Thu, 09/20/2007

30 Years Ago Today: Fonzie and "Happy Days" Jumped the Shark

On September 20, 1977, in part three of the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie, in bathing suit and leather jacket, faced jumping a caged shark on water skis. This moment in television history prompted the phrase "jump the shark" inaugurated by the website to describe "a defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now's all downhill."

In their Archive interviews, series stars Ron Howard and Henry Winkler were asked about the phrase "jump the shark":

Ron Howard ("Richie Cunningham"):
"[The "Hollywood" episode] was really a jumbled mess from a writing standpoint. I remember Donny Most [who played Ralph] and I sitting there looking at the script. Donny was really -- he was really upset. He just said, oh, man, look at what our show has kind of devolved into here. I mean, you know, it’s not -- none of this is very funny, and, you know, and Fonzie’s jumping over a shark, and we all thoug
ht it was a little ludicrous. I kept saying, hey man, Donny, we’re a hit show, relax, you know, it’s hard to have great episodes one after another. Fonzie jumping over a shark is gonna be funny and -- and great, you know, and it’s -- you know, “Jaws” had just been out a couple years before, and, you know, and relax. Donny had a -- a clearer sense, I suppose, of sort of the direction that the -- sort of the quality of the show or the tone of the show was taking after that episode. I remember thinking -- creatively this was not our greatest episode, but I thought it was a pretty good stunt, and I understood why they wanted to do it. And what I remember [what was the] most fun [was] actually driving the speedboat, which I did a bit of, noticing that Henry was really a pretty good water skier.... but the thing that has to be remembered about the "jumping the shark idea" is that the show went on to be such a massive success for years after that. So it’s a kind of a fun expression, and I get a kick out of the fact that they identified that episode, ‘cause, granted, you know, maybe it was pushing things a little too far. But I think a lot of good work was still done after that show and audiences seemed to really respond to it forever."

Henry Winkler ("Fonzie")
"My father suggested a storyline...he said why don’t you water ski? You’re a good water skier. So I water skied and jumped the shark, and then came “Jump the Shark”... Now you have to understand we were number one for like six years after that, so nobody else thought we jumped the shark. I don’t [think the show "jumped the shark"]. This is what I know about doing series. It is a miracle that you stay on. It is a miracle that there is a script on the table every week. To do a show, and to have it be successful for ten years, or even to be an actor, it is like climbing Mount Everest with no clothes on."

Interview Descriptions:

Ron Howard was interviewed for three hours at the Imagine Entertainment offices in Beverly Hills, CA. Howard recalled his early years growing up in Burbank, the son of actor parents, and his own start at age 3, using a dialogue scene from “Mr. Roberts” as his audition piece. He reminisced about some of his earliest acting on television including the “live” anthology drama Playhouse 90 and his recurring role as part of the gang on Dennis the Menace. He then talked about his appearance with Bert Lahr on an episode of G. E. Theatre, in which host Ronald Reagan made special note of Howard’s performance, which also caught the eye of producer Sheldon Leonard, who cast him on the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. He spoke in great detail about playing “Opie Taylor” on The Andy Griffith Show, describing his work with Andy Griffith and the show’s ensemble and discussing moments from the series’ production. He talked about learning how to write from signing autographs, using memories of his dog’s death to create the emotions necessary for the classic “Opie the Birdman” episode, and truly having to “act” when eating “ice cream” (actually cold mashed potatoes). He briefly described some television roles he appeared in in the early ‘70s before taking on the role of “Richie Cunningham” on Happy Days. He spoke candidly about the shift in the series focus onto the break-out “Fonzie” character, recited some of the series numerous catchphrases, and discussed memorable series episodes (including “The Howdy Doody Show” and the now infamous jump-the-shark episode “Hollywood”). He detailed his transition to behind-the-cameras as a director of low-budget features and television movies (including Cotton Candy and Skyward), before becoming one of Hollywood’s A-list producer-directors. He lastly discussed his work as executive-producer and voice-over narrator on the Emmy-Award-winning sitcom Arrested Development. The interview was conducted by Gary Rutkowski on October 18, 2006.

Henry Winkler was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Los Angeles, CA. Winkler discussed his early years, as the child of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, his early passion for acting, and his struggles with then-undiagnosed dyslexia. He chronicled his early career in New York, where he acted on stage and in numerous commercials and his subsequent decision to move to Los Angeles, where he was quickly cast as a guest actor on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He detailed all aspects of the role for which he became most known, Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on the hit sitcom, Happy Days. He discussed his casting, Fonzie character, working with the cast (particularly Ron Howard), and the iconic status (and occasional mayhem it generated) of Fonzie. He spoke about his transition to directing and producing, which included being executive producer of MacGyver, and his later acting projects including Arrested Development and The Practice. The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on November 10, 2006.