Modern Sitcoms Owe Everything to Garry Marshall

Okay, and Norman Lear, but today we're talking Marshall

By Kirk Miller

 
 Modern Sitcoms Owe Everything to Garry Marshall
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20 July 2016

Garry Marshall, the director of seminal TV sitcoms such as Happy Days, Mork and Mindy and Laverne and Shirley, passed away Tuesday at the age of 81 after a series of strokes,

While not as biting as Norman Lear (All in the Family, Maude), Marshall’s seemingly more mainstream work in the '70s focused on some TV outliers: the working class (including women), teenagers and even aliens.

Most importantly, his shows were both funny and human.

His later work concentrated on movies, from the oddly sugarcoated (Pretty Woman) to the maudlin (Beaches) to a series of holiday-themed rom-coms (Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve).

But today, we celebrate his greatest work.

Happy Days

A show about a typical Midwest family in the '50s, Happy Days somehow made Milwaukee seem cool and introduced the world to “The Fonz” (Henry Winkler), a cool, leather jacket-clad mechanic who skyrocketed from a minor role to series lead seemingly overnight (You might remember catch phrases such as “Heyyy!” and “Sit on it”). He became a bit too popular: the phrase “jumping the shark” originated from later-years episode where Fonzie literally does just that.

Mork and Mindy

A spinoff of Happy Days, Mork starred Robin Williams as the show’s titular alien, a confused, manic but ultimately joyous outsider. An idea inspired by Marshall’s then eight-year old son, the concept was initially considered by Marshall’s staff  “the most horrible idea [they] ever heard.” But 60 million viewers can’t be wrong. It also, for some of us kids, served as the first exposure to combating racism.

Laverne and Shirley

Co-starring Garry’s sister Penny (a fine director in her own right), L&S focused on two female bottle cappers at a Milwaukee brewery who later joined the army and moved to California. The most watched TV show in 1977 and 1978, the series won acclaim for its strong female leads and fantastic supporting and guest cast (Michael McKean, Ted Danson, Ed Begley Jr.). And that ridiculously catchy, hopscotch theme song.

Photo via: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for WGAw

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