‘Happy Days’ Actor Henry Winkler Explained Importance of Show’s Tone: ‘People Don’t Want Cutting Edge’

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Happy Days star Henry Winkler learned how other parts of the world viewed the iconic show, decades after the series ended its run.

It was during an interview in 2013 that Winkler, who always will be known as The Fonz, learned the series might’ve featured a certain tone. Perhaps, politics dictated it.

The show was HARDtalk on the BBC in London. Journalist Stephen Sackur posed the question to Winkler about the Happy Days tone, pondering if the 1950s-era slice-of-Middle-America show reflected the politics of Ronald Reagan. As Sackur said, Reagan talked up “Morning in America.”

Journalist Linked Happy Days “Sunny” Tone to Reagan

Sakur described it as “sunny, optimistic conservatism.” Happy Days ran from January, 1974 to September, 1984. Reagan was elected in November, 1980, so he was only in office for three years of the show. Sakur’s timeline was a little off.

The “Morning in America” was Reagan’s political pitch for reelection in 1984. But Reagan, primarily, tried to stay positive and upbeat throughout his eight years in office.

Sakur told Winkler he thought Happy Days was “the epitome of what Reagan wanted to believe America was all about.”

Winkler was a bit taken aback by the assessment.

“Wow,” he said. “I met Reagan. Very nice fellow, not my politics.”

Sakur asked the Happy Days star if he was “buying my analysis?”

“You know what, it is a very interesting point of view that I had never thought about,” Winkler said. “Even today, in 2013. people are watching (Happy Days) somewhere in the world. … It was just rerun in America.

“What I’m saying is, I don’t know if I think that (Happy Days) optimism is important for human beings. They are having a hard time getting a job. It is always difficult to find a job. They are beat up in the world outside, they come home. I don’t think people want cutting edge television, no matter how you cut it.”

Viewers Wanted Escapism Then and Now

So in other words, people want to escape when they click through the TV channels on cable or streaming services to find their new show.

Happy Days was pure escapism when it premiered in 1974. Americans were dealing with a changing world. Richard Nixon resigned as president a month before the series made its debut. The season before Happy Days came on the air, the most popular shows on TV were All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son and M*A*S*H. Two of the shows were comedies that broke a ton of TV rules. And the other two were dramas set decades before.

So, of course, Happy Days would be a hit and good fit. The country craved its tone.

Check out all of Henry Winkler’s interesting, wide-ranging interview from 2013:

Outsider.com