It is not often that the spin-off of a top-rated TV sitcom becomes even more popular than its "parent" program, but that's just what happened with the classic ABC comedy series Laverne & Shirley. Derived from an episode of the same network's blockbuster Happy Days (both series were executive produced by Garry Marshall), Laverne & Shirley premiered January 27,1976, and by the time it ended its first season 15 episodes later, the series ranked number two in the overall ratings. From 1977 through 1979, the series was America's top-rated series, outstripping the former league-leader Happy Days on both occasions! Initially set in the late '50s, Laverne & Shirley starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as wisecracking Laverne De Fazio and vulnerable Shirley Feeney, who worked together in the bottle-cap division at Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee, WI. The girls also shared the same basement apartment, managed from season two onward by widow Edna Babish (Betty Garrett). Featured in the cast were Phil Foster as Laverne's father, Frank De Fazio, who owned a restaurant called the Pizza Bowl, and who married Edna early in season five; David L. Lander and Michael McKean as the girls' goofy co-workers, brewery-truck drivers Andrew "Squiggy" Squiggman and Lenny Kosnowski; and Eddie Mekka as Laverne's sometime boyfriend Carmine Ragusa (aka "The Big Ragu").
The series segued from the 1950s to the 1960s during its fifth season; the following year, the entire cast moved from Milwaukee to Burbank, CA, where Frank and Edna had purchased an eatery called Cowboy Bill's. Laverne and Shirley landed jobs at Bardwell's Department Store, Lenny and Squiggy became two-bit talent agents, and Carmine was...well, still Carmine. Added to the cast at this juncture were the girls' new neighbors, a vapid model-dancer named Rhonda Lee (Leslie Easterbrook), and their apartment manager and part-time stuntman, Sonny St. Jacques (Ed Marinaro). During the hiatus between seasons seven and eight, Cindy Williams, who had been expressing displeasure over her concern that Penny Marshall's role was overshadowing hers, became pregnant, and issued a list of demands to the series' home studio Paramount, not least of which was the insistence that her working hours be cut down. When her demands were not met, Williams left the series, appearing in only two season-eight installments, one of which found Shirley marrying an army medic named Walter Meany and moving out of her apartment. Thus, although the series was still titled Laverne & Shirley, Laverne was for all intents and purposes the whole show. Bereft of its reason for being, the series suffered mightily in the ratings, and was canceled after 178 episodes on May 10, 1983. In its heyday, Laverne & Shirley inspired a Saturday-morning cartoon version, which was seen from 1981 through 1983. On May 7, 2002, the series' surviving stars showed up on an ABC reunion special, Laverne & Shirley Together Again. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi