The 5 Most Depressing Things About ‘Happy Days’

The 1950s were way bleaker than ‘Happy Days’ wanted us to remember
The 5 Most Depressing Things About ‘Happy Days’

Happy Days was one of the most watched sitcoms of the 1970s, not only delivering multiple top-ten finishes in the Nielsen ratings but spinning off comedy juggernauts Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy as well. It was a show devoted to fond memories of the past, but that doesn’t mean Happy Days didn’t deliver its share of dreary moments as well. Here are the five most depressing things about Happy Days.

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It Mostly Ignored the Worst Parts of the 1950s

During its first season, Happy Days remembered that it was a show about America in the 1950s. That didn’t only mean sock hops and hula hoops — the country was also dealing with bomb shelters, Eisenhower, and racial strife. Sure, the show indulged in the white savior trope, but at least Season 1 of Happy Days recognized that Black people live in Milwaukee.

For the rest of its run, Happy Days might as well have been set in 1977. Fonz’s greased-back ducktail became blow-dried. The infamous “jump the shark” episode was a nod to Jaws dominating the box office. Star Wars is popular? Here comes alien Mork. The Fats Domino songs playing when Fonzie rapped the jukebox were the main clue that the show was still set in the past. 

It Typecast Henry Winkler

Winkler became one of the biggest stars in the world when producers promoted Fonzie from side character to the show’s main plot driver. But the rest of Hollywood could only see Winkler in a leather jacket for decades. Post Happy Days, Winkler couldn’t land a movie role unless Ron Howard gave him one. It took Adam Sandler and The Waterboy to put Winkler back on track as a comedy character actor.

Producer Garry Marshall Killed Chuck


Don’t listen to Tom Bosley. Marshall killed Chuck Cunningham.

Don’t remember Chuck? You’re not alone. Richie and Joanie’s older brother only appeared in a handful of episodes, and Happy Days never bothered explaining what happened to him. When he was around, he never had too much to say, always looking for a sandwich or heading off to basketball practice. Marshall simply hoped viewers were too stupid to notice that the family had one fewer kid.

It Decided Scott Baio Should Have a Singing Career


Whatever you might think of Scott Baio’s politics, can we all agree that the guy can’t sing? This isn’t a case of a teen idol not having serious pipes — Erin Moran’s Joanie is no diva but she can carry a tune. She’s passable. But Baio is flat-out terrible. 

So why in the world did Happy Days producers decide that budding couple Joanie and Chachi should launch careers as professional singers? And then build an entire show, spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, around Baio’s wretched crooning? It’s hard to believe any viewer got past the opening theme song.

The Show Replaced Ron Howard with Sitcom-Killer Ted McGinley


Happy Days had an obvious exit strategy. The show’s center, even after Fonzie took off, was Richie Cunningham. When he and his high school pals Potsie and Ralph graduated and Richie headed off to college, it was a perfect time for the show to wave goodbye.

But networks back then weren’t in the habit of moving on from Top 10 shows. So Happy Days replaced Richie with Roger, the Cunninghams' nephew played by Ted McGinley. Despite playing the meanest jock in Revenge of the Nerds, McGinley is probably a nice guy. But he had a reputation as a killer of popular shows, replacing beloved actors in the late runs of Happy Days, The Love Boat, and Married… With Children. He was especially bad on Happy Days, his first acting gig ever. When McGinley showed up on your favorite show, you knew it was a goner. 

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