Happy Days

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A nostalgic ABC comedy series set in The Fifties, focusing on squeaky-clean Richie Cunningham, who constantly gets into trouble through circumstance, naivete or the bad influence of his friends, and is usually bailed out by his parents or the super-cool Fonz. It was a low-rated show early on, but soon became a smash hit and #1 series that ended up having a massive legacy, and enduring fame. Early episodes achieved a kind of brilliant self-parody, but the show went way longer than it should have, and was ultimately the inspiration for the phrase Jumping the Shark.

Happy Days originated as an episode of the Genre Anthology Love, American Style but also drew both cast and conceptual elements from the movie American Graffiti. It likewise spun off several shows, the most successful of these being Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.

Richie the Everyman was paired up with Those Two Guys Ralph Malph and Potsie Webber, and most episodes surrounded their hijinks. The Fonz was a former street hoodlum-turned friendly character (a pastiche of '50s greasers), who gave street-smart advice and aided the boys whenever he could, while trying not to lose his tough-guy edge. Richie's parents, Howard and Marion, were classic '50s sitcom parents in the Father Knows Best mold, and he had a bratty little sister in Joanie. Later on, Chachi was introduced to the cast as Fonzie's cousin to skew the fanbase a bit younger. Eventually, by season eight (and one shark jump), Richie and Ralph had left the series, and Fonzie took over as the lead character. The focus also shifted to Joanie and Chachi as main characters, and started featuring many unpopular replacements and new characters, none of which had any lasting pop culture influence. It finally ended after ten long years with a Grand Finale of epic proportions: Joanie and Chachi got married, and Howard spoke to the audience as a clip of past events showed.

Frequently parodied for being over-the-top, cutesy and having silly characters, it's also equally admired in pop culture for its iconic characters (Richie as the nice guy, Ralph as the jokester, Fonzie as the cool ladies' man, Howard and Marion as the ideal sitcom parents). Its influence in terms of character archetypes, tropes and catchphrases cannot be overstated.


Happy Days is the Trope Namer for:
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome
  • Jumping the Shark: This was the moment many fans considered the show had gotten too stupid to continue. It was so bad, the fact that it was a really boring three-episode arc gets ignored.
Tropes used in Happy Days include:
  • The Ace: Fonzie turned into this around season 4, when the increasingly outlandish plots required him to be the best in the world at things that would have been impossible for any human, let alone a high school dropout mechanic.
    • Among other things, Fonzie successfully rode a killer bull, out-dueled a world champion fencer, fought a superpowered alien to a draw (though that may or may not have been All Just a Dream) and, most famously, beat a champion water-skiier at Jumping the Shark.
  • Animated Adaptation: The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, a Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera show that sent Fonzie, Richie, and Ralph aboard a combination spaceship/time machine with a teenage girl from the future and Fonzie's Gratuitous Animal Sidekick.
    • Boy, they really went Up to Eleven with the Shark Jumping here.
  • Attempted Rape: A final season episode has Joanie attacked by a student while substitute teaching. Fonzie came in and saw this, and threatened to kill the student on the spot. Said student jumped out of the window to avoid Fonz, and got caught on a flagpole.
    • "You are DEAD!"
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Fonzie; When a crime ring attempts (but fails) to kill him with a Time Bomb, the gang decides to fake Fonzie's funeral in order to lure them out into the open. Of course, this also lures out a lot of cameos from recurring and spinoff characters.
  • Badass Beard: One episode has Fonzie growing one.
  • Badbutt: Fonzie may be the most iconic example.
  • Beware of Hitch-Hiking Ghosts: "The Spirit Is Willing" has a variant of this.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Fonzie's specialty. If Richie or Joanie is in trouble, Fonzie will always burst in to save the day.
  • Bob and Ray: Appeared in the season 7 episode "Here Comes the Bride, Again".
  • The Boxing Episode
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done by Howard at the end of the final episode.
    • In an outtake from the final show, after Mr C. toasts his family and friends one by one as written in the script, Tom Bosley breaks character to look around saying "Chuck! Where's Chuck?!?"
