Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Garry Marshall's passing and the rise and long fall of "Happy Days"

Right when the Sixties were pummeling the old Middle America, you started to see some nostalgia, starting with some Columbia students forming Sha Na Na, about part of the '50s. Around then, veteran TV joke writer Garry Marshall wrote a pretty good sitcom pilot about being a teenage boy then, featuring Ronny Howard from "Andy Griffith." The pilot didn't sell and ended up being used as a "Love, American Style" episode. But it got Howard one of the lead roles in American Graffiti ("Where were you in '62?"), and the movie's success resurrected it, creating "Happy Days." So the show wasn't originally a ripoff of the movie but ended up one, sort of: same lead actor, lettering for the credits, and opening song ("Rock Around the Clock").

Its first year, in 1974 and set 18 years earlier, is very good: believable people (including minor character Fonzie the mechanic) and stories, and enough attention to detail to re-enact the time.

But viewers lost interest in it so Marshall sold out: "filmed before a studio audience," Fonziemania, and lazy, anachronistic 1970s style ruined it. "A loud, kid-friendly, multi-camera comedy more about gimmicks than intelligent storytelling or nuanced characters." If Bill Haley isn't singing over the opening credits, don't waste your time.

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