The first season of “Happy Days” was already a great success for the ABC comedy.
The series about a nuclear family in the 1950s was well received by viewers. One of the stars of the series was a familiar face: Ron Howard, who became known for his portrayal of Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Howard, however, revealed to the Archive of American Television his disappointment with the show’s executives, who put co-star Henry Winkler on a pedestal in a very obvious way.
So much so that the future filmmaker had to put his foot on the pedestal.
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Everything seemed to be going well for the actor and the rest of the cast of Happy Days until Henry Winkler, who played Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, became a larger-than-life character on the show.
From the beginning, the series revolved around teenager Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard, and his high school friends. But viewers couldn’t get enough of Fonzie’s thumbs up, leather jacket and trademark “Hey!”
Howard admitted that when the cast went on a promotional tour, “it was a little like we were a boy band and Henry was the lead singer.”
The producers eventually sat down with Howard to tell him they were going to make Henry Winkler more of the focus of the show.
Howard was ‘approached’ by ‘Happy Days’ producers about a big change
“During the offseason, I was approached by [the show’s executive producers]who basically said that Fred Silverman [president of ABC Entertainment]wanted to change the name of the show to Fonzie’s Happy Days.”
Howard explained that in the same breath, they offered him a raise as well as episodes to direct, seemingly to soften the blow for him that the show would now revolve solely around Winkler’s character.
“I thought about it and went and had a meeting with [the producers],” he said. “I went by myself, no agents or anything. And I said, ‘I really signed on to be at the center of a show called Happy Days.'”
Howard went on to say that he “respects what happened” but that he would rather “go back to film school” than be in the Fonzified Happy Days.
That was a clear statement. The future filmmaker made his stance clear: “This wasn’t a negotiation; I just didn’t want to do it,” he said, expressing that he understood if that was the direction they wanted to go.”
The show’s producers agreed with Howard.
The actor also stressed that he loved and admired Henry Winkler, but just didn’t think “he could be comfortable doing it.” The producers concluded that the title of the series would remain the same if Howard was not on board. The Fonzie character would continue to get more focus, which was fine with him.
“I could accept that,” he said. “I just didn’t want it to be called Fonzie’s Happy Days. And they didn’t change it.
“It was a wonderful ensemble. Henry Winkler was like an older brother to me. And we were a huge success.”