  • Breakout Character: This trope used to be CALLED "The Fonzie". He went from an occasionally glimpsed greaser character to a centerpiece of the show thanks to his tough persona and catchprases, to finally the main character of the show. The producers even wanted to rename the show Fonzie's Happy Days in the later seasons, and only didn't because Henry Winkler objected—he felt that Ron Howard was the real star.
  • The Bride with a Past
  • The Bus Came Back: A season 11 two-parter had Richie, Lori Beth, and Ralph coming home to visit. Richie and Lori Beth also came Back for the Finale.
    • After Joanie Loves Chachi was canceled, those characters returned to the parent show for its final season.
    • Pat Morita's Arnold returned in season 10, after having been gone since season 3... then vanished again almost as promptly.
  • Career-Building Blunder: Chachi accidentally burns down Arnold's. Al (the owner) is upset about the fire but doesn't blame Chachi because it was an accident. Fonzie chews Chachi out about it; then appoints Chachi as his representative at the new Arnold's (in which Fonzie's partner with Al), because Fonz knows Chachi will make sure not to screw up again.
  • Casanova: Fonzie. He could snap his fingers and women would run up and make out with him!
  • The Cast Showoff: Anson Williams as Potsie. One episode even stops in its tracks so Potsie can sing "Deeply", an original song Williams recorded, even though it's a '70s pop song out of place in the '50s setting.
  • Catch Phrase: "'AAAAAAAYYYYY!" "Sit on it!" "I still got it!" "Howard, are you feeling frisky?" "Yep...Yep, yep, yep, yep." Also popularized the term "nerd", to which the entire TV Tropes audience owes it a tremendous debt in Opposite Land.
  • Christmas Episode: Several.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: The original. After being played by three different actors, the third quitter led to Garry Marshall just axing the concept entirely, and one day he ran up the stairs to his room and never returned. A very famous TV example, often subject to Lampshade Hanging in other media about the show.
    • K.C. (Crystal Bernard) vanished after the tenth season with no explanation.
  • Clip Show: Several.
  • Continuity Drift: In the season 1 episode "The Deadly Dares", Potsie mentions in passing that he had a sister. Later seasons say he's an only child.
  • Costumer
  • The Couch
  • Cowboy Episode: There was a dude ranch episode.
  • Crossover: With Laverne and Shirley. Repeated in the Animated Adaptation with, L, S and Fonzie in the army, commanded by a cartoon pig voiced by Welcome Back, Kotter alum Ron Palillo.
    • Fonzie also appeared in the first episode of Mork and Mindy. Mork also made a second appearance here after his show began.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Poor Potsie. Initially one of the major characters as Richie's pal, he stuck around when Richie and Ralph left the series. Some weak storylines had him as a "pledge" to Howard's Men's Club, but he ultimately vanished by the last season. He's one of the only cast members not to be there for the finale! And what makes it particularly funny/sad is, that while he was Demoted to Extra in the body of the show itself, he was still prominently featured in all the opening titles, and was even promoted to Co-Star status in the final two seasons, even as his episode count continued to dwindle!
    • Also poor Lori-Beth, who is a minor recurring character who later becomes Richie's steady girl. When Richie left, she stuck around, getting married to him over the phone, and giving birth to Richie's son when he was away. Eventually, she pretty much just stopped appearing entirely unless it was a special occasion, having little way to play off the others.
  • Denser and Wackier: You probably couldn't guess that this was the Trope Namer for Jumping the Shark without being told, seeing as how "ski-jumping over sharks to conquer your fear of them" isn't exactly what most people nostalgically remember about The Fifties.
  • Disappeared Dad: Fonzie's dad walked out on him as a kid, which is a noted sore spot in a number of episodes. One Christmas Episode sees Fonzie receive a gift from his dad and him express anguish about it. The man that delivers the gift turns out to be his dad, but Fonzie doesn't learn this until the end of the episode as he was too scared to tell him the truth.
  • Drop-In Character: The poor Cunningham house pretty much has people showing up unannounced throughout its entire history.
