Season One of Happy Days is probably the body of episodes that would be the least recognizable to the vast majority of fans of the series. It was the template for all that followed on the show over the next season, but a lot of fine-tuning had to be done, and one essential additional element had to be generated among the cast of characters for it to last that long. Built upon the foundation of a pilot episode originally called "New Family In Town," which had failed to sell in late 1971 and was re-titled "Love And The Happy Day" and folded into the anthology series Love American Style, the show focused on the friendship between Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), a naive, fresh-faced teenager growing up in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin sometime in the mid-1950s, and his friend, Potsie (aka Warren) Webber (Anson Williams). Richie has an older brother, Chuck (Gavin O'Herlihy), who is already in college, and a younger sister, Joanie (rin Moran), and his parents are Howard (Tom Bosley) and Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross). The good-natured Richie is still in the process of discovering the worlds of romance and girls, and responsibility and adult concerns under the advice and guidance of the somewhat more self-confident Potsie in the world of Eisenhower-era America, in what seemed -- from the standpoint of 1974 -- like a simpler and much more innocent age. During the first season, Richie and Potsie would compare lots of notes on girls, buy a car together, and go through other rites of middle American passage.
All of that sounds familiar -- but for most longtime viewers, the (mostly) missing ingredient during this season was Fonzie, aka The Fonz, aka Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). For most of the first season, Fonzie was a relatively minor character, frequently with only a scene or two (if that much) in each episode. But Winkler understood the notion of less being more where acting was concerned and knew how to dominate a scene, even with very few lines and even in the earliest shows in which, rather than the leather motorcycle jacket with which he later became identified, he wore a less-threatening windbreaker. Audiences responded well to Winkler's character, however, and the episodes in which he had more to do tested especially well; his part was kept while others were dropped as the series was fine-tuned over the first season, and built up where possible, and the response was positive. And by the beginning of the second season Fonzie was gradually becoming every bit as important to most of the scripts as Richie. Additionally, a second friend of Richie's, Ralph Malph (Donny Most), also started out as a minor character before becoming part of the regular ensemble. Another important difference between the debut season and subsequent seasons was the opening credit music -- rather than the "Happy Days Theme," which didn't appear until the second season, the music over the opening credits was Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" (which charted again thanks to the series). Another major difference between this season and those that followed was that the writers were much more self-consciously trying to refer to specifics of the 1950s, such as doing an episode in which the Cunningham family considers getting a bomb shelter installed. The producers would become more casual about the era as the series went on, about most issues except for civil rights, which was a special concern to the makers of the show in several scripts. Happy Days placed at number 16 in the ratings for its 16-episode first season, and was renewed for a second season. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi