”Happy Days was for me the quintessential television success story. I had followed my instincts, and they had turned out to be right.”
The early 70s were not happy days. A sweeping snapshot of the United States during that time might look like this; Viet Nam, Watergate, oil crisis, rising drug use, Taxi Driver. Gritty stuff. Of course, the 70s weren’t all dark days—but it wasn’t best time to launch an upbeat show about the happy days of the 1950s. In fact, Garry Marshall’s original pilot for Happy Days died after it first aired in 1971.
But it now only found new life three years later, but the series ran from 1974-1984 for a total of 225 episodes. Here’s what changed to bring a dead project to life.
“My friend from Korea Fred Roos was producing a film with George Lucas called American Graffiti about the 1950s. They wanted to see my 1950s pilot because they were thinking of casing Ron Howard as the lead of their movie. They liked Ron, cast him, and American Graffiti was a big hit. Then a play called Grease hot Broadway, and it further reinforced the popularity of the 1950s. The executives at ABC called Eisner, and he remembered my pilot about the 1950s. Happy Days was repitched as a midseason replacement and given a second life three years after it appeared on Love, American Style.“
My Happy Days in Hollywood (written with Lori Marshall)
Of course, I should point out that when Marshall was picking a setting for quintessential America in the 1950s he picked the Midwest— Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Knowing that Happy Days appealed to people from eight years old to eighty makes me smile even today. I always wanted to be remembered as the Norman Rockwell of television, Happy Days represented the part of me that wanted to make mainstream America laugh. If television was the education of the American public, then Happy Days was recess. And I always loved recess best.”
My Happy Days in Hollywood
Happy Days not only had an emotional and creative payoff for Garry, but when he went through some financial difficulties later in his career that put him on the edge of bankruptcy there was a thing called cable TV that came along and not only exposed Happy Days to a whole new audience (including his own grandchildren), but it brought him a whole new income stream. Happy days indeed.