  • Egocentric Team Naming: after Arnold's burns down, and Al & Fonzie are preparing to reopen (Fonzie has invested his life savings). Al wants to call the new establishment Big Al's, and Fonzie wants to call it Fonzie's. They finally compromise and call it...Arnold's.
    • Also fictional bands "Johnny Fish and the Fins" & "Leather Tuscadaro and the Suedes".
  • Embarrassing First Name: Fonzie's first name is Arthur. With the exception of Marion, Fonzi doesn't let anyone call him that.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli.
  • Emotionally Tongue-Tied: When Fonzie tries to admit to Richie that he was wrong, it comes out "I was wr-rr---rr--- I was wrrr---rr ... I was not exactly right."
  • Establishing Shot
  • Estrogen Brigade Bait: Chachi was brought in to appeal to young girls.
  • Faking the Dead: "Fonzie's Funeral".
  • Filth
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: When the Fonz is frozen by Mork, he comes back by first wiggling his thumb.
  • Flanderization: Fonzie was initially a street-smart ex-hoodlum with a Hidden Heart of Gold. He was rough and tough, but more-or-less tolerated the main cast. Then he became The Ace, and increasingly got more friendly- eating "veggies", declaring "reading is cool", etc - until by the end of the series he'd adopted a young boy and was essentially as friendly as any other character.
    • Potsie and Ralph were likewise Flanderized into a hopeless Ditz and compulsive jokester, respectively.
      • The former was a result of Fonzie's increased prominence. Potsie was originally Richie's ostensibly more wordily best friend and prone to giving advice (whether useful or not), but as Fonzie more and more took on that role, the writers had to give Potsie something else to do.
    • Many characters were low-key in the early seasons. However, in the switch to filming in front of a live audience, the characters obviously (and understandably) became less so. Mr. Cunningham, for example, became more prone to over-the-top yelling.
  • Follow the Leader: The success of nostalgia-piece American Graffiti helped create this show- it even used the same lead actor!
    • Not to mention a nearly identical opening title sequence—titles in neon, "Rock Around the Clock" as the theme music, shots of a drive-in restaurant, etc.
    • While the show's concept (and the Love, American Style episode that introduced the main characters) actually predated American Graffiti, it was that film's success that led the network to greenlight it for production.
  • Food Slap: Chachi found himself eating in the kitchen (as there were not enough seats in the dining room). At one point Richie is getting angry at Chachi, and when Chachi asks for a roll, Richie throws it at him quite hard. Chachi announces that he'll get his own gravy.
  • Framed Face Opening: The opening sequence also presented each of the characters in a circle outline over a spinning vinyl record playing on a jukebox.
  • Frozen in Time: Weakly averted: By the time the series ended, the Fifties had, just barely, become the Sixties. Folk music was just becoming popular, leaving Fonzie behind.
    • Even slightly more weakly averted. They made it into the Sixties about halfway through the series, though they did their best to hide it. But the finale is clearly shown to take place in 1965, long after The Fonz's style would have been considered passe.
  • Gagging on Your Words: Fonzie is physically incapable of saying that he's wrong.
  • Girl of the Week: Fonzie, except in season 10 when he had a regular girlfriend.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Ashley Pfister, Fonzie's first and only regular girlfriend. She's raising an adorable daughter and working a full-time job as an accountant, all with never a hair out of place.
  • Grand Finale: And one hell of one, too- Old clips, old characters, a marriage, and Howard speaks to the audience.
  • Great Gazoo: Mork from Ork, of course.
  • Halloween Episode: "Haunted" (season 2), "Fonsillectomy" (season 5), "The Evil Eye" (season 6).
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Jenny Piccalo, Joanie's "bad influence", more "experienced" friend who was often mentioned in passing at the dinner table (along with "you don't hang out with that Jenny Piccalo!"). She was this for many years, before suddenly emerging as a major character after the Retool. It was revealed that the man-hungry girl was more talk than action.
    • Clarence, the cook at Arnold's, was also unseen for most of the show's run until finally appearing in a couple season 10 episodes (where he was revealed to be a dwarf, played by 4' actor Gary Friedkin).
