’Happy Days’ Filming was Originally Modeled After This Popular Sitcom

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” in a letter to Robert Hooke. This means that he built his success on the hard-won knowledge of those who came before him. This quote is usually used to talk about scientists or philosophers. However, it is fitting when looking at Happy Days as well.

Happy Days is a hugely influential show. Even decades after its original run ended, it still influences many facets of television and film. At the same time, it gave us so many stars and spinoff shows. However, the show wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if it didn’t have something to build on. For instance, the show’s filming style was based on hit sitcoms from the past.

What Shows Influenced the Filming Style of Happy Days?

The truth is, it’s hard to narrow down one show that influenced the filming style of Happy Days. It was more like an entire bygone era of television that influenced the camerawork and studio setup on the show. However, it is easy to point to one great example from that era.

Happy Days was a single-camera sitcom for its first two seasons. At the same time, they filmed with a laugh track instead of a studio audience, according to MeTV. Then, in the middle of the second season, the team did an experiment. With the episode “Fonzie’s Getting Married,” the team brought in a studio audience as well as a three-camera setup. It went over so well that they changed to this format permanently in the third season.

The original one-camera setup with no audience was reminiscent of shows like The Andy Griffith Show. That show, which also starred Ron Howard, premiered in 1960, fourteen years before Happy Days aired. However, it was fitting for the era in which the show took place.

Interestingly, the updated format started with a much older show. I Love Lucy was the first to do both of those things. It was the first sitcom to be taped in front of a live studio audience. At the same, it was the first to employ three cameras. Before I Love Lucy aired, television shows were shot on one camera with no audience. That show premiered in 1951.

So, Happy Days stood on the shoulders of two giants of television. Since then, countless shows have built on the success of the classic sitcom.