In 1972, an unsold pilot starring Ron Howard, Anson Williams, and Marion Ross aired on ABC’s anthology show Love, American Style. The segment, titled Love and the Happy Days, eventually evolved into Happy Days, a sitcom following the everyday life of “innocent teenager” Richie Cunningham (Howard) and his family and high school friends.
The classic TV show was a moderate success. However, producers felt that it needed something more, something to set it apart from similar sitcoms of the time. So, they put a much larger spotlight on Fonzie (Henry Winkler), a high school dropout who loved leather jackets and riding his iconic black and silver motorcycle.
It’s not that fans didn’t absolutely adore Richie and his wholesome group of friends. It’s just that their adoration for Richie paled in comparison to the sheer frenzy surrounding Fonzie. Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli was a hit.
He was such a massively successful character that he transcended Happy Days to become a cultural icon, influencing “cool” characters to this day. Overnight, Fonzie had become the clear star of the show, leading executives to devise a plan to rework the entire show around him.
Ron Howard Almost Quit ‘Happy Days’ When Producers Considered Changing the Name
Now, Ron Howard was immensely proud of his work on Happy Days. He was also extremely fond of Henry Winkler. However, as the producers and executives began to favor Henry Winkler more and more, he became discouraged. And when they approached him with the plan to rename the series Fonzie’s Happy Days, he simply couldn’t take it anymore.
“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,'” Howard recalled in a 2019 interview with Entertainment Tonight. “And I said, ‘Well, I don’t think I wanna be in that show. I wanna be in Happy Days and I think Henry 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.'”
Ron Howard worried that, with the rapid growth of Fonzie, no one cared about him or Richie Cunningham anymore. And if he was no longer wanted on Happy Days, he would pursue his directing career earlier than expected. Thankfully, however, he was proven wrong.
“The one producer who wasn’t there was Garry Marshall,” Howard continued. “In fact, he was standing outside and he said, ‘How’d that go in there?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t wanna upset everybody and disappoint everybody. I love Henry and I love the show, but I just, I just don’t feel good about that.’ And he said, ‘It’s not gonna happen then.’ And that was that.”