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.
Posted in classic comedy, Mork and Mindy, Nostalgia, television Tagged with: comedy, Mork and Mindy, nanu nanu, Pam Dawber, Robin Williams, scifi, sitcoms, television, tv
Last Monday, my daughter and I were sitting in the living room, she on her laptop and me reading or playing a game, I don’t remember which. Then she says “Robin Williams died.” The news hit like a ton of bricks. I was dazed, confused, and saddened.
I hoped that it was a hoax (like Bill Cosby’s rumored death a few years ago). So I immediately checked the internet. The more I read, the sadder I got.
Suicide. Due to severe depression. A nasty arch-nemesis.
Robin in his Orkian uniform.
My first memory of Robin was on “Mork and Mindy”. One of the earliest life memories I have, actually. (I’m just old enough that it seemed like Robin always was and always would be around.) I was 5 when the show started and I don’t remember exactly when I started watching it. I do remember watching when it went into reruns. I watched a number of sitcoms, both old and new, and if I missed those it wasn’t a real big deal. I miss Mork & Mindy and it was “Oh no! I have to wait another 7 days (or) 23 1/2 hours until it’s on again! Heavy sigh!”
I’ve kind of viewed him as a distant, crazy, but lovable uncle.
I was a big fan of the show. While The Dick Van Dyke show is my favorite sitcom, Mork & Mindy is tied in second place with The Cosby Show as my second favorite. Back when I watched the reruns, I was visiting one of my happiest types of stores (BOOKS!) when I came across the novelization of the pilot episode of Mork and Mindy. I snatched it up and read it in just a couple days, It was hilarious to read, and funnier to watch.
The show probably also helped me be more interested in how and why people behaved the way they do. At the end of every episode, Mork would telepathically report back to his boss, Orson on the planet Ork about what he had learned about Earthlings that week.
A couple of my personal favorites are “Mork’s Greatest Hits” where Mork deals with the town bully:
And when Mork naively joins racists in “The Night They Raided Mind-ski’s”
Since that sad Monday, I have watched a lot of the show again. Sad to say that I had not watched the show in several years, but when rewatching it, it made me feel like a kid again, remembering characters and catchphrases (“KO”, drinking with his finger, and Mearth! RIP Mr. Jonathan Winters! Also Tom Poston !). And it surprised me how much I remembered as an episode would start rolling.
Other memories were watching Aladdin. When I first met (face-to-face) my future ex-husband in the mid 90s, we went to (what was then) Disney-MGM Studios and then to a special showing of Aladdin. Years later when it was released onto DVD, it was on our wedding anniversary, which also was the anniversary of our first date from the previous year. Had to buy it. It didn’t matter if we already had it on VHS.
Another memory was when I was playing Battlefield Vietnam on my computer. You had the option of putting mp3s in the game, so whenever I turned on the in-game radio, it would play whatever I put in the game. Somewhere along the line I had downloaded all the bits of Robin behind the mic from “Good Morning Vietnam”. For some reason, there was no noise when playing it in-game. I had turned up the volume rather loud and didn’t hear anything. So I thought “Okay, not working” and continued to play the game. Was in it a couple minutes when, all of a sudden I heard screaming through my earbuds “GGOOOOOOODDDD MOOOORRNNING VIETNAAAAAMMM!!!!“, and I almost fell out of my chair, both from shock and from laughing so hard.
The last thing I watched of his was when Pam Dawber guest star on “The Crazy Ones” just a few months ago. For some reason I had not gotten into watching the show but meant to, but when I happened to turn on CBS that night, and saw Pam and Robin in a scene, the kid in me just shouted for joy and I made my daughter watch it, and quickly explained the whole significance of them in a tv show together. Which was probably the reason why she told me about his passing.
A few years ago I was told by one doctor and two counselors that I showed signs of mild depression. Of which I don’t dispute. While I have never felt suicidal, I have had plenty of moments of feeling like “things don’t really matter. why bother even trying? It’s just a waste of time”. I have done better recently. But I have felt for many years that loving to laugh which began with Mork and Mindy, the Peanuts comics, and the Dick Van Dyke Show when I was a little kid, to later becoming a fan of just about every classic comedian from Charlie Chaplin to the Smothers Brothers (especially Charlie and Tom & Dick), protected me from going to those type of deep black holes of despair that Robin had trouble escaping.
My copy of the Mork and Mindy book published 1979 that I’ve had for about 30 years. And the most recent issue of Time, a cover that I was hoping not to see for at least 20 years :'(
Hello, Mr. Williams.
Posted in classic comedy, television Tagged with: comedy, depression, Mork and Mindy, Pam Dawber, Robin Williams, sitcoms, television