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Potsie has a very bad relationship with his dad and if it weren't played for laughs, you'd think he was the victim of some severe emotional abuse. By "White Christmas," however, Potsie makes it clear he's sick of it.
  • Hot Amazon: Katmandu, from the episode "Fonz Meets Kat".
  • House Fire: Or, rather, Malt Shop Fire; the season 7 episode "Hot Stuff" has Chachi forgetting to turn of the grill while closing Arnold's for the night and setting the place ablaze.
  • Housewife
  • I Owe You My Life: Potsie saves Fonzie's life in one episode. All he wants in return is to 'pal around' with the Fonz ... all the time.
  • Lethal Chef: Ralph Malph. When Richie, Potsie and Ralph move out of home to share an apartment, we learn Ralph uses lighter fluid to ignite his cherries jubilee.
  • Locked in a Freezer: The episode "Time Capsule" has Richie and friends get locked in an airtight vault in the basement of Howard's hardware store.
  • Long Runner: Eleven seasons, from 1/14/74-5/8/84.
  • Machine Empathy: An implied ability for The Fonz.
  • Make-Out Point: Or, in this case, "Inspiration Point".
  • Malt Shop: Arnold's, the most famous television example probably ever. This is The Fifties, after all- it'd virtually be impossible to not have one here (in the later seasons, the place was made over into an early-'60s coffee house).
  • Missing Mom: Fonzie's mom is revealed to be this, though the circumstances aren't quite clear. One episode is centered around him encountering a woman he believes is his mother. The woman manages to convince him that she's not, but after he leaves, the audience sees she has a picture of Fonzie as a baby.
  • Musical Episode: The Valentine's Day-centric "Be My Valentine" in Season 5, and the history-themed "American Musical" in Season 8.
  • Name's the Same: In-universe; In the final seasons, Arthur 'Fonzie' Fonzarelli meets his half-brother, Arthur 'Artie' Fonzarelli.
    • "Great Expectations" was the title of two different episodes, in seasons 1 and 9.
  • No Party Given: Averted in "The Not Making of the President", about the 1956 election, where the Republican Eisenhower gets the support of both Howard and Fonzie ("I like Ike! My bike likes Ike!") and Richie supports Democrat Adlai Stevenson.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Fonzie.
  • Obvious Object Could Be Anything: Basketball scholarship bound Chuck receives a round, bouncy gift covered in paper. He's worried it might be breakable.
    • Subverted in another episode, where Potsie and Ralph get Richie a hockey stick for Christmas. Richie immediately knows what it is, which surprises Potsie.

(to Ralph) "You told!"

  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Starting in the second season, "Arnold's" was owned by Matsuo Takahashi (played by Pat Morita). Everyone calls him "Arnold", however; he jokes that it was easier and cheaper to answer to "Arnold" than to buy the letter signs to rename the Malt Shop "Takahashi's".
    • And then there's Potsie, who's first name is actually "Warren". According to him, he liked making things out of clay as a child, and one day, his mother just called him "Potsie", which stuck.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Fonzie encounters a beautiful one that came with the haunted 1955 Chevy.
  • Panty Shot: Joanie in a couple of episodes donned in her cheerleader outfit.
  • Parental Abandonment: Fonzie—one right after the other. In one episode, he encounters his father, who never identifies himself directly. In another, he meets a diner waitress who could be his mother, but it is never made entirely clear if she is. In both instances, we see that leather armor is no guard against heartbreak.
  • Parental Neglect: Potsie, which is curiously Played for Laughs. Not as bad as some examples, but his parents seemed overly gleeful to give him money to get away from them; likewise, they dumped him with the Cunninghams to get away from him; and, after his dad said something angrily, Potsie expressed that he was just glad his dad was talking to him again.
  • Parent Ex Machina: Howard was the best at this. Marion was no slouch either.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Used to be called the Fonzarelli Fix. It was how Fonzie got the jukebox to play using nothing but his fist and Rule of Cool.
    • There was one episode where Fonzie did this by snapping fingers over the phone.
