‘Happy Days’: Why Was the Hit Show Canceled?

by Craig Garrett

Happy Days ran for 11 seasons, spawned multiple spin offs and was a consistent hit, so why was it officially cancelled? Undoubtedly, Happy Days is a hallmark of classic tv. With a whopping 255 episodes and launching the careers of icons like Henry Winkler, it’s never left the public consciousness.

Enormously popular, Happy Days was a cultural phenomenon the decade it was on the air. The series followed the adventures of a group of teenagers in the idyllic 1950s. Leading the cast was Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham. However, the series nearly never made it to the small screen. The series began as a failed pilot starring Howard. The pilot eventually aired as a segment on Love, American Style. Stars Wars director George Lucas saw the episode and cast Howard in American Graffiti. The success of American Graffiti revived the Happy Days concept.

The series was a modest success during its first season. Eventually, it was decided to shift the focus more on Fonzie, a supporting character. This led to there series becoming a powerhouse. The breakout character, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, adorned t-shirts and lunch boxes and even led a Saturday morning cartoon. The series launched a prolific amount of spin offs to include Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. Mork & Mindy helped launch comedian Robin Williams into super stardom. The series was spun off from a popular Happy Days episode guest starring Williams. It seemed like Happy Days could do no wrong.

So what led to hit Happy Days going into decline?

Many fans believe that the series went into decline after the infamous “Jump the Shark” moment. In the iconic episode, Fonzie, complete with leather jacket, leaps over a shark in water skis. The scene came to represent other popular shows going into decline. It even coined the phrase “Jump the Shark”. However, that’s not the case, as the series remained quite popular following the airing of that season 5 episode.

According to UCR, Happy Days started a viewer exodus after Ron Howard left in season 7. Also, with the Fonz character growing up and changing, the series lost an edge. Later seasons even featured Fonzie becoming a teacher, perhaps the polar opposite of what’s cool. By the final season’s end in 1984, the series had fallen to number 63. This dismal position ensured that the series would not be renewed for a season 12.

Despite the series decline, Happy Days has left an enduring legacy. Never leaving syndication, multiple generations have become fans of the show. To this day, the Fonz remains an icon of how to be cool. The character remains so popular that the jacket Henry Winkler wore as Fonzie remains on display in the Smithsonian.