Late Night OTB – Ron Howard

The original star of 'Happy Days' reflects on the shift to second fiddle.

Earlier today I stumbled on this two-year-old YouTube video, itself an excerpt from a much longer interview from a decade earlier.

In this 7-minute clip, Howard talks candidly about the departure from the original concept of “Happy Days” as a show centered on him as the middle child in a Midwestern family to, essentially, the Fonzie show. He displayed remarkably shrewd and empathetic judgment as a 22-year-old.

The clip itself is part of a three-hour interview from back in 2006 (aired in 2007) with the Television Academy Foundation.

Ron Howard’s interview, the Archive’s 500th, is now available for viewing online. Fittingly, Howard’s career spans a fifty-year history of television from his first roles as a child actor in such ’50s shows as Playhouse 90 and The Red Skelton Show to his role as narrator and executive producer of Arrested Development.

To many, Howard will forever be known to television audiences as “Opie Taylor” on The Andy Griffith Show and “Richie Cunningham” on Happy Days. His discussion of these series is a significant part of his three-hour interview. 

Interview description:

Howard recalled his early years growing up in Burbank, the son of actor parents, and his own start at age 3, using a dialogue scene from “Mr. Roberts” as his audition piece. He reminisced about some of his earliest acting on television including the “live” anthology drama Playhouse 90 and his recurring role as part of the gang on Dennis the Menace. He then talked about his appearance with Bert Lahr on an episode of G. E. Theatre, in which host Ronald Reagan made special note of Howard’s performance, which also caught the eye of producer Sheldon Leonard, who cast him on the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. He spoke in great detail about playing “Opie Taylor” on The Andy Griffith Show, describing his work with Andy Griffith and the show’s ensemble and discussing moments from the series’ production. He talked about learning how to write from signing autographs, using memories of his dog’s death to create the emotions necessary for the classic “Opie the Birdman” episode, and truly having to “act” when eating “ice cream” (actually cold mashed potatoes). He briefly described some television roles he appeared in in the early ’70s before taking on the role of “Richie Cunningham” on Happy Days. He spoke candidly about the shift in the series focus onto the break-out “Fonzie” character, recited some of the series numerous catchphrases, and discussed memorable series episodes (including “The Howdy Doody Show” and the now infamous jump-the-shark episode “Hollywood”). He detailed his transition to behind-the-cameras as a director of low-budget features and television movies (including Cotton Candyand Skyward), before becoming one of Hollywood’s A-list producer-directors. He lastly discussed his work as executive-producer and voice-over narrator on the Emmy-Award-winning sitcom Arrested Development. The interview was conducted by Gary Rutkowski on October 18, 2006.

I haven’t taken the time to watch the full interview yet but almost certainly will.

FILED UNDER: Late Night OTB, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Smart guy. A survivor.

  2. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Not just a survivor, but a remarkably skilled filmmaker.

    More of a tactical Spielberg, but of the same type.

    And Howard had an interesting entree into directing. I like a lot what he’s done, but he’s not innovative or challenging. Apollo 13 was pretty bad-ass. And I did enjoy A Beautiful Mind.

    When I was a wee lad, I watched Andy Griffith on channel 9 and Gentle Ben too (it may have have been the 4pm show and GB the 4:30) , and I loved Gentle Ben more.

    I’d argue Howard’s best stuff was Arrested Development.

    Way more than workman, more than journeyman, but not, at the end of the day, a genius world-changing guy. Still, super solid.

    One of the best things about a Ron Howard gig is spotting his brother Clint. Clint always kills it.