‘Happy Days’: Why Henry Winkler Said It Was ‘Okay’ That People Mocked Show, Jumping the Shark

by Suzanne Halliburton

The world still loves Happy Days. And sometimes it’s more than a show about a group of teenagers living their best lives in 1950s-era Milwaukee.

The BBC’s HARDtalk, a high-brow news program, interviewed Henry Winkler in 2013. And it wasn’t a bunch of cute Fonzie musings. Interviewer Stephen Sackur asked Winkler about his dyslexia, his relatives in the Holocaust and whether Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” political approach impacted the Happy Days plotlines.

And Sackur also asked Winkler about one of the most iconic Happy Days episode. It was one that became part of the pop culture vernacular. After all, Happy Days was responsible for the phrase “jumping the shark.” That’s because there was an episode about Fonzie jumping a shark. He did it on water skis off the coast of California. And he wore a life preserver, a pair of swim trunks and his leather jacket.

From that point on, the phrase “jumping the shark” was synonymous with gimmicks, something past its prime in need of a whacky stunt.

The jump the shark episode of Happy Days was a three-part season five premiere that ran in September, 1977. The gang went to Los Angeles.

BBC Asked Winkler If He Minded People Mocking Happy Days

Sackur asked Winkler if he minded being mocked for that episode.

“That’s OK because Happy Days is still on,” Winkler said. “That phrase, that board game is gone. We were No. 1 for about four or five years after that phrase came into being. And I had really good legs at that time. So every time in the newspaper, jumping the shark, they would show me on water skis, I looked pretty damn good. I was OK. “

Winkler told Happy Days writers in early 1977 that he was an ace water skier. Writers decided to include Winkler’s skills in an episode. Never mind that it didn’t make much sense. Fans knew Fonzie rode motorcycles. But skis? That was a stretch.

Fred Fox, a writer on Happy Days, addressed the Jump the Shark episode in a 2010 column he wrote for the Los Angeles Times. He pointed out that when the episode was written, Happy Days was the top-ranked show. It didn’t need a gimmick.

“All successful shows eventually start to decline, but this was not Happy Days time. Consider: It was the 91st episode and the fifth season. If this was really the beginning of a downward spiral, why did the show stay on the air for six more seasons and shoot an additional 164 episodes? Why did we rank among the Top 25 in five of those six seasons?”

As Fox pointed out, Happy Days continued for another 164 episodes.

“That’s why, when I first heard the phrase and found out what it meant, I was incredulous,” Fox said. “Then my incredulity turned into amazement. I started thinking about the thousands of television shows that had been on the air since the medium began. And out of all of those, the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumps over a shark is the one to be singled out? This made no sense.”