‘Happy Days’: Here’s What Really Happened in the ‘Jump the Shark’ Episode

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

“Happy Days” fans can still recall the time Fonzie climbs on water skis and performs a feat by jumping over a shark. Did it really happen?

That’s what we’re going to address right now. First off, actor Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on “Happy Days,” actually did his own waterskiing on the episode, “Hollywood: Part 3.”

The California Kid dared the Fonz to jump over a shark. Did you ever see Fonzie jump back from a dare? No sir. He took on that dare and looked fate right square in the eyes.

‘Happy Days’ Producers Didn’t Let Winkler Jump The Shark

Before getting too carried away, though, reality juts in for a minute. Show producers were not going to let their big star do the jump, so it was done by a stunt double.

Henry Winkler happened to be a big fan of waterskiing, so show writers put it into a script. That’s why you have the coolest dude in Milwaukee skiing back and forth across the top of water.

For a lot of “Happy Days” fans, this show marked a stark change. You might have even heard people use the term “jumped the shark” and wondered where it came from at the time.

Episode Doesn’t Fit Usual Pattern Of Show’s Characters

Consider “Happy Days” as a starting point for the moniker. Think for a minute. This middle-America-based show devotes three episodes to its cool dude taking to water skis.

It doesn’t quite seem to fit the narrative for “Happy Days” at all. Even though it aired in 1977 and “Happy Days” stayed on ABC until 1984, the term “jumped the shark” is still a common phrase. In fact, people use “jump the shark” or “jumped the shark” as a similar situation may happen in different walks of business or life.

Ron Howard Lands Movie Role Because of Pilot Episode

Well, before anyone jumped a shark, “Happy Days” actually was called something totally different.

Ron Howard, who plays Richie Cunningham, appeared in a pilot called “New Family in Town.” It does not get much attention as the show never made it on a network. Yet director George Lucas was looking for people to play in a movie called “American Graffiti.”

Lucas reportedly heard about the pilot and wanted to see it. He liked it so much that Lucas offered Howard a part in the movie.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Harrison Ford were other actors in the movie based on Lucas’ formative years in the 1960s.

“American Graffiti” hit theaters in 1973 and was a smash hit. ABC took note of movie-goers fascination with nostalgia. It changed “New Family in Town” to “Love in the Happy Days,” and put it on as a standalone episode of “Love, American Style.” Eventually, the show changed its name to “Happy Days” in 1974. Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams are the only regular cast members who appeared in the pilot.

The rest is TV history, shark or no shark.