Happy Days was actually the second series to bear that title, the first being a short-lived comedy-variety show that aired on CBS in 1970, from the producers of Hee Haw, and starring Louis Nye. This Days has its genesis in a pilot that aired on Love, American Style, with a different cast than the one we would come to know & love. For example, veteran Harold Gould was the original Howard Cunningham, but, when Gould became unavailable for the series, another character actor, Tom Bosley, stepped in, and became an icon.
Happy Days was set in the mid-1950's in Milwaukee, and built around a trio of teens attending Jefferson High: Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard, ex-The Andy Griffith Show), Warren "Potsie" Weber (Anson Williams), and Ralph Malph (Donny Most). Whenever these guys ran into a sticky situation, they usually called on an older friend, Arthur Fonzarelli, aka Fonzie (Henry Winkler, "The Lords of Flatbush"). As time wore on, Richie, Ralph, & Potsie formed a band, giving Williams an outlet to sing on a regular basis, and saving Paramount some royalty revenues that otherwise would have to have been paid to the original artists whose hits comprised the show's soundtrack.
The series' original theme song was Bill Haley's classic, "Rock Around The Clock", but ultimately, Pratt & McLain's "Happy Days" became the definitive theme when it was added around season 2 or 3, I'm not sure which. Before we get there, though, a little history lesson is in order.
Happy Days was one of the more successful sitcom franchises of its time, as it spun off five series, and nearly a sixth:
Laverne & Shirley: Penny Marshall, sister of series creator Garry Marshall, and Cindy Williams ("American Grafitti") played a pair of brewery workers who were trying to better their stations. The series ended after the title characters and friends fled west in the final season.
Mork & Mindy: After a backdoor pilot, Orkan observer Mork (Robin Williams) settles in modern day Colorado, falls in love, and ultimately gets married.
Both of these series would spawn animated counterparts, as Days also did, but in Mork's case, it was a sort of prequel, set in high school, after the main series had ended.
Joanie Loves Chachi: Joanie (Erin Moran) and Fonzie's cousin, Chachi (Scott Baio, "Bugsy Malone") try life on their own, and follow in the footsteps of Richie, Potsie, & Ralph with a brief musical career. The series' abrupt cancellation allowed for a more fitting coda on Days, as the couple were married in the parent series' final episode.
Fonz & The Happy Days Gang: Fonzie, Richie, & Ralph are lost in time in a variation on 1972's Josie & The Pussycats in Outer Space. Keeping with the nostalgia theme, legendary DJ Wolfman Jack (The Midnight Special) was the show's announcer. Lasted 2 seasons (1980-2) on Saturday mornings with little, if any, cross-promotion advertising on the parent show.
Out of the Blue: As we discussed the other day, Blue, like Mork, resulted from a backdoor pilot, with Random, an angel sent from Heaven (Jimmy Brogan) landing in present-day America for the series, which was a total bust.
There had been talk of spinning Howard & Marion Cunningham (Tom Bosley & Marion Ross) off into their own series around the time that Days ended, but it never got past the talking stage.
Today, Henry Winkler's selling reverse mortgages in infomercials and has recurring roles on Royal Pains & Arrested Development. Ron Howard is better known as a very successful filmmaker and producer these days, and also was the voice-over announcer on Development, which he produced. Scott Baio is starring Nickelodeon's See Dad Run, produced by wrestling personality Eric Bischoff's company, which also did a pair of reality shows with Baio for Nick's sister network, VH1. Reruns of Happy Days currently air on Me-TV & INSP, among other places.
Here's a sample open, using Pratt & McLain's theme: