Producer Garry Marshall was surprised by Laverne & Shirley's success
Image credit: The Everett Collection
From the outside, it seemed as though Laverne & Shirley was at the top ever since the moment it aired in 1976. It was inspired by the already successful and well-beloved series Happy Days which had a built-in and dedicated fan base who were eager for the spin-off.
Despite the warm welcome from Happy Days fans, some doubt clouded the minds of Cindy Williams, Penny Marshall and even the series' producer, Garry Marshall. Marshall didn't doubt anyone's ability but rather what kind of staying power Laverne & Shirley would have.
Even with his worries, what happened with Laverne & Shirley's massive success was, well, as Garry Marshall put it in a 1978 interview with St. Joseph News-Press, "a phenomenon."
In the era of smart comedy, Laverne & Shirley took a completely different approach. Its light-hearted and slapstick humor offered a refreshingly simple take on many daily issues that Laverne and Shirley found themselves in.
Despite going head-to-head with stacked lineups of sophisticated television shows, Marshall said Laverne & Shirley was all about timing.
"Laverne & Shirley came along at the right time in history," Marshall said. "It came at a time when the public was in a mood to enjoy a very upbeat comedy about two girls with nothing going for them but their ability to survive. It reflects what's happening in this country — a feeling that we're going to make it. That feeling was not prevalent in the 1960s."
What Laverne & Shirley had going for it that many series of the time lacked was Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. The two actresses became icons through their time on the series and were often compared to Lucille Ball and Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy.
Complete with a great cast, talented writing and more than enough hilarious bits, Laverne & Shirley started to span the globe and become a bigger hit in other countries. One of those countries, according to a 1981 interview with The Tampa Bay Times, was Taiwan.
But even having a hit show in other countries couldn't put Marshall's mind at ease. Marshall had been in Hollywood for almost 30 years before Laverne & Shirley went on-air. Over time, he had learned to proceed with caution.
His vast knowledge of Hollywood and show business gave him a natural knack for teaching. According to the interview, one big thing he tried to teach his students was that "the TV business is not perfect."
"TV is incredibly important and can be a powerful teaching tool, but the truth is crazies work there, and dumb people, selfish people and brilliant people," Marshall said. "People graduate from college, they come out to Hollywood, and they expect us to know what we're doing. We don't. It's not perfect. Everything is not nice."
As the man who produced such hits such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, he knew a thing or two about success and those who try to stop you from it. He learned from the critics, who despite positive public ratings, continued to dish out negative reviews.
"Fifty percent of the people you'll be working with won't care about your dream. It's not their vision," Marshall said. "New people think everything is perfect. The ones who survive are those who can improvise and understand the process."
He certainly understood the process.
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