The audience reaction to Joanie's first kiss changed the course of Happy Days
Plus, memories from Erin Moran's Sweet Sixteen include a peck from the Fonz and a brand-new car.
When Joanie gets her first kiss on Happy Days, it's not with Chachi. No, she locks lips with a senior boy named David, whom she immediately invites to a make-out party, to the utter horror of her brother Richie, also in attendance.
The episode "Joanie's First Kiss" aired in 1978. At the time, Erin Moran was 18, but Happy Days fans likely still saw her more as Richie's little sister than somebody's sweetheart. Yet Moran said nobody in the audience seemed to mind a bit when Joanie grew up and started dating.
"The audience doesn't seem to mind that Joanie is no longer just a kid," Moran told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981. "When she got her first kiss, there was no big fuss. In fact, the studio audience showed us that they liked it. Later, the general audience loved it." In fact, the positive reaction led the writer to shift the series attention to Joanie's love life.
But when Chachi was introduced on the show, Moran said their romantic link wasn't necessarily meant to be permanent. However, once actor Scott Baio grew to his full height, she said the writers could see a lot more potential to take their romance to new heights.
"There was nothing serious until last year, when he finally grew taller and could bend over and kiss me," Moran said in 1981. "Then they saw definite flair there, definite dazzle!"
Moran said that because the episode got good ratings, it was decided that Joanie and Chachi would become a thing.
In the early seasons of Happy Days, Henry Winkler's character the Fonz had unexpectedly overshadowed Ron Howard's portrayal of Richie to become the star of the show. Similarly, soon after Joanie's romances garnered a warm reaction, the spotlight shifted to Joanie and Chachi. The Fonz, reportedly, didn't think was very cool — but, ayyyy, audiences loved their love story.
Two years before "Joanie's First Kiss" aired, Winkler showed up to Moran's Sweet Sixteen birthday dinner at a Hollywood restaurant. In front of her parents and a group of her friends, she accepted an affectionate kiss from the Fonz, but that wasn't her biggest gift!
After everyone finished eating, Erin's parents handed her a card. Inside, they'd written:
"Dear Erin: Now that you have a driver's license, for your birthday gift, we will make a $500 payment toward the purchase of your first car, Mother and Dad."
When Erin exited the restaurant, there, parked outside was a Volkswagen Scirocco, an early version of the Golf you see on roads today, which it turned out had already been bought, insured, and it was even wrapped in a bow for the birthday girl.
For Moran, playing Joanie provided an opportunity to show how sweet it can be to get your first kiss, sure, but also how sweet is when parents make the time to be there for their daughters through big moments in life. On Happy Days, the actor was grateful she got a chance to show how deep the bond can be in particularly between dads and daughters.
"I once received a fan letter from a girl," Moran told the Montgomery Advisor in 2005. "She said in her letter that she and her father always had a problem communicating. The show helped bring them together, which made them closer as friends, let alone father and daughter. It means a lot."