on Sept. 28, 1982. But that finale almost wasn’t the end of the road for one of the sitcom’s characters. While Laverne & Shirley was itself a spinoff of the 1950s sitcom Happy Days, the Laverne & Shirley finale was set up to launch yet another spinoff of its own.
‘Laverne & Shirley’ was on television from 1976 to 1983
Laverne & Shirley’s predecessor Happy Days starred Henry Winkler as Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (i.e., “The Fonz” or “Fonzie”). In season three, two of Fonzie’s friends are introduced: Laverne De Fazio (played by Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams). They proved so popular, that ABC spun them off into their own eponymous sitcom.
Set in the same universe and late-1950s timeline, Laverne & Shirley followed the two leads as they navigate life as roommates in Milwaukee. Running gags included the two women yelling at their upstairs neighbor, interacting with the infamous building landlord, and finding love in the city.
The finale ended the show’s eight-season run
In the last two seasons of Laverne & Shirley, the show hit some bumpy patches. For instance, Williams got embroiled in a lawsuit with her bosses when they demanded that she work on the due date for her first child.
“When it came time for me to sign my contract for that season, they had me working on my due date to have my baby,” Williams recently told The Today Show. “And I said, ‘You know, I can’t sign this.’ And it went back and forth and back and forth and it just never got worked out.”
The producers were also faced with rising production costs and falling ratings, leading to the show’s cancellation.
By the final season, the two leads were Laverne and Squiggy (David Lander), and the setting had moved from Milwaukee to Burbank, California. And in the series finale (episode 22 of season eight), Laverne is barely seen at all, showing up only at the start and end of the episode. Instead, the entire finale focuses on the character of Carmine Ragusa (Eddie Mekka). And that choice to highlight Carmine was very intentional.
‘Laverne & Shirley’ was supposed to get its own spinoff
Mekka, the actor who plays Carmine, got his start in acting at the Worcester County Light Opera. And his first love was always the theater, reports The Morning Call, with Mekka even being nominated for a prestigious Tony award for his Broadway work that occurred before he joined Laverne & Shirley.
Mekka’s theatrical background led ABC to consider doing a spinoff focused on Carmine’s journey to Broadway, not unlike the actor’s real-life experiences.
“Eddie Mekka had been a successful Broadway performer when he moved to Hollywood to try his hand at television,” explains Mental Floss. “Since his background was in musical theater, his Carmine character was given the occasional song-and-dance number on the show.” That’s why the series finale of Laverne & Shirley has Carmine auditioning to be in Broadway’s Hair musical.
The finale wraps up with Carmine living in New York with a big group of roommates — a classic sitcom setup. “He takes an apartment with a group of aspiring actors where wacky hijinks would certainly have ensued, had the show been picked up as a series,” notes Mental Floss. However, ABC decided not to proceed, and audiences said goodbye to Carmine forever.
[Correction: An earlier version mistakenly stated Mekka had won a Tony.]