Mork & Mindy is an American sci-fi-based sitcom broadcast from 1978 until 1982 on ABC. The first episode was broadcast on September 14, 1978. The series starred Robin Williams as Mork, an alien who came to Earth from the planet Ork in a large egg-shaped space ship, and Pam Dawber as Mindy McConnell, his human friend, roommate, and wife after they married in the final season.
Premise and initial successEdit
The series was a spinoff of the sitcom Happy Days. The character of Mork (Robin Williams) first appeared in the Season 5 episode, "My Favorite Orkan," where he threatened to take Richie Cunningham back to Ork as an example of a human, but his plan is foiled by Fonzie. The character proved to be popular enough with the audience to rate a starring role in a series, though in the series Mork would reside in Boulder Colorado, and in the (then) current day of 1978 as opposed to Happy Days' 1950s Milwaukee Wisconsin.
Mork's egg-shaped spacecraft lands on Earth, with his mission to observe human activity, assigned by Orson, his mostly-unseen and long-suffering superior (voiced by Ralph James), who has sent Mork to Earth to get Mork off Ork. To fit in, Mork dresses in a suit - but with the tie, shirt, and coat all on backwards. He befriends Mindy (Pam Dawber) after witnessing her and her boyfriend getting into an argument and him driving off in her vehicle, leaving her stranded. Mork offers assistance, and Mindy, not seeing his back or the on-backwards suit, assumes he's a priest judging simply by looking at him from the front, mistaking his wardrobe gaffe for a priest's collar. Mindy is taken in by Mork's willingness to listen (unknown to her, he's simply observing her behavior as part of his mission), and the two become friends. The two walk back to her apartment, when Mindy sees his backwards suit and Mork's rather unconventional behavior for a priest. She asks him who he really is, and the innocent Mork, having not learned how to lie, tells her the truth.
After discovering Mork is an alien, Mindy promises to keep his true identity a secret and allows him to move into her attic. Complicating factors include Mindy's father, Fred (Conrad Janis), who expresses outrage that his daughter is living with a man. Fred's mother-in-law, Cora (Elizabeth Kerr), presents a much less conservative view, and approves of Mork and the living arrangement.
Mindy and Cora also worked at Fred's record store with Cora giving music lessons to a black pre-teenager, Eugene (Jeffrey Jacquet) when both are introduced—Cora's role in the series was limited to comic counter-points never carrying much plot development. Eugene, played an occasional plot role as a Mork confidant who gave views or advice which then created the conflict-resolution of the episode. Storylines usually centered on Mork's attempts to understand human behavior and American culture as Mindy helps him to adjust to life on Earth. At the end of each episode, Mork must report back to Orson on what he has learned about Earth. These end-of-show summaries allow Mork to comment humorously on social norms.
Mork's greeting was "Nanu nanu" (pronounced "nah-noo nah-noo", sometimes spelt Nanoo Nanoo) along with a hand gesture similar to Mr. Spock's Vulcan salute from Star Trek combined with a handshake. It became a popular catchphrase at the time, as did "Shazbot" (SHOZZ-bot), an Orkan curse word that Mork used. Mork also said "kay-o" in place of okay.
This series was Robin Williams' first major acting break. It became famous for Williams' use of his manic improvisational comedic talent. Williams would make up so many jokes during filming that the scripts eventually had specific gaps where Williams was allowed to perform freely. In many scenes, Pam Dawber had to bite her lip to avoid laughing and ruining the filming.
The series was hugely popular in its first season. The Nielsen ratings were very high, ranking at #3 behind Laverne & Shirley (#1) and Three's Company (#2). The show even garnered higher ratings than the show that spawned it, Happy Days (#4). However, the network management sought to "improve" the show in several ways. This was done in conjunction with what is known in the industry as counterprogramming, a technique in which a successful show is moved opposite a ratings hit on another network. The show was moved from Thursdays, where it out rated CBS' The Waltons, to Sundays, replacing Battlestar Galactica. The show now aired against two highly-rated shows: NBC's anthology series The Sunday Big Event and CBS' Archie Bunker's Place, the revamped continuation of All in the Family.
The second season saw an attempt to seek younger viewers. The characters of Fred, Cora and Eugene were effectively dropped, though Fred and Cora would both appear briefly in later episodes, including Fred's returning with a bride. It was explained on the show that Fred was sent off to tour as a conductor with an orchestra, and he took Cora with him on the road. Eugene was never mentioned again.
New cast members and a disco-like version of the first season's gentle theme tune were added. Among the new[supporting characters were Remo and Jean DaVinci (Jay Thomas and Gina Hecht), a brother and sister from New York City who owned a new neighborhood deli where Mork and Mindy now spent a lot of time. Also added as regulars were their grumpy neighbor Mr. Bickley (who ironically worked as a verse writer for a greeting-card company) portrayed by Tom Poston, (introduced in one episode of the first season), and, introduced a few episodes into the second season's run, Nelson Flavor (Jim Staahl), Mindy's snooty cousin who ran for city council.
