Veteran actor/director/writer Garry Marshall has entertained TV viewers for nearly five decades as the architect of such iconic sitcoms as Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. With Nickelodeon reuniting Laverne & Shirley stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams this Saturday in a special episode of its hit series Sam & Cat, I had a chance to speak with Marshall about the continued popularity of his classic shows.
In a wide-ranging interview, the 78-year old TV executive -- who will appear this Sunday in an episode of Nick-At-Nite’s sitcom See Dad Run alongside series star and Happy Days alum Scott Baio -- also gives his opinions on today’s edgier sitcoms and his plans on writing a new comedy for Nickelodeon. An edited transcript follows.
Tom Umstead: How did your appearance on See Dad Run come about?
Garry Marshall: Scott Baio called me and asked if I would like to come on the show –he said it was on the same stage as Happy Days and they work out of my old office. It’s a real nostalgia trip for me so I said yes. Then he said we have a director you might like – your son, (Scott Marshall) -- so I was happy with that.
TU: How did it feel to be back on that stage and that office after so many years?
GM: I was overwhelmed with memories. Happy Days was there -- I was in that office 12 years, so it was a lot of good memories.
TU: What does it mean to you to see actors that were made famous through your shows back in the 70's and 80's now entertaining a new generation of viewers?
GM: I’ve always been amazed by television and how it makes an impression on people for what seems like forever – that’s why so many reunion shows are done and why nostalgia autograph shows are so big. There was one in Salt Lake City I went to that [Happy Days star] Henry [Winkler] was at in which 30,000 people showed up! That just shows you the power of the old television shows.
TU: How do you view today’s comedy series?
GM: There are always cycles – every 10 years they say that sitcoms are over, but they’re never over: it goes on in different forms. I must say that [today’s] shows are very funny.
But the biggest change, I must confess, is censorship. I’ve said this before, but when we were doing Happy Days they wouldn’t let us say the word virgin on the show. There was a character that was a virgin that wasn’t a virgin anymore so we had to write in the show that she was pure as snow but she drifted.
Nowadays they can say everything. They call it edgier, but I just call it less censorship, and a little dirtier, as we used to say in my day [laughs]. But it’s still funny, and the audiences seem to be alright with it. There are a few old people I run into that say, “Garry I liked your shows because you could watch and you wouldn’t get insulted with certain words and stuff,” but I say to them that it’s a new era … Watch reruns.
TU: Would you consider writing and producing a sitcom today?
GM: Oh yeah. I’ve been pitching some pilots. As a matter of fact my son and I just got a deal to write a pilot for Nickelodeon. But times have changed, particlulary on the movie side – it’s harder to get a movie together.
Television seems to be a better business with so many channels, and HBO and Showtime have proven that you can do much more innovative stuff on TV now than you can do in the movies.
TU: You mentioned taking an acting role on See Dad Run. At this point in your career do you like acting more than writing and directing?
GM: No, I’m basically a writer. There are pros and cons – if someone sees me on Scott Baio’s show, some people will say he took a job from an actor. But I think I become a better director when I act. I don’t do it every day and I do it for old friends.
TU: What do you think about the changing media landscape and the various content options now available to consumers?
GM: I don’t know. We used to make fun of the attention span of network and studio executives because it was very short – but now I think the nation has it as well because they all want 30-second shows [laughs]. So I don’t know if it’s for the better, but what is for the better, I must say, is there’s certainly something for everybody now. No matter who you are there’s something for you, and I think that’s good.