In my Steve Carell post before, Dennis F wonders why Happy Days’ ratings went up after Ron Howard left. I get the impression that the show had become so bad in the Jump The Shark seasons that it lost a lot of its audience once the Fonzie craze died down. During Ron Howard’s last year, Lowell Ganz (who had run the show in its third season) came back to run it, bringing along writers like his former partner Mark Rothman and his future partner “Babaloo” Mandel, and helped re-orient the show away from little kids and older viewers, and toward teenagers and twentysomethings. When Howard left, the writers put even more of the focus on teenage characters (Scott Baio, mostly) and helped to build up the teen following that the show had probably lost.
Whether that has any lessons for The Office, I don’t know. I assume NBC will try to use Carell’s replacement to court a young demographic, but networks are always using everything as an excuse to court a young demographic. That precedent does sort of suggest that a show can survive if the producers identify a character who can tap into a new segment of the audience — that is, bring people who weren’t watching the show before (teens really loved Joanie and Chachi, believe it or not, and that’s what Scott Baio was talking about on Arrested Development when he said he “skewed younger” than Fonzie) to replace the ones who stopped watching when the star left. It’s hard to know who The Office could build up to court a new audience, though; they’ve gotten all the mileage they can out of Jim and Pam. Maybe they should give Creed a bigger part and have him sing every week.
And, since I mentioned Jumping The Shark, one thing I’ve always found somewhat funny (unintentionally) is that when Happy Days did one of their clip shows a year later, they very prominently featured Jumping The Shark as a highlight of Fonzie’s career. The actors apparently knew that there was something wrong with that moment, but I guess the writers didn’t. Or at least they thought the audience didn’t.