The show's main focus was no longer on Mork's slapstick attempts to adjust to the new world he was in, but began to focus on the relationship between Mork and Mindy on a romantic level. The network execs also were rumored to have tried to get Pam Dawber to add "jiggle" by wearing padded bras and more revealing clothes. She refused, and Robin Williams supported her decision.
Due to the abrupt changes to the show and the new timeslot, Mork & Mindy's ratings fell tremendously. It was quickly moved back to its previous timeslot but the ratings never fully recovered. Several efforts were made to return to the core of the series.
For the third season, Mindy's father and grandmother were brought back and added along with Jean and Remo. (The show itself acknowledged this desperate attempt to fix its previous meddling, with the third season's hour-long opener aptly titled "Putting The Ork Back in Mork"). Other supporting cast additions included two kids from the day-care center Mork worked at: the intellectual Lola and the gluttonous Stephanie. (Possible replacements for the character of Eugene.)
When this idea failed to improve ratings, many wilder ideas were tried to attempt to capitalize on Williams' comedic talents.
In the fourth season, Mork and Mindy were married. Jonathan Winters, one of Williams' idols, was brought in as their child, Mearth. Due to the different Orkan physiology, Mork laid an egg, which grew and hatched into the much older Winters. It had been previously explained that Orkans aged "backwards", thus explaining Mearth's appearance and that of his teacher, Miss Geezba (portrayed by then 11-year-old actress Louanne). Other attempts included the use of special guest stars.
In a two-part second season episode, Raquel Welch appeared as Captain Nirvana of the Necrotons, an alien species of beautiful women that were enemies of the Orkans. There was even an episode where Mork meets Robin Williams. However, due to the continuing ratings slide, Mork and Mindy was canceled after its fourth season, on May 27, 1982.
The Happy Days connectionEdit
The character of Mork was introduced in a season five episode of Happy Days titled "My Favorite Orkan." Richie tells everyone he has seen a flying saucer, but no one else believes him. Fonzie tells him that people make up stories about UFOs because their lives are "humdrum." Then, while Richie's at home, Mork walks in. He freezes everyone with his finger except Richie and says he was sent to Earth to find a "humdrum" human to take back to Ork. Richie runs to Fonzie for help. When Mork catches up to him, he freezes everyone, but finds himself unable to freeze Fonzie due to The Fonz's famous and powerful thumbs. Mork challenges Fonzie to a duel: Finger vs. Thumb. After their duel, The Fonz admits defeat. But Mork decides to take Fonzie back to Ork instead of Richie. Then, Richie wakes up and realizes he was dreaming. There is a knock on the door and much to Richie's dismay, it is a man who looks exactly like Mork except in regular clothes asking for directions. When production on Mork & Mindy began, an extra scene was filmed and added to this episode for subsequent reruns. In the scene, Mork contacts Orson and explains that he decided to let Fonzie go, and was going to travel to the year 1978 to continue his mission.
Fonzie and Laverne of Laverne & Shirley appeared in the first episode of the show. In one segment, Mork returns to 1950s Milwaukee where Fonzie sets Mork up on a date with Laverne.
Mork returned to Happy Days in an episode in 1979. Mork tells Richie that he enjoys coming to the 1950s because life is simpler and more "humdrum" than in the 1970s. Fonzie sees Mork and immediately tries to run away, but Mork freezes him and makes him stay. He eventually lets him go, but not before Fonzie asks Mork to reveal two things about the future: "Cars and girls". Mork's response is "In 1979... both are faster." The episode is mostly a retrospective in which clips are shown as Richie and Fonzie try to explain the concepts of love and friendship to Mork.
Four-season story developmentEdit
Mork arrives on Earth moments after Mindy has argued with her boyfriend and he drives off with her jeep. Initially believing Mork is a priest, she asks him to walk her back home. Mindy then is startled to realize that Mork is not a priest and has actually put a man's business suit on backwards upon landing. However, the University of Colorado journalism student quickly realizes that he is telling the truth about being a friendly alien who will not hurt her. Mindy decides to let Mork stay with her. Initially, he takes up residence in a closet.
Shortly afterward, Mindy decides he can stay in the attic over her second-floor apartment; later we learn that Mr. Bickley lives downstairs. She stands up to her father, uncomfortable with cohabitation. Because he is so different, Mork needs a safe place to stay while on assignment to learn about Earth.
