this week with...Henry Winkler

By Dan Snierson
Updated April 23, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

He emoted with his thumbs, loved the alphabet’s first letter, and urged us to have a seat. Yes, Henry Winkler made our days happy as TV’s most lovable greaser, the Fonz. He’s been no slouch since; the actor-director-producer currently guest-stars as an asinine attorney on Arrested Development, and the court trip continues on April 16, when he pops up for a three-episode stint as a shady lawyer on Third Watch. All of which makes this a perfect time to cross-examine him with some Stupid Questions.

I’m psyched to check you out on Third Watch! Would you mind quickly catching me up on the first five seasons of the show?

They put out fires. And they get out of cars and they draw their guns. And Bosco and Yokas are very emotional. And… they’re good.

Looking back at shooting Happy Days’ ”jump the shark” episode, did you kinda know that the show had jumped the shark, even though the phrase hadn’t been coined yet?

I didn’t have the slightest idea. Every time that somebody says, ”How do you feel about [the phrase] ‘jump the shark,”’ they always show a picture of me on water skis. And at that moment in time, I had great legs, so I don’t care.

Why did you wear your leather jacket in the water when you jumped the shark?

Well, because I am, uh, cool.

You directed an episode of the short-lived Happy Days spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi. Do you think if they’d called it Joanie Loves Tchotchkes, and it had featured Erin Moran in a room playing with trinkets, the show still would’ve failed, but at least it would have been admired for taking a creative risk?

Erin is still one of the most talented young people that I know, so her playing with toys would’ve been, umm, captivating. I would’ve watched it.

Speaking of directing, you also helmed Cop and a Half. Why didn’t you just spring for the other half a cop?

Budgets were hard to come by, so it was going to be Cop and Three Quarters, and then they said, ”Sorry, you’ve got to cut even deeper.” They wanted me to go with Cop and a Fourth, and I said, ”I will walk off the project. A half is as low as I’m going.”

Having played a reluctant brothel operator in Night Shift, you’re qualified to answer this: Is it true that pimpin’ ain’t easy?

You’re on the phone all the time. And then you gotta go out. I mean, just picture me having to go out in the middle of the night and beat somebody to a pulp for being disrespectful to one of my girls. God, it really cuts into your social life.

Henry, what is ”it”?

What is it? I don’t know what you’re hinting at.

Sit on…?

Oh! Sit on it! I’m still working on that answer. Because I’ve sat on so many things — some pleasurable and some like, Wow, what was I thinking? — and I swear, I haven’t found ”it” yet.

Finally, was Inspiration Point everything it was cracked up to be?

[Sighs] No. I could’ve gotten more.