Diff’rent Strokes (1978 – 1985)
Diff’rent Strokes existed at the height of its popularity a few years before I was really aware of it, but the reach of the show – and ironically, that of the diminutive star Gary Coleman – was far and wide. His character, Arnold, became something of a small screen phenomenon back in the early eighties.
In much the same way that The Fonz did not start out as the star of Happy Days, Arnold Jackson was not originally conceived as the focal point of Diff’rent Strokes. His catchphrase, What you talkin’ ’bout Willis? became so ingrained in popular culture in the early eighties that it threatened to overshadow the entire show. And just like Happy Days, Diff’rent Strokes had a very catchy theme tune.
Diff’rent Strokes was about a couple of black kids (we’re allowed to say that, right?) who are taken in by a wealthy white man, and yes, that is just as obvious a plot device as it appears. Credit where it’s due though, the show tackled a lot of heavy subjects that typically weren’t explored in what was essentially a ‘family friendly’ sitcom.
Oh yeah – and if anyone asks…
Happy Days (1974 – 1984)
Happy Days was one of the most successful sitcoms of the seventies. Setting aside the catchy theme tune, a lot of that was down to the breakout success of The Fonz – probably the single most well known character in the history of comedy on the small screen.
The show was never intended to be about The Fonz – it was meant to be about the Cunningham’s, which ostensibly it continued to be – but the character was so popular and Henry Winkler did such a great job with the role, that the producers had no choice but to elevate him into the headline spot.
Set during the fifties and sixties, Happy Days was so ingrained in that familiar culture and played off the public nostalgia for that particular time period so well, that a lot of younger people today think it was produced in those rock ‘n’ roll years it was representing, instead of being two decades removed.
Did Happy Days stay on television too long? Probably. After all, the phrase jumping the shark was born in an episode when The Fonz literally did just that – but it’s a well-remembered, family friendly sitcom, that was really the benchmark for such things at the time. Over thirty years after its final episode aired, Happy Days still manages to feel fresh, and still raises a smile.