I’m sure there’s people who remember this show. Thing is, you almost see nothing referring to it anymore.
I’m talking Happy Days, the TV show.
We’re not talking some show that struggled for two seasons, then disappeared:
- This show changed the landscape of network TV. Before it, ABC was not so much the third network but the half-network in a 2 1/2 network system; when Happy Days jumped into #1 ABC was able to translate itself into the number one network. NBC needed a decade to recover.
- New words and phrases were thrown from the television screen into the American Lexicon (from “AAAAaaaay” to “nerd” to “Jump the Shark“),
- Changed the way reruns came onto the Television. “Happy Days Again” was the first rerun show to run while the original show was still being shown in prime time.
- Nostalgia suddenly became a fixation for the population. Never mind that the show was more a rewriting of history to salve some of the rawer wounds of the era (would “The Fonz” have been welcomed back in the fifties?), suddenly people wanted to remember, something that wasn’t “cool” before the show became big.
- From Grease to Sid and Nancy to Juno, many movies now have soundtracks. The father of this is Happy Days, with their musical background (which seemed a bit manipulative to me at times).
Thing is, you no longer see it anywhere.
You hear about “The Jackie Gleason Show” and “I Love Lucy” from the old geezers on the radio. “Laugh-In” and “The Monkees” (amongst other shows) are familiar to everyone. And, of course, we hear a lot about “All In The Family/Archie Bunker’s Place” and “M.A.S.H.” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “The A Team,” “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues” are well known from the eighties, as are “Friends,” “The Simpsons” and “Frazier” from the nineties. And, of course, there’s “The X Files,” “Sex And The City,” “Desperate Housewives” and the “Law and Order” group of program, along with “American Idol” and other “reality programs (read: Sports applied to other situations)” to the present day (note: I know these are generalized, many of the shows jumped decades).
But “Happy Days?” It’s almost as if it didn’t happen. Never mind its continuing influence.
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I have a hypothesis about what happened:
Most of the shows that end up lasting because they change how people think. Lucy showed a woman in a leading role (however circumscribed), Laugh-In brought semi-risque humor and quick pacing to the television, M.A.S.H. brought war to the living rooms of millions in a way that people could handle, Cheers brought intelligent humor onto television and proved that a Television audience could enjoy it, The Simpsons brought cartoons back to the Adults, and Sex and the City brought sexuality (not just titillation) to the screen (even if just to the cable market).
With “Happy Days” (and its extension, Lavern and Shirley), though, the show served mainly to comfort and confirm what people wanted to think. Yes, we would have refused the easy $64,000 from the corrupt game show. Yes, we would have seen beyond the leather jacket to the responsible man underneath it. Yes, we would have welcomed “losers and nerds” into our circle of friends when we had the chance for better friends. Yes, we would have stood up against the power who wanted to turn us into lesser versions of their suspicious, hateful, bitter selves.
Watching this show allowed millions to remake their past into a better, more independent, more honorable, more “American” version of what it really was. They could look on the television screen, see the past they wanted to see, and pat themselves on the back. Then, when they looked on the present and saw pretty much the same problems they suffered from being shown in different ways (history doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it’s been known to rhyme) they could look at themselves, say “Things were better when we were younger” and know there were things to refer to.
There was one problem with this, though: Happy Days was fiction. Like most of what was on television then (and even now), it was a scripted show with a beginning, a middle and an end; with certain plot lines set up so that the right idea was given. And since the main goal of the show wasn’t so much entertainment or education but rewriting of history, the show fell apart once people started looking at how things really were.
And so “Happy Days” was cast aside.
More interesting is the record of what has been released on DVD. So far, it’s been the first three seasons, with generic backup music instead of the music of the times. Without the Music to lend an air of legitimacy to the show, Happy Days isn’t even mediocre.