Aaay! How did 'Happy Days' get forgotten?

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2008 - 5:25 PM

If you're too young to remember the Fonz, we suggest you just "sit on it."

Shown are some of the main characters from the television show "Happy days." Seated are Tom Bosley as Howard Cunningham, Erin Moran as Joanie, and Marion Ross as Marion Cunningham. Standing in back are Ron Howard as Richie, and Henry Winkler (as the Fonz, or Fonzie). Handout photo.

It was announced last week that a statue of that great American patriot, Arthur Fonzarelli, will be erected in Milwaukee, a city that also boasts a statue of Frederick Von Steuben, a German officer who participated in the Revolutionary War.

I wonder how many youngsters will be able to tell them apart.

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, "Happy Days" was as integral to our lives as Big Bird and Walter Cronkite. But whenever I make a reference to the series to people under 25, most of them look at me like I just referenced some obscure play by Henrik Ibsen.

To be fair, young people haven't had a lot of chances lately to hear Potsie serenade the crowd at Arnold's and/or discover why Joanie loves Chachi. TV Land hasn't had the series in rotation for some time, and local syndicates have stopped picking up the show.

Thomas Glynn, research director at KSTC, Ch. 45, said his station ran the show in the mornings from 2000 to 2003, but the ratings were less than "coolamundo." If you're unfamiliar with that word, then you're only proving my point: "Happy Days" are far from here again.

I remember the show from its original run, but I really fell in love with it in syndication, where it taught me more lessons than a decade of after-school specials. I learned you could be tough without having to throw a punch, ballroom dancing is not just for nerds and running away never solved anything. Who's teaching those nuggets these days? Charlie Sheen?

I popped by the World of Wheels car show in Minneapolis last weekend, where Henry Winkler (Fonzie), Erin Moran (Joanie) and Anson Williams (Potsie) were making an appearance. I was thrilled to see a couple of hundred people in line to get photos and autographs, despite the price tag of $20 a pop. I was even more excited by the sight of a number of young people waiting their turn.

Too bad they were there for all the wrong reasons.

"That guy is funny in 'The Waterboy'!" yelled a boy who couldn't have been more than 13 years old. He then attempted to start a "Waterboy" chant that, fortunately, did not take.

Many of the younger set knew Winkler more for his appearances in Adam Sandler movies then they did from his iconic role. As for Williams and Moran, they might as well have been serving colas at the refreshment stand.

Those vaguely familiar with the series said they enjoyed the show, but that it probably wouldn't hold up today.

"It might work -- if there was a little more swearing," said Julie Herges, 19, of Milaca, Minn. Herges watched the series when she was in kindergarten, but admired Winkler more for his work in "Click."

At least one person there thought the show could be a contemporary hit.

"I believe it would work today," Winkler said during a break from signing board games, a "Happy Days" record player, a soundtrack LP from his 1970s movie "The Lords of Flatbush," a Matchbox car, a Fonzie Big Wheel and a visor from a 1939 Ford, all the property of "old fogies" like me.

"At the time, the show spoke to kids who were 3 years old and up to grandmas. It still would," he said.

But Winkler, 62, also seems content to let go of the past, even as I'm clawing to hold onto it. When I asked him why the show isn't in heavy syndication these days, he shrugged and pointed to some new DVD sets, poorly packaged editions that are far less popular on Amazon.com than other '70s sitcoms, including "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "All in the Family."

He's now reaching the younger set through a series of children's books he co-wrote with Lin Oliver, starring a very non-Fonzie type named Hank Zipzer.

"A lot of kids only know me through the books," he said. "It's the proudest moment of my career."

Still, Winkler and the gang showed they could charm ages between preteeners and those who grew up on their series.

Chelsea Coone, a 15-year-old from Champlin, blushed the color of Ralph Malph's hair when Winkler told her she was beautiful. When Dad suggested that the autographed picture go behind his bar, Chelsea replied: "No, it's going in my room."

Jessica Warner, another 15-year-old, seemed genuinely pleased after chatting with the stars. Will she be the envy of her friends when she gets back to school? "No," she said. "But the teachers might be interested."

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431

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