Today marks the anniversary of the first episode of Mork and Mindy, one of my all time favorite tv shows.
How it started
It was inspired by Garry Marshall’s (creator and executive producer for Happy Days) son who saw Star Wars and wanted to know about an alien being put on Happy Days. And Jerry Paris (who directed many episodes of Happy Days) remembered an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (which he sometimes co-starred as Rob Petrie’s neighbor, Jerry Helper), “It May Look Like A Walnut” where Rob thinks a walnut eating alien has invaded Earth and taken over.
Out of that came the idea of Mork from the planet Ork. There was a casting call and one of those to respond was Williams, who entered the room using a helium type voice and sat on his head. Here is Marshall telling how he was introduced to Williams:
Marshall gave him the role right away because “he was the only alien who auditioned”.
In the Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan”, Richie sees a UFO, but none of his friends believe it. Here is part one (Mork shows up at 4:25):
The creation of Mork and Mindy
The episode was a hit, so when coming up with a new show idea, he remembered Mork, and an actress named Pam Dawber.
Set in (what was then) present day, Mork from the planet Ork is sent to Earth by Orson, his superior, as an observer of Earth customs and also so he would not be a bad influence on Ork. A sense of humor, as well as all other emotions, are banned on Ork “for the good of the race”. And Mork meets Mindy, who had just had a rough experience with her boyfriend who drove off in her jeep.
An unexpected hit
Very few people gave the show much of a chance before the first episode aired, but afterwards, it was a ratings smash, with an average of 60 million people watching, nominated for 2 Emmys and winning Golden Globes and People Choice Awards. And it was ranked #3 for the 1978-79 season, sometimes weekly beating the show that gave it’s start, Happy Days. (Many years later Williams won Nickelodeon TV Land’s “Most ‘Out of This World’ Character” for both 2005 and 2006.)
The show would run into problems with censors. Robin would slip in things, sometimes in another language. The studio would have a censor who spoke 4 languages to the set to prevent him from causing trouble. And the network messing with what made it a hit to begin with.
For many fans of my generation, the show plays a big part of our childhood. And a week ago I finished re-watching the whole series (a few of us on tumblr were all doing the same thing, ending the series at the same time), and it was a wonderful stroll down memory lane. Oh, did I say stroll down memory lane? I mean a skipping-break-into-a-frantic-run-so-fast-I-get-dizzy down a 5 lane interstate highway (look out for that car!!).
While the show makes me feel like a kid again, I also am able to appreciate the characters more. Robin is still awe-inspiring, but Mindy is equally amazing. From the get-go she stands up for herself when her boyfriend tries to attack her, then later dealing with her loving but over protective father, and being patient and understanding with Mork though she isn’t afraid of setting him straight. And later standing up to Mork’s boss, Orson.
It was great to see both Robin and Pam together earlier this year on The Crazy Ones:
My 7-year-old watching an episode of Mork & Mindy. Here, it’s Dr. Morkenstein (anyone got a tissue for the ending?!?)
It’s also great to see younger generations watching and becoming fans. One of the youngest is my 7 year old daughter who loves watching it with me.
Thanks to Robin (wherever you are!) and Pam (you’re awesome!) for making many people’s childhoods funnier.