Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Hanna-Barbera’s The Fonz and the Happy Gang began as a Doctor Who animated series.
It is remarkable how different many famous film and television projects looked like when their development began. What began as a horror film about aliens ended up becoming the heartwarming family film E.T.. What became Die Hard With a Vengeance was once both a Lethal Weapon film and a Brandon Lee starring vehicle! Most bizarrely, instead of making both a He-Man film and a Spider-Man film, Cannon Films combined the two and ended up with a surprising hit film.
So I keep an open mind when it comes to legends about the origins of projects, even if they initially seem hard to believe, like this legend sent to me by reader Chris, asking:
There is a TV legend I have heard a few times but I have never discovered how true it was. That in the early 1980s Hanna-Barbera wanted to make a cartoon version of Doctor Who but couldn’t get the rights so instead made one about the time-travelling adventures of the characters from Happy Days
The show Chris is referring to is Hanna-Barbera’s 1980-1982 series, The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, about a girl from the future (voiced by Didi Cohn, from Grease) showing up in 1957 Milwaukee in a time machine and accidentally getting Richie Cunningham, Ralph Malph, Fonzie and (of course) Fonzie’s anthropomorphic dog, Mr. Cool, trapped in her time machine and subsequently lost in time (Ron Howard, Donny Most and Henry Winkler all did their own voices!)!
It is not that difficult to imagine such a show being instead about Doctor Who traveling through time in his TARDIS. Doctor Who was popular in the United States at the time. Marvel even put out a comic starring the Doctor in 1980 (after Marvel UK acquired the rights to the Doctor in England a year earlier).
So it certainly wouldn’t be that shocking to imagine Hanna-Barbera wanting to license the character, or even that they did a work-up for a proposed show and after it fell through, then used the basic concept for another licensed property, namely the Happy Days characters (Hanna-Barbera had a deal with Paramount for all of their Garry Marshall television characters, as they put out a Laverne and Shirley animated series at the same time, as well as later a Mork and Mindy/Fonzie/Laverne and Shirley show). After all, the popular Hanna-Barbera TV series Wacky Races was originally developed to be part of a live action game show, so it is not like Hanna-Barbera were strangers to the concept of “pivoting.”
But is is true?
No, it is not.
I spoke with Duane Poole, the longtime writer and producer for film, television and the stage, who was the developer on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang project and he said no, there was never any mention of Doctor Who at the time and that they were just trying to make the animated series as different from the live action series as they could, and so they hit upon time travel. He also joked that he wasn’t even sure if Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had heard of Doctor Who at the time.
So no, the trippiness of The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang was all original…
The legend is…
Thanks to Chris for the suggestion and thanks to Duane Poole for the information!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.