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Despite running for 11 seasons, producing 255 episodes and eventually being recognized as one of the most beloved TV sitcoms in history, Happy Days wasn’t a ratings powerhouse during its initial run. It only spent three seasons rated among the top 10 programs, and as such, was always a contender for network meddling and notes. One helpful suggestion was apparently to rename the show Fonzie’s Happy Days after the show’s most popular character. The idea was so poorly received by lead actor Ron Howard that he threatened to quit, and it was never discussed again.
Here’s the story directly from Ron Howard, as per Entertainment Tonight…
“They did come to me and said, 'Well the network would kind of like to change the name of the show to Fonzie's Happy Days.' And I said, 'Well, I don't think I wanna be in that show. I wanna be in Happy Days and I think Henry (Winkler) should have, you know, every opportunity to do everything -- that's fantastic -- but you know, I signed on for this other thing and I just really don't wanna do that. I think I'd go back to film school.'"
There’s actually a lesson in here that Hollywood often forgets. Some of the best characters in the history of television and movies are so spectacular because we don’t see them very often. The Silence Of The Lambs, as an example, is two hours and eighteen minutes of greatness. Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lecter is on screen for less than twenty of those minutes. In fact, there’s a long history of people winning Oscars without very much screen time, and the same idea works for TV supporting characters too.
The Fonz, who is an all-time great character, works so well because he’s the contrast to the other more buttoned-up and conservative characters. His appearance starting with that iconic leather jacket and the way he communicates all paint him as the coolest guy in the room (in fact the show was almost originally called Cool). If the show just followed him for most of its runtime, he wouldn’t be the contrast anymore. Everyone else would be the contrast to his energy, which we would perceive as more normal because he would be the primary perspective.
Long story short, I’m glad Happy Days didn’t change its name. I’m glad Ron Howard put his foot down, and I’m glad if you look hard enough, you can still find reruns, slot machines, collectibles and references to Happy Days forty-five years after it premiered, despite the network's tinkering and sometimes bizarre decisions.