It’s a tale as old as time. Or perhaps, more accurately, as old as network television. Some executives see a character on one of their shows capture the adoration of a massive audience. And they think to themselves, “Wow. This person could carry an entire show of their own.” In the case of “Happy Days,” that happened on a few occasions.
In the years during and following “Happy Days,” no less than five separate spinoffs were created in attempts to capitalize on the show’s popularity. Some, like “Mork & Mindy,” were more successful than others. Others, like “Joanie Loves Chachi,” were less feasible.
Of course, ABC couldn’t have known that at the time. Or didn’t realize until they were two seasons in, at least. Scott Baio had become a sensation in the role of Chachi Arcola on “Happy Days.” In theory, his popularity would be enough to make a show where he reprised the character successfully. That was far from the case, however.
According to Howard Storm, who directed episodes of “Joanie Loves Chachi,” among other Garry Marshall-produced show, the show wasn’t necessarily viable from the beginning.
“I don’t know whether the show was a workable show. They thought the show would hinge on Scott’s following,” Storm said in Happier Days: Paramount Television’s Classic Sitcoms.
And the results seem to prove that. After two seasons and just 17 episodes, “Joanie Loves Chachi” got yanked from the network. According to some sources, however, the show was intended to be a limited series, to begin with.
Whatever the case, the spinoff model is still in use today. Shows like “Breaking Bad” have given birth to others starring regular characters from the source material. “Better Call Saul” is the perfect example.
‘Happy Days’ and its Legacy of Spinoff Television Shows
Lest we forget, “Happy Days” itself was a spinoff show of sorts. “Happy Days” wasn’t a direct spinoff of “Love, American Style,” which ran from 1969 to 1974, as much as it took inspiration from it. The iconic 70s sitcom also borrowed Anson Williams, Ron Howard, and Marion Ross from the earlier show.
So “Happy Days” was forged in the fires of adapted material. And that’s a fitting beginning, considering the handful of other titles it would eventually create. Perhaps the most successful of which was “Laverne & Shirley.” It went on to have an impressive eight-season run during the height of “Happy Days” own success.
Behind “Laverne & Shirley” comes “Mork & Mindy.” Fans of classic television will undoubtedly remember the exploits of Robin Williams as the quirky alien. The spinoff ran from 1978 to 1982.
It’s always easy to see where something went wrong with the benefit of hindsight. And maybe “Joanie Loves Chachi” only ever was intended to be short-lived. But staking an entire show’s success on one person’s popularity is a risky proposition.