TV audiences got their first good look at Tom Hanks during his 1980-'82 run opposite Peter Scolari on the ABC sitcom Bosom Buddies, but the show was never a huge ratings success, and he struggled to find work after it was canceled. In fact, as he recalled during this Conan appearance, Hanks was unemployed for roughly a year—a time during which he made the fateful acquaintance of some of the cast and crew of Happy Days.
Hanks' friendship with Happy Days star Ron Howard paid professional dividends when Howard, branching out into full-time feature directing, approached Hanks about starring in the 1984 mermaid rom-com Splash. Howard and his production partner Brian Grazer had struggled to find a studio for the project, finally latching on at Disney's new Touchstone imprint with the promise that it'd reach screens faster—and cheaper—than a competing mermaid movie toplined by Warren Beatty.
Although Hanks wasn't the studio's first choice to star opposite Daryl Hannah in the movie, he eventually won them over—despite the fact that, as he joked in his Conan interview, he was still acting in sitcom mode and hadn't yet perfected the art of modulating his performance to suit less over-the-top material. All's well that ends well: Splash went on to make nearly $70 million in the U.S., jump-starting one of Hollywood's most distinguished film careers in the bargain.