I got a review copy of the upcoming Happy Days, Season 4, and as always, I checked to see what the music situation was. Surprisingly considering that this is CBS/Paramount, it seems pretty good. I went through the episodes on the first disc, checking the musical sequences against the song lists provided in the episode guide at TV.com, and just about all the songs seem to be intact. The show used a mix of new recordings of ’50s standards, including a few that were specially recorded by the original artists (Bill Haley re-recorded “Rock Around the Clock” for this show) and old songs sung by, shudder, Anson Williams. They all seem to be here (“Yakkety Yak,” “Personality,” “I’m Walkin’,” and “Splish Splash,” which was used so often on this show that Mad Magazine made fun of it), and of course, Ron Howard won’t stop singing “Blueberry Hill.” So the only Happy Days season so far that had its musical content trashed was the second season, where Paramount sripped out nearly all the songs. (Of course, that was the best season, so it figures that that would be the worst DVD release. Ain’t it always the way.) The third season had some cut syndication episodes in there; in this set, all the episodes time out to about 25:30, except for the opening hour-long episode, the first two parts of the famed Pinky Tuscadero arc, which is about 47 minutes (which seems a little short for the era; maybe something’s missing from that) and a couple of others at 25 or so. If there are cuts/changes in these episodes, someone who knows more about this show than I do will point it out soon enough, but it seems like most of the episodes are uncut and unchanged, a pleasant surprise from this company.
Of course, I always enjoy reviewing a Happy Days DVD because as I’ve said many times in the past, this show incorporates more shark-jump moments than any other television series in history (hell, it invented jumping the shark, but you’ll have to wait for season 5 to see that). Watching Happy Days season by season is like an extended education in how a show can change to fit the needs of the network and the zeitgeist; every season was a little different in approach from the last one because Garry Marshall, Tom Miller, Bob Boyett and the other evil geniuses behind this show would do anything that they thought might be popular. Season 4 followed on the explosive success of season 3, where the switch to multi-camera shooting and the elevation of the Fonz from supporting player to star turned Happy Days from a mildly popular, gentle one-camera show to one of the most popular and broadest comedies on TV. But the twist in this season is that the producers started aiming the show more and more at a young audience. In the third season, even though Fonzie became the star, he was still being written and played more or less the way he was in the second season, as a thug with a heart of gold. In the fourth season you can see the writers slowly discarding even the little bits of thuggishness or rebelliousness as they turn Fonzie into not only a good role model for kids, but a bona fide superhero who always shows up in the nick of time to protect the innocent; they even sent him back to high school to get his diploma, proving to kids that school is cool. (Thereby trashing the memory of the great first season episode where Richie convinces Fonzie to re-enroll in high school, and he soon drops out again, deciding he’d rather be a cool dropout than a mediocre student.) Thereby paving the way for the shark-jumping, Mork-from-Ork fifth season and the complete descent into kiddie entertainment (and the addition of Scott Baio, who is mercifully absent in this set). Many shows throughout the ages change to fit the changing demographics of their audience, but this show did it blatantly and without disguising what it was doing, which is what makes it so much fun to study.
And not only can you study Happy Days to learn why and how a show changes over time, you can find out how a show uses catchphrases. When the show switched to multi-camera with an audience, Garry Marshall told his writers to come up with catchphrases, memorable little lines that could make an audience laugh every time. In the fourth season, several lines that were said only once in the previous season become endlessly-repeated catchphrases (Richie singing “I found my thrill…” is the most famous of these). But other catchphrases are slowly phased out; “sit on it” was introduced as the show’s defining catchphrase, but it’s heard less often this season and was nearly gone the next season. Why? Because once a catchphrase becomes too famous, it’s dangerous for a show to repeat it too often; the audience is so used to it that they don’t laugh any more. To tie it into a current show, this week’s How I Met Your Mother had Barney talk about “suiting up” for the first time in a year. Precisely because it’s such a well-known catchphrase, they don’t have him say it very much; now that it’s famous, it’s served its purpose.
This compilation of catchphrases is mostly from the third season, not the fourth, but otherwise it’s a good capper to a post that ran longer than intended.