Ron Howard Nearly Left ‘Happy Days’ When Producers Considered One Big Change

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Ron Howard was ready to leave Happy Days if one key change was madeRon Howard was ready to leave Happy Days if one key change was made

Created by Garry Marshall, Happy Days took America by storm, led by a cast of characters and actors who would become regulars in millions of households. Today, the recipe for success is an obvious one but producers flirted with the idea of changing the title of Happy Days to focus on Fonzie, an unwelcome idea that was enough to make series regular Ron Howard ready to leave for good.

Happy Days fans know Howard as Richie Cunningham, the son of Howard and Marion Cunningham, and friend to Potsie, Ralph, and Fonzie, the latter played by Henry Winkler. While Richie was originally billed as the main character, the show quickly shifted the focus to the Fonz, and producers thought about representing this new identity in the show’s very title. Few parties approved.

Producers wanted to rename ‘Happy Days’ into something centered around Fonzie

Ron Howard was not pleased when producers wanted to rename Happy Days after the Fonz as played by Henry WinklerRon Howard was not pleased when producers wanted to rename Happy Days after the Fonz as played by Henry Winkler
Ron Howard was not pleased when producers wanted to rename Happy Days after the Fonz as played by Henry Winkler / ©ABC /courtesy Everett Collection

When Happy Days started, there was a clear dynamic to the cast, and those roles saw Fonzie as a recurring secondary character. But the motorcycle-riding greaser quickly proved himself the definitive breakout character of the series and ABC producers were ready to capitalize on that.

Howard reflected on the unprecedented rise in Fonzie’s popularity, noting, “It was a really interesting kind of paradoxical situation because the show began and the Richie Cunningham character was the undeniable lead of the show.”

They approached Howard, who had been the main character, and proposed renaming the show Fonzie’s Happy Days. Howard was not happy and was sorely tempted to quit the show, as revealed in a joint interview between Howard and Winkler for The New York Times. Technically, Howard acknowledged, he was “contractually” obligated to stick with ABC for the long haul. But he still let the execs know he “would leave.”

Howard added, “But I told them if you really want to change the name of the show to that, I would rather go back to USC and film school and what I was doing before the show launched.”

Henry Winkler agreed with Ron Howard and hated the idea of renaming ‘Happy Days’ after Fonzie

Winkler hated the idea tooWinkler hated the idea too
Winkler hated the idea too / (c)Paramount. Courtesy: Everett Collection

Someone else wasn’t a fan either: that someone was Winkler himself.

“I said, ‘If you do that, it is an insult to everybody I’m working with. Why fix something that isn’t broken? We are really good. I live in the family and that’s why I’m successful. I’m asking you, if you never listen to me again, leave it alone.’” Winkler recalled.

Winkler's Fonzie rocketed to unprecedented fameWinkler's Fonzie rocketed to unprecedented fame
Winkler’s Fonzie rocketed to unprecedented fame / Mindas/TV Guide©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

Winkler managed to keep his ego balanced when it came to changing the show’s name, but, Winkler admitted, showrunner Marshall kept him in check the rest of the time because he “took no bad behavior.”

“One time, when he was announcing the guest cast, I said, ‘Garry, we have to hurry up because I’m flying to Arkansas,’” shared Winkler. “He nodded, put down the microphone, grabbed me by my shirt, put me against the wall and said, ‘Don’t ever do that again, because they have every right to be recognized like you.’ He kept us in line.”

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