A sitcom about Vegas showgirls almost changed the look of 'Happy Days' forever

We almost lived in a Chachi-less world.

Image: CBS Television Distribution

Forty years ago, Garry Marshall became somewhat obsessed with making a sitcom about Las Vegas showgirls. His first attempt was built as a spin-off of his smash hit Happy Days. The second attempt almost altered the course of Happy Days.

Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, which premiered in the autumns of 1976 and 1978, respectively, were both wildly successful spin-offs of Happy Days. In fact, the former eclipsed the popularity of its parent show in 1977, becoming the top-rated show on television. However, there was another spin-off between those two pop culture sensations. On February 4, 1977, Happy Days aired its "Third Anniversary Show" episode. Nancy Walker guest-starred as Howard Cunningham's cousin Nancy Blansky, a Las Vegas showbiz professional who acted as a den mother to a gaggle of showgirls. This led to a full series titled Blanksy's Beauties, which began the following week on ABC.

The cast of Blansky's Beauties also included the young and lovely Lynda Goodfriend as "Sunshine," as well as 16-year-old Scott Baio, who played a precocious and tough 12-year-old named Anthony DeLuca. The show also had a link to Laverne & Shirley, as Eddie Mekka, the actor best known as Shirley's boyfriend Carmine Ragusa, portrayed the character Joey DeLuca, the Carmine's younger cousin.

Yes, the same actor played two different but related characters on two shows at the same time. It was somewhat confusing. Which is perhaps why Blansky's Beauties lasted a mere 13 episodes.

After their series was canceled, Goodfriend and Baio joined the cast of Happy Days. Goodfriend became Richie's girlfriend Lori Beth Allen, while Baio quickly earned teen idol status as Fonzie's cousin Chachi.

But Garry Marshall could not let go of this Vegas showgirls concept….

Image: CBS Television Distribution

The following spring, in 1978, he revived the idea with a TV movie. Baio and Goodfriend were again cast on the project, this time playing brother and sister. Goodfriend was yet another showgirl. A young comic with a familiar family name also joined the cast. It was Jim Belushi's debut. The title was Legs. Perhaps that word would entice viewers better than "Blansky." Well, it worked. The special brought in enough viewers to warrant a full series.

Goodfriend, Baio and Belushi jumped aboard this new sitcom. Likely to appeal more wholesome, the show was titled Who's Watching the Kids? This retooled show focused on the younger siblings of the showgirls.

The plan was to write Chachi and Lori Beth off of Happy Days. This is why Chachi fails to appear in 16 of the first 17 episodes of Happy Days season six. He was meant to go away.

Of course, that did not happen. Who's Watching the Kids? flopped. Going head-to-head with Wonder Woman and Donny & Marie proved to be a folly. Fifteen episodes were filmed, but only nine aired. Afterward, Baio and Goodfriend went back to Happy Days.

Lori Beth married Richie. Chachi married Joanie. Yet for a few fleeting months of 1978, the Cunningham kids nearly needed new lovers.

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