Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Three Angry Men (And Nine Quiet Ones)"

Barney Martin and Tom Bosley on Happy Days.

How do you keep a sitcom on the air for 11 seasons? How do you possibly come up with over 200 stories for your characters without blatantly repeating yourself? Well, naturally, you have your writers draw from their own lives... as well as the lives of their family and friends. If you've exhausted that material, you look for a hook, i.e. any element you could possibly hang a story on -- a holiday, a sport, a vacation, some kind of weather event, etc. You take your characters on a camping trip in the woods to see how they'd react to that environment. You send them to Hawaii. You have them celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter or Halloween or whatever. You send a storm to their hometown.

But another thing you can do is simply borrow plots that have worked for other writers in the past. It seems like every long-running show eventually does its own version of A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life. Maybe both. And there are few plots more evergreen than 12 Angry Men. Reginald Rose originally wrote this tense legal drama for television back in 1954. With Robert Cummings in the lead, it aired as an installment of Studio One in Hollywood. But it was Sidney Lumet's 1957 film with Henry Fonda as Juror #8 that turned 12  Angry Men into a true American classic, destined to be copied and parodied by other shows for decades.

"Fonzie for the Defense," the Happy Days Season 5 finale, is just one of many such homages in popular culture. What makes this one especially interesting is that it features Barney Martin of Seinfeld fame as one of the jurors -- in fact, a virulently racist juror who wants to hang a young Black man (Ralph Wilcox) for purse snatching.

What did we think of this unusual episode? Find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Since this is a season finale, my cohost and I both weigh in with our thoughts on the entire season, including our Top 5 lists!