    • In the Whole-Episode Flashback about how Richie and Fonzie met, they're in an alley about to have a fight. Fonzie hits the brick wall of a building to turn all the exterior light off. Richie is stunned near-speechless, to which the Fonz simply explains, "It's a gift."
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: All of the spinoff shows, basically, were introduced with one of these.
  • Present Day Past: This got more severe as the series progressed, especially with Chachi's obvious '70s hair and bandanas.
  • Promotion to Parent: Chachi's father passed away when he was a kid and Fonzi stepped up as a father figure.
  • Put on a Bus: Richie and Ralph Malph were both drafted into the army after both their actors quit the show.
    • Ashley and Heather were abruptly written out of the show after season 10, with an explanation that Ashley got back together with her ex-husband. This was because the show had a budget cut and had to cut back on its number of regulars.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: A re-recorded version of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" was used for the first two seasons.
    • Replaced the Theme Tune: It was replaced in season 3 by a new recording of an eponymous Thematic Theme Tune that had originally been used for the show's closing credits. This theme, performed by Pratt & McClain, was issued as a single in 1976 and became a Top 5 Billboard hit.
  • Relationship Reboot: Richie and Lori Beth do this, complete with a reenactment of their original Meet Cute dialog.
  • Retool: After Richie and Ralph left, the show was re-tooled to fit Fonzie as the main character and feature a primarily teenage supporting cast, with Joanie, Chachi, former The Unseen Jenny Piccalo, and Eugene or Melvin Belvin.
    • Really, that was the second Retool. The first came in season 3, when the show went from a single-camera production with Laugh Track to a three-camera, Studio Audience setup (with a concurrent shift to a broader, more cartoonish style of comedy).
    • And then it was Re Tooled yet again when Joanie and Chachi left for their own failed spin-off to focus on Fonzie's new long-term relationship, K.C. Cunningham, and Roger's nephew, nearly all of which was swept under the rug for the final season when Joanie and Chachi returned.
  • Reunion Show: Two, in 1992 and 2005. The second one is notable for taking place in a facsimile of the original Arnold's and giving the year the show began as 1975 instead of 1974.
  • School Newspaper Newshound: Richie, in "The Muckrakers".
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Richie and the Fonz.
  • Separate Scene Storytelling: Several examples, including one where Richie's great-uncle tells him about his cousin, who was a crusading DA trying to shut down speakeasies in 1920s Chicago. Richie plays the DA, Mr. C plays the speakeasy owner, Mrs. C plays a Carrie Nation type, Al is the Dumb Muscle for the local gangster (Fonzie), etc.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: Pinky Tuscadero and the "black drummer" from the band were both hyped in promos as new characters, but neither appeared for more than an arc before disappearing. Pinky's sister "Leather" was a stand-in for Pinky (whose actress apparently caused problems) but was again not common. Other examples include down-home hick cousin K.C. Cunningham (Wings Crystal Bernard) and Fonzie's temporary girlfriend and her daughter for the second-to-last season.
  • Shotgun Wedding
  • Shout-Out: Family Guy did a very kind, full-episode one to the show when Peter founded a religion based on the series. Also, Weezer's "Buddy Holly" video.
  • The Show Goes Hollywood: The three-parter "Hollywood" where the infamous Jumping the Shark incident happened.
  • Show Stopper: Fonzie.
  • Special Guest: Hank Aaron, Frankie Avalon, Buffalo Bob Smith.
  • Spin-Off: was one, from Love, American Style; spawned more than almost any other series (only All in The Family could boast more) - particularly successful ones.
    • Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983).
    • Blansky's Beauties (1977) - Centered on Howard's cousin. Uniquely, it was set in the present-day. Among the cast was Eddie Mekka as Carmine's younger cousin and the later addition of Arnold.
    • Mork and Mindy (1978-1982).
    • Out of the Blue (1979) - Centered on the guardian angel Random that aides Chachi in "Chachi Sells His Soul". There has been debate over whether this was a true spin-off or not, as the series premiered before the cited episode. It's been suggested that was merely a scheduling error on the network's part.
    • Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-1983).