During the second season, Mindy's father goes on tour with an orchestra, and Mindy has more involvement with her other relatives, including Nelson Flavor, who is ever ready to promote his political aspirations, and her friends Remo and Jean DaVinci, who run a local deli. At the beginning of the third season it mysteriously transformed into DaVinci's Restaurant, with no mention of how the prior deli had been remodeled so quickly. Jean no longer is working to support herself through medical school; her job is running the restaurant.
Fred returns in the third season, as does Cora Hudson, Mindy's grandmother, but Mork has gone "native", preferring to be called Morry; Mindy and Mork together call Orson to ask for help and an elder appears to reindoctrinate Mork into Orkan behavior.
At the beginning of the final season, Mork marries Mindy, although Ork has outlawed marriage; somehow, Orson comes around and defends Mork's decision. After the wedding and the honeymoon, Mork lays an egg and it hatches to reveal their son, Mearth. He develops quickly, and takes a transporter beam to get to school on Ork each day.
While trying to call Orson, Mork crosses signals with another alien (Joe Regalbuto), who says his name is Kalnik, from Neptune. Kalnik, his Earth wife, Mork and Mindy get together to socialize, but Kalnik reveals his true intentions when he suggests to Mork that Earth presents opportunities for powerful aliens like themselves. Mindy overhears Kalnik and his wife say denigrating things about Mearth; Mork politely but firmly asks them to leave, and Kalnik turns on Mork. Although Mork tries to solve his problem by revealing his alien identity to Earth, Kalnik keeps threatening them, trying to annihilate them Mork uses time-travel shoes to escape with Mindy (while Mearth stays with Fred). Kalnik follows Mork and Mindy through time, but the series ends inconclusively, with Mork and Mindy falling through time, declaring their togetherness, a cave drawing of Mork and Mindy being the last thing we see (since the previous battle with Kalnik takes place in prehistoric times).
Mork and Mindy was a hit during the first two of four seasons:
- 1978-1979: #3
- 1979-1980: #27
- Susan Taylor (Morgan Fairchild)
- Exidor (Robert Donner), an eccentric man (with possible mental illness) who thought of himself as a prophet. He knew that Mork was an alien but no one believed him. He was the leader of a cult called The Friends of Venus, of which he was the only member. Later, since the Venusians had abandoned him, he began to worship O.J. Simpson.
- Mr. Sternhagen (Foster Brooks), Mindy's boss when she got a job at a local TV station.
- Glenda Faye Comstock, a neighbor played by show producer Crissy Wilzak Comstock.
- Todd Norman Taylor a.k.a. TNT (Bill Kirchenbauer), an obnoxious and unattractive womanizer.
- Cathy (Shelley Fabares), Fred's new young wife.
- Two specific children from the day care center Mork worked at; Lola (Amy Tenowich), the young philosopher, and Stephanie (Stephanie Kayano), the chubby-faced Asian who loves to eat.
The house from the show is located at 1619 Pine Street, just a few blocks away from the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.
The same house was used for exterior shots on Perfect Strangers, where the cousins Larry and Balki lived with their wives.
Spin-offs and adaptationsEdit
- In the United Kingdom, a long-running comic strip version was written by Angus P. Allan, illustrated by Bill Titcombe and printed in children's television magazine Look-In.
- There were also several British-produced annuals to tie in with the series.
- British television has featured two very similar situation comedies. The first was children's comedy series Mike and Angelo, running from 1989 to 2000. Angelo was an alien who came down to Earth and befriended young boy Mike. He shared many of Mork's misunderstandings and curiosities about human life, and like Mork, lived in a wardrobe.
- The second similar British series is My Hero (more closely based on Superman series of the 1950s), which began in 2000.
- After the show finished, a Saturday morning cartoon titled The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour ran on ABC from 1982–1983. The Mork & Mindy segments were a prequel, with Mindy as a student in high school. The character of Eugene returned in this spin-off voiced by Shavar Ross.
- In 2005, a TV-movie titled Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy aired on NBC.
- In 1979, there was a short-lived Brazilian version titled Superbronco. It was produced by Rede Globo, starring comedian Ronald Golias]and actress Liza Vieira.
- Nike SB released a Mork & Mindy colorway Dunk, following the colors of Mork's spacesuit.
- Two of Mork's phrases became the final words spoken by AC/D frontman Bon Scott on his last album, the 1979 Highway to Hell before his death in February 1980. At the end of the last song on the LP, Night Prowler, Scott says, "Shazbot, na-nu na-nu".
- The episode featuring the character Arnold Wanker was extensively edited when transmitted on the British network ITV as the word wanker, although a reasonably recognizable surname in the United States and of German origin, is in British English a vulgar term for a person who masturbates. When the episode was repeated on the more liberal Channel Four, some years later no alterations were made.
Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the first three seasons of Mork & Mindy on DVD in Regions 1, 2 and 4.
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