Before Happy Days made it to television, the iconic greaser The Fonz was set to be called The Mash. But luckily, a rival series put an end to that.
When creator classic TV Garry Marshall sat down to plan his characters, he wanted at least one of them to pay tribute to his late father, Arthur Masciarelli. So he decided that Richie Cunningham’s cool biker bud would carry that name.
For a little backstory, Marshall’s father immigrated to the US with an Italian surname. But in an effort to sound more American, he changed his family’s name to Marshall. When the creator envisioned his soon-to-be hit show, he wanted to reconnect with his heritage. And having a character called Arthur Masciarelli—AKA, “The Mash”—was the perfect way of doing that.
However, there was a big problem standing in the way of Marshall’s plans. When he was bringing Happy Days to the screen, there was another series reigning over prime time called M*A*S*H. And Marshall’s network was not about to have a star character reminding people that they should take their attention to a rival show.
At the time, M*A*S*H was sitting comfortably at number four on Neilson’s. And it was bringing CBS 18 million viewers. Obviously, ABC didn’t want to accidentally send the network a few million more. So, it told Marshall to think of another name. And with that, Arthur Masciarelli turned into Arthur Fonzerelli.
‘Happy Days’ Almost Had Another Name Change
Of course, switching the character’s name all worked out for the best. Not only does it seem strange to think of the leather-bound cool guy as The Mash, but Happy Days and its competitor also aired on the same night.
Furthermore, Marshall’s sitcom ended up switching main characters early in its run. When it began, Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham was the titular face of the show. But it didn’t take long for Fonzie mania to hit pop culture and give him the lead. So, that could have further subconsciously pushed fans into catching a few episodes of M*A*S*H.
In fact, Arthur Fonzerelli became such an icon that one of the executive producers wanted to rename the series Fonzie’s Happy Days,
However, unlike the Masciarelli situation, that suggestion did not stick. And that was thanks to Ron Howard.
While Howard had no ill-will towards Fonzie’s Henry Winkler for stealing his limelight, he did take issue with the series for casting him aside in the wake of Winkler’s fame. And he decided that he was not going to accept them rubbing it in his face even more with a title change.
“I declined to cooperate with that,” Howard shared on Rob Lowe’s podcast, Literally.
Luckily, his determination kept the series from making a bad call. But getting his way didn’t help Howard’s disdain for the producers. He ended up exiting as a cast regular in 1980 and completely handed the show over to Winkler for its remaining four years.