  • Spiritual Successor: That '70s Show has a lot of parallels with Happy Days.
    • Both shows are set in an nostalgic time period (The Fifties vs. The Seventies).
    • Both shows are set in Wisconsin (suburban Milwaukee vs. fictional Point Place).
      • Most of the geographical references on That '70s Show suggest that Point Place is based on the actual Milwaukee suburb of Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, or at least somewhere in Kenosha County, where the creators are from.
      • Eric Forman=Richie Cunningham.
      • Hyde=Fonzie (they both move into their respective best friend's house).
      • Kelso=A mixture of Ralph and Potsie, but much more good-looking.
      • Howard Cunningham=Red Forman. Though, Red kicks a lot more ass than Howard ever did.
      • Marion Cunningham=Kitty Forman, except a lot more crazy around her children.
    • Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years are also spiritual successors albeit to a lesser degree.
    • Family Matters is often considered the black Happy Days; though set in the present day, it had many of the same producers, several recycled plots, and a Breakout Character who took over the entire show.
  • Standard Fifties Father: Howard Cunningham is, without a doubt, one of the greatest TV dads in history.
  • Standardized Sitcom Housing: A minor variant with the staircase turning a corner, otherwise played straight.
  • Studio Audience: From the third season on: "Happy Days is filmed before a live audience."
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Roger for Richie.
    • K.C. Cunningham and Flip Phillips for Joanie and Chachi, respectively.
  • Syndication Title: Happy Days Again- it was one of the very first shows to go on past the point syndication started, necessitating this change.
  • The Talk
  • Tantrum Throwing: When Fonzie gets pissed off at the garage he works at, he kicks a car, throws a towel, and then pulls himself together. It's in some versions of the opening credits.
  • Television Geography
  • Temporary Blindness: The Fonz is victim to this, in tremendously ham-fisted fashion, especially when Richie dismantles his motorcycle to force him to rebuild it while blind.
  • This Is Going to Be Huge: Both Richie and Howard believe that the United Nations will put an end to all wars.
  • This Is My Side: Potsie and Ralph Malph play this totally straight in their apartment.
  • Those Two Guys: Ralph and Potsie, Richie's hangers-on.
  • Title Drop: By Howard, at the end of the last episode.
    • In the episode in which Mork "spins on to pay for his spin-off", he reports to Orson about human relationship problems (the framing device for the clip show). At one point Orson remarks "So they are not all happy days." Mork responds that there were sad days too and mentions that humans tend to forget things like McCarthy and the Korean War.
  • The Tonsillitis Episode: "Fonsillectomy".
  • Took a Level In Dumbass: Potsie was originally more savvy and worldly-wise than Richie. That didn't last long.
    • Also, in the earlier episodes, Ralph was depicted as one of the more popular kids at Jefferson High (although less so than Fonzie), and a ladies' man at that. That didn't last long, either.
  • Under New Management: Hangout Arnold's was run by Arnold and then by Al.
    • An "Under New Management" sign inexplicably appears in some first season episodes.
  • Use Your Head: The episode where Arnold's catches fire has Fonzie trying to break out of the men's room (where he, Potsie, and Ralph are trapped) via this method. It doesn't work.

Potsie: Hey, look, there's an outside wall! I wonder what it's made of?
Fonzie: Concrete. (passes out)

  • The Voiceless: Most of Fonzie's girls of the week have no dialogue. The reason was financial; the producers didn't have to pay as much money for non-speaking parts.
  • Wedding Day: Two.
  • The Worst Seat in the House: Richie knows the keyboardist of Johnny Fish and the Fins from summer camp so he gets his friends free tickets (after the band stays in his house to escape from their rabid fans), but they're in the nosebleed section. Nobody believes Richie actually knows the guy and thinks he's lying and got bad seats because that's all he could afford. The girl he asked to go with him goes with someone else instead because the other guy has better seats, so instead Richie takes his dad. Then his friend from the band gives him a Shout-Out during the concert and suddenly he's a big man again. The girl comes up to where Richie is sitting and wants to be with him, but he says, "Sorry. That's my dad's seat."