‘Happy Days’ Star Henry Winkler Revealed the Off-Screen Change That Saved Show’s Ratings

by Keeli Parkey

Almost five decades after it debuted on television “Happy Days” remains a very popular sitcom. However, according to actor Henry Winkler, in the early days of the show, it looked more like it would be canceled than become the success it did.

Winkler, who played the lovable and cool charter Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the show, talked about the show’s early struggles during an interview with the BBC. He also explained the behind-the-scenes change that saved its ratings.

At the beginning of the interview, Henry Winkler was asked about the early days of the show. Turns out, according to the Fonzie actor, “Happy Days” was not a hit when it first hit television screens across the country.

“And then remember, also, we did it one camera – like a little movie,” Winkler recalled. “So we shot 12 shows.”

When the television ratings came out, “Happy Days” was nowhere near the top 10 or even the top 20.

“We were number 48 in the country,” Winkler also said.

This position put the future of the show, which debuted in 1974, in serious jeopardy, according to the actor.

“If we did not get any better in the ratings we were gone,” Winkler also said. “They were going to can us.”

Henry Winkler Said Important Change to ‘Happy Days’ Took Place in 1975

So, faced with a show that was on the verge of being canceled, the powers that be behind “Happy Days” had to find a solution. Luckily for Henry Winkler, the cast, and the millions of fans of the show, they pulled it off.

“And in September 1975, they came up with the idea of doing it in front of a live audience like one of the comedies that were famous during the 70s,” Winkler also recalled. “And that’s what we did.”

This move, he said, had the result the cast and crew were hoping for. And the results become obvious very, very, very quickly.

“And, immediately, it turned the show around,” Henry Winkler said.

“Happy Days” stayed on the air from 1974 until 1984. It was created by Garry Marshall. In addition to Winkler, the cast included Ron Howard, Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Don Most, Erin Moran, and Scott Baio.

You can watch Henry Winkler talk about “Happy Days” with the BBC below. His comments about the off-screen change that saved the show’s ratings begin around the 1:45 mark of the video.

Landing the role of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on “Happy Days” was the first job in Hollywood for Henry Winkler. It only took him a few weeks to land the role after moving to California to pursue his acting career. That was lucky for him because he had only given himself one month to find work.

“I got to California with my one bag, my $1,000 and only a month to find out if I could make it or not,” Winkler said. “… Two weeks later I got the Fonz.”