TV Junkie Interview: Henry Winkler
For several weeks we've been living with day-to-day and now hourly updates of the slow motion train wreck that is the life of Charlie Sheen. The wreck started well over a decade ago with allegations of drug use and huge monthly bills for escort services. Combine that with the disappearance of cars that reappear crashed in canyons, restraining orders, alleged spousal abuse, drug possession, using pornstars as daycare providers, the list of allegations goes on and on. Initially the reason that there is so much interest in what Sheen has done isn't just its salaciousness, but the fact that he is(was) the highest paid actor on television with a viewing audience that would regularly reach the 8 figure mark.We think back to our ever-increasingly distant past to focus on someone who was in a similar position, in terms of attention and limelight, and that person is Henry Winkler. For the better part of a decade, Henry Winkler was the most recognizable actor on TV playing a character who has been an icon ever since, Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli. When "Happy Days" was the number one show on TV it had an audience of well over 20 million viewers - a staggering number that today's network executives can't even put their minds around. Winkler was on the cover of every magazine, from Dynamite! to People to you name it.
Winkler did all this and maintained a lifestyle untainted by scandal. Certainly there are a lot more media outlets following actors and celebrities these days, eager to endlessly report on rumors whether they are true are not, a practice that dates back to Hedda Hopper if not earlier. But what we wonder is if the public in the 1970s and 1980s would have tolerated the kind of behavior exhibited by Charlie Sheen. Communications majors, here's a thesis question: Why are advertisers still eager to associate their brands with CBS' "Two and a Half Men" but not MTV's "Skins"?
We're pretty confident in our assumption that advertisers of the '70s would have pulled their support for a show whose star has had as much legal trouble as Charlie Sheen has. If advertisers had pulled back their support for CBS a couple years ago, perhaps the situation wouldn't be as dire for Sheen as it is today. Imagine Henry Winkler strolling from the set of "Happy Days" to a limo filled with escorts off to a debauched night ending in (yet another) smashed up hotel room. Proctor & Gamble would have dropped that show in a second.