Garry Marshall on Earning Laughs in TV and Why Fonzie Jumped That Shark (Q&A)

8:00 AM PST 04/12/2012 by Gregg Kilday

The longtime writer-director will be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame for his work on “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy” and “Angie.”

This story originally appeared in the April 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

During the 1978-79 TV season, writer, director and producer Garry Marshall had four of the five top shows on TV: Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and Angie. Although he's since gone on to direct films like Pretty Woman and, most recently, New Year's Eve, and has a new book, My Happy Days in Hollywood, hitting bookstores April 24, it's his television work that will be recognized when he's welcomed into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame at the broadcasters' annual convention.

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THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: TV has changed so much. Sitcoms can say almost anything today. Do you ever wish you'd had that sort of freedom on your shows?

Garry Marshall: You had to be a little more clever as a writer to get anything across. I would say some of the rules were a little bit too harsh. Writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show and Happy Days, you couldn't have the two parents sleep in the same bed. It was a two-bed era. I'm glad they got rid of that. You couldn't say the word "virgin." So we said, "She was pure as snow, but she drifted." The censorship was not only about cursing; there also was political censorship. We did an episode of Happy Days, when Arnold from the malt shop and Fonzie went and marched in Selma, Ala. We weren't allowed to say "march."  But I know how to write dirty jokes, I wrote for nightclubs for years. It just wasn't something you did for television.

THR: You also worked on three-camera shows in front of an audience. A lot of shows today are one-camera shows. Do you think not having an audience makes a difference?  

Marshall: I definitely think you lose something. You have no referee. The audience either laughs or doesn't laugh. If no one laughs, it's not funny. Smiling don't count. 

THR: You got started by selling jokes to comics. Today a lot of writers seem to be giving away jokes for free on Twitter. Are they crazy?

Marshall: Twitter's one way to try to get noticed now. In my era, though, sometimes I would give guys jokes, and they would use them and not pay me. Phil Foster, my mentor at the time, said, "No,
no, that's good." If they use your jokes and they get a laugh, they'll come back. If they don't get a laugh, they won't come back. I mean, sometimes they used to pay us in sandwiches. It was a barter system.

THR: You inadvertently gave the industry the phrase "jump the shark," because of a fifth-season episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie literally waterskis over a shark. Any regrets?

Marshall: It's part of the vernacular now. To be honest, it wasn't our best show.  But the man had jumped over garbage cans on his motorcycle. He had to jump something else. What a crazy idea, but everybody said all right. But I think it's a good phrase. It's shorthand. People get it right away.

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NAB BROADCASTING HALL OF FAME: 2012 Inductees

  • Garry Marshall -- Luncheon, April 16
  • Betty White-- Breakfast, April 17
  • Bob Uecker-- Luncheon, April 17
 
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