Ron Howard admits he felt ''disrespect'' when Happy Days shifted focus to Fonzie

Richie was supposed to be the lead character. The Fonz changed all that.

The Everett Collection

On Friday, November 12, Ron Howard appeared on The Graham Norton Show. The former-child-star-turned-acclaimed-director made a surprising revelation to the British host. Happy Days were not entirely happy for the actor.

"It was a really interesting kind of paradoxical situation because the show began and the Richie Cunningham character was the undeniable lead of the show," Howard explained.

"When we would go out of the road to promote the show, it was just insane, focused on Fonzie, clearly that was very exciting," the former Opie explained. "Except the executives, studio heads, network heads, you know, they started treating me with a lot of disrespect from a business standpoint [and] in terms of interaction."

Howard added, "The press kept saying 'What's it like? Do you feel like you've become a secondhand citizen on your own show?'"

But he was quick to explain this in no way affected his relationship with his Fonzie co-star Henry Winkler.

"I certainly didn't feel it within our friendship, which endures to this day," Howard said. "He's the godfather of all four of my kids."

Howard remains rather sanguine about the experience in hindsight. He credited the studio's treatment of him as the inspiration to become a director.

"More than anything, it reminded me…to pursue my own dream," he said, "which was to be in charge of productions, the stories I wanted to tell and be the filmmaker."

Howard would leave Happy Days at the end of its seventh season, shifting the focus even further to Fonzie, who became a teacher and family man. Richie Cunningham would return in season 11 for a two-part event, "Welcome Home." But it was clearly Fonzie's show by then.

Watch the Graham Norton interview below.

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Tbatman66 10 days ago
Ron can take pleasure in knowing that after he and Ralph left the show suffered greatly in every way. Fonzie was unable to carry the show, which should have ended much sooner than it did. By the end of it's run it was unwatchable. It looks like Ritchie got the last laugh!
Broomhilda 18 days ago
I always saw Ritchie Cunningham as the lead role. If Happy Days was a soup, Fonzie was a seasoning - like Potsie & Ralph. Ritchie’s & his family was the meat & potatoes.
StrayCat 20 days ago
This isn’t the first time a show’s star felt threatened by the emergence of another cast member who proved a little too popular with the viewers. When Jeri Ryan was added to the cast of Star Trek Voyager, the show’s star Kate Mulgrew was not only threatened but outraged, and expressed her outrage on a daily basis. Most actors have rather fragile egos.
DavidGegenhuber 21 days ago
The show worked because of the juxtaposed relationship between Richie and the Fonz...IMO, the show went downhill fast after Ron Howard left, and fully "jump the shark" tanked by the end.
Moose 22 days ago
Imagine if they served Tranya in Arnold’s Diner…
ncadams27 23 days ago
Ron shouldn’t complain - look what happened to his brother Chuck.
MrsPhilHarris 23 days ago
I commented on this in the Beatle visiting the set story, but I’ll say it again here. This is just my opinion, but I liked the first few seasons before the live studio audience and it becoming The Fonzie Show. It went from a somewhat adult show with a cool Fonzie to a little kid or pre-tween show and a rather cartoony Fonzie. With all the aaaaaays, correctamundos, thumping on various things (jukeboxes, pop machines, etc.) to get them to work and what not I felt the character and show lost its charm.
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Tbatman66 MrsPhilHarris 10 days ago
Fonzie became a caricature in real time! Very sad.
Tbatman66 harlow1313 10 days ago
With a leftist tinge that was beyond outrageous. Hawkeye and the feminist BJ ALWAYS sided with the communist viewpoint in that show, which I didn't like one bit. That was the era in TV when the Hollywood hierarchy shifted from conservative to liberal. Every Conservative featured on sitcoms were either Archie Bunker or Frank Burns, and while MASH has held up because of the great ensemble, shows like AITF have not fared as well in my humble opinion.
harlow1313 Tbatman66 10 days ago
I'm not big on tribal labeling. There are both "liberal" and "conservative" notions that have merit and are worth consideration.

327053 23 days ago
I love everything Happy Days! I just don’t understand why seasons 7-11 haven’t been released on DVD yet! I mean come on!! Aaayyyyyyy!!!
Tbatman66 327053 10 days ago
Because they were so bad that if they were released on DVD they would lose money!
327053 Tbatman66 10 days ago
Good point. Maybe after Ron Howard left they ran out of ideas. Same thing happened when Cindy Williams left Laverne and Shirley. The final season was stinky.🤮
Andybandit 23 days ago
I didn't like Happy Days once Richie was in the Military. Jenny Piccolo character was a waste. She should have stayed hidden. Sorry.
327053 Andybandit 10 days ago
Good point. Jenny should have stayed hidden, but just mentioned as in the earlier seasons.🙄
LoveMETV22 23 days ago
Happy Days was a great show. Ron Howard was a major reason for it's success. How fortunate he followed his inspiration. Not only is he an amazing actor but a stellar producer. I like a lot of the movies he has directed but in particular:
1985- Cocoon
1995- Apollo 13
1996- Ransom
2006- The Da Vinci Code
An impressive career from beginning to present day.
Indeed! Love Apollo 13. Seen it dozens of times but it’s still exciting.
Michael LoveMETV22 23 days ago
And every film, a role for his brother Clint.
LoveMETV22 Michael 22 days ago
Not every film, but 17 of them . Not to bad though.
DerekJ LoveMETV22 21 days ago
Also, Willow!
LoveMETV22 DerekJ 21 days ago
Technically his image appears, but don't believe it is a credited role though. I think big brother Ron chose that.
rstuv 23 days ago
I really liked the first two seasons. I didn't care at all for the way it changed in the third season. But I can remember one funny moment after the change when Richie and Fonz we're stuck in a girls' dorm disguised as girl students, and Ralph and Postie broke in to do a panty raid. So at least one good gag.
rstuv rstuv 23 days ago
I mean Potsie.
Peter_Falk_Fan 23 days ago
When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. - Alexander Graham Bell

I'm glad that Ron Howard saw the door that opened to him.
When he called for Watson he came through a door from the next room ... lol
harlow1313 23 days ago
Bottom line? Bottom line (and it showed).

Though I am not a big fan of the show, I do enjoy the first two seasons, particularly more grounded episodes. To me, the Fonz was more interesting as a bit of a mystery outsider.

As I have overstated here in comments, Moose is my favorite character on the show. A real outsider.
Barry22 harlow1313 22 days ago
The first two seasons it was a good show. After that, just another silly sitcom. "Ayyyyyyyyy"
Runeshaper 23 days ago
WOW! I never knew that Richie felt that way. Definitely some interesting insight. I'm glad that he stayed close with the Fonz (-:
denny Runeshaper 22 days ago
At one time they were going to change the name of the show to Fonzi and the Gang, or something similar. Howard said he would quit and Winkler said no as well.
Runeshaper denny 19 days ago
That's super interesting! Thanks for sharing (-:
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