Here's why the Happy Days finale was not the actual Happy Days finale
Blame it on the Games.
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Everyone knows that bundle of mixed emotions that arrive when a television show ends.
You prepare yourself to feel closure, enjoying the bittersweet final moments of a series you might have been watching with delight for a decade, or more.
For Happy Days fans, that was the case. The series ran for 11 seasons, from 1974–1984. For the series finale, series creator Garry Marshall knew he needed something special, and the final note he decided on, according to star Tom Bosley, wound up being, unexpectedly, quite a controversial decision.
Bosley told Emmy TV Legends that the network had a "big cry" over Marshall’s decision to have Bosley deliver an incredibly resonant line directly to the audience.
"At the end of the show, I look right in the camera," Bosley said. "It's the end of a wedding."
The intended finale was a two-part episode called "Passages." In it, Joanie marries Chachi, and Mr. Cunningham gives a toast. The scene is set where Mr. and Mrs. C are in the center of a crowd that has gathered in a circle. The camera is aimed dead-on Mr. C and when he speaks, he speaks directly to the audience, both his audience at the wedding and the audience at home:
"Thank you all for being part of our family. To happy days!"
Bosley said the network asked Marshall, "How could you break the fourth wall?"
But Bosley argued that for everybody watching, the series had concluded, and in his opinion, Marshall made the right decision. "It was much more meaningful to do," Bosley said.
Usually, when a series ends – and especially when it's a series like Happy Days, and the conclusion is so absolutely final and tied up with a bow as it was in "Passages" – that's all, folks.
However, a funny thing happened in 1984, and after the scripted Happy Days finale aired, ABC still had "leftover," unaired episodes to burn.
How does that happen?
Well, the '84 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo had taken place in February of that year, and the Games aired on ABC, temporarily knocking Happy Days out of its time slot, and messing with the timing for the series finale. Instead of moving the finale back by months, they decided to air it early and stash the episodes that would've aired in between.
Then, once the Happy Days ended in spring, ABC had these extra episodes just lying around. The network decided that there was nothing wrong with ending a series and then giving fans a few more bonus episodes. Consider it a parting gift, right?
The timing of it for those watching live went like this: "Passages" aired in May 1984, ending the series.
Then, at the end of June through the end of July, the bonus episodes arrived. "So How Was Your Weekend?" aired first, an episode that saw Mr. and Mrs. C spending a weekend away from each other. For the next three weeks, there were three more episodes: "Low Notes," 'School Dazed" and "Good News, Bad News."
In "Good News, Bad News," Chachi deals with some disappointing medical news just after getting invited to tour with the Beach Boys. Watching this chronologically, Happy Days fans watched Joanie's husband wrestle with these situations without questioning his marriage. Because, of course, he was not supposed to have been married yet! And then, just like that, the series was gone again.
Or so it seemed.
For there was still one episode left, and that aired randomly toward the end of September.
Titled "Fonzie"s Spots," the episode found Fonzie being tortured by Potsie while doing Mr. C a favor and signing up as a Leopard Lodge recruit.
It's a last laugh for fans, not all fans call it the series finale. Yet it was the last episode ever aired. Henry Winkler agrees with Bosley that the actual series finale, which was the last episode they filmed — "Passages" — was a much more emotional moment.