TV URBAN LEGEND: Hanna-Barbera's “The Fonz and the Happy Day Gang” began as a “Doctor Who” animated series.
It’s remarkable how drastically some film and television projects changed from the time they started development to when they premiered on screen. What began as a horror film about aliens ended up becoming the heartwarming blockbuster “E.T.” What ended up as “Die Hard With a Vengeance” was once both a “Lethal Weapon” film and a Brandon Lee 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.
Therefore, I keep an open mind when it comes to legends about the origins of projects, even if they initially seem difficult to believe, like this one sent by reader Chris:
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-traveling adventures of the characters from “Happy Days.”
The show Chris is refers 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”) who traveled back to 1957 Milwaukee and accidentally trapped Richie Cunningham, Ralph Malph, Fonzie and (of course) his anthropomorphic dog Mr. Cool in her time machine and subsequently lost in time. (Ron Howard, Donny Most and Henry Winkler even reprised their famous roles.)
It’s not that difficult to imagine such a show being instead about the Doctor traveling through time in his TARDIS. After all, “Doctor Who was popular in the United States at the time. Marvel even published a comic in 1980 starring the Doctor (after Marvel UK acquired the rights 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 the studio worked up a proposal and, after it fell through, repurposed the concept for another licensed property. (Hanna-Barbera had a deal with Paramount for all of its Garry Marshall television characters, and produced the animated “Laverne and Shirley in the Army” and, later, the “Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour.”). After all, the popular Hanna-Barbera TV series “Wacky Races” was originally developed to be part of a live-action game show, so it’ not like the studio was a stranger to the concept of "pivoting."
But is it true?
No, it’s not.
Duane Poole, who was the writer and developer of “The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang,” told me there was never any mention of “Doctor Who” at the time, and that they were just trying to make the animated series as different as they could from the live-action show, so they hit upon time travel. He also joked that he wasn't even sure whether Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had heard of “Doctor Who.”
So no, the weirdness of “The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang” was all original ...
The legend is...
Thanks to Chris for the suggestion and 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.