From 1974-1984, Happy Days capitalized on a wave of nostalgia for late 1950s/early 1960s culture and became one of television’s biggest hits. But as it grew, the show betrayed its more modern sensibilities. Below are some of the most notable anachronisms, with comments excerpted from several interviews with series creator Garry Marshall.
5. Chachi’s Hair
Season 7 – Season 11
When Scott Baio — who portrayed Fonzie’s cousin Charles “Chachi” Arcola — became a series lead in later seasons, the cast began to display hairstyles more in tune with the era of the show’s production than its actual setting.
Marshall: Teenage girls were going crazy for Fonzie and Chachi, they’d line up for hours outside of the studio to get autographs. So you put up with Joanie’s perms, with Chachi’s feathered hair, with all those mysterious fires that kept breaking out on the studio back lot. It was just a thing, what can you do?
4. The Cunninghams See Psycho In Theaters Before Its Release
Season 3, Episode 19, “Fonzie The Superstar”
Ralph Malph spoils movie night for the Cunninghams by giving away Psycho’s twist ending. The next episode of the show established that Season 3 took place in 1956. Alfred Hitchock’s film was not released in theaters until 1960.
Marshall: The thing with Don Most — He played Ralph? Ralph Malph? — Don was keen to be a director; it was all he ever talked about. It got to Ronnie and to Penny — my sister, Penny? Penny Marshall? The director? And to this day, I think Ronnie and Penny and Anson, they all got into directing to spite Don. He carried that book [ed. note: Hitchcock by Truffaut] on set all the time after he met Joe Stefano, who wrote Psycho, and he came in and begged us to put something in there about Hitchcock, so the family goes to see Psycho. Never saw the picture, myself. All the stabbing? I don’t know.
3. Al Becomes Addicted To Ms. Pac-Man
Season 8, Episode 20, “Howard’s Bowling Buddy”
Future lasagna pitchman Al Molinaro arrived in Season 4 as the new owner of Arnold’s. The teen hangout contained a longstanding anachronism: its Nip-It pinball machine was not produced until 1972. But even this was a minor slip up compared to its brief replacement: Ms. Pac-Man, not produced by Midway until 1981.
Marshall: The kids, they loved their arcade machines. So these guys come to us and say there’s this new Pac-Man, only Pac-Man is a lady this time. And Fonzie, with all the ladies, they wanted to know if could he do an ad with this Girl Pac-Man, would that be OK? But Henry — Henry Winkler, the Fonz — Henry is afraid of video games and to this day he thinks they ruin the cones in your eyes, so he won’t do it. But kids liked it, so we just threw it on the show, because who cares, and we make Al get hooked trying to beat Potsie’s score. Al Molinaro put that on his Emmy reel. Coulda won. Good episode.
2. 50 Stars Appear On A US Flag Before The US Has 50 States
Season 2, Episode 15, “The Not-Making Of The President”
A rare case of explicitly stating the year in which it was set, a Season 2 episode where Richie campaigned for Adlai Stevenson during the 1956 Presidential race displayed a US Flag featuring 50 stars. At the time, the US had only 48 states.
Marshall: We hit syndication in ’79, called it Happy Days Again, right when the Puerto Rico statehood movement started, and people saw that flag and thought it was a coded message from us, saying hey, let’s get some more states. The truth was, the only flag on set had 50 stars, I knew it, I just couldn’t be bothered. Who looks at flags? Come on.
1. Jenny Piccalo Dies In The 1979 Cincinnati Who Concert Riot
Season 7, Episode 21, “Sit On It”
In the show’s 7th season, Joanie’s oft referenced but never seen best friend Jenny Piccalo became the center of a glaring anachronism and bizarre continuity error.
During an infamous riot at a Who concert in Cincinnati in December 1979, 11 deaths occurred when concertgoers rushed the gates to score the best available General Admission seating. Two months later, WKRP In Cincinnati aired “In Concert”, a response episode in which its radio DJs lamented the tragedy. The episode is credited with playing a part in Cincinnati becoming the first city to ban festival-style concert seating.
The impact was not lost on the producers of Happy Days.
Marshall: We saw the WKRP, and said we should get in on that. We had the market cornered on special episodes; burned down Arnold’s that year, and Fonzie, with the girl who couldn’t hear and what not? Plus the festival seating thing, I never saw the big deal. You get there early, you get good seats. Fair’s fair.
Rushed into production to air two weeks later on February 19th, “Sit On It” saw the Cunninghams forbid Joanie from driving to Cincinnati (nearly 400 miles away) with Jenny Piccalo to see The Who. The next day, Joanie learns that her friend was among those lost in the riot. Who frontman Roger Daltrey took a break from the grueling Face Dances recording sessions to appear as a school guidance counselor. The singer was reportedly furious upon later learning of the strident pro-festival seating stance taken in the remainder of the episode.
The show’s 7th season was set in 1961, which was not only 18 years before the riot took place, but also three years before The Who even formed. Additionally, despite the episode being built around the death of Jenny Piccalo, the character would actually make her on-camera debut the following fall when Cathy Silvers – daughter of television legend Phil Silvers – joined the cast. The character’s death in the previous season was never mentioned.
Marshall: Yeah, I think we killed her the year before, maybe? But people don’t pay attention to that, and Phil Silvers? A personal hero. Maybe we could have cast her as someone else, but it was a funny name, Piccalo! We didn’t want to lose that.