Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of ‘Mork & Mindy’1:22:25

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Published on July 3, 2016

The 2005, a made-for-television movie Starring Chris Diamantopoulos (The Three Stooges) as the late, great Robin Williams, Erinn Hayes (The Watch) as Pam Dawber and Daniel Roebuck (The Fugitive) as producer Garry Marshall.
The movie depicts Williams’s instant stardom and behind the scenes turmoil that the cast and crew would have with the network.

Mork & Mindy is an American sitcom broadcast from 1978 to 1982 on ABC. It stars Robin Williams as Mork, an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth from the planet Ork in a small, one-Orkan egg-shaped spaceship. Pam Dawber co-stars as Mindy McConnell, his human friend and roommate.

The series is a spin-off of the sitcom Happy Days. The character of Mork is played by a then-unknown Robin Williams, who impressed producer Garry Marshall with his quirky comedic ability as soon as they met. When Williams was asked to take a seat at the audition, Williams immediately sat on his head on the chair and Marshall cast him on the spot, and later wryly commented that Williams was the only alien who auditioned for the role.

Mork appears in the Happy Days season five episode, “My Favorite Orkan”, which first aired in February 1978 and is a take on the 1960s sitcom My Favorite Martian. Williams’ character, Mork, attempts to take Richie Cunningham back to his planet of Ork as a human specimen, but his plan is foiled by Fonzie. In the initial broadcast of this episode, it all turned out to be a dream that Richie had, but when Mork proved so popular, the ending was re-edited to show Mork erasing the experience from everyone’s minds, thus meaning the event had actually happened and was not a dream.[citation needed]

In Mork & Mindy, Mork resides in a Boulder, Colorado, setting of the late 1970s and early 1980s (as compared to the Happy Days setting of Milwaukee in the late-1950s).

Mork arrives on Earth in an egg-shaped spacecraft. He has been assigned to observe human behavior by Orson, his mostly unseen and long-suffering superior (voiced by Ralph James). Orson has sent Mork, to get him off Ork, where humor is not permitted. Attempting to fit in, Mork dresses in an Earth suit, but wears it backward. He encounters 21-year-old Mindy (Pam Dawber), who is upset after an argument with her boyfriend, and offers assistance. Because of his odd garb, she mistakes him for a priest and is taken in by his willingness to listen (in fact, simply observing her behavior). When Mindy notices his backward suit and unconventional behavior, she asks who he really is, and he innocently tells her the truth. She promises to keep his identity a secret and allows him to move into her attic. Mindy’s father Fred (Conrad Janis) objects to his daughter living with a man (particularly one as bizarre as Mork), but Fred’s mother-in-law Cora (Elizabeth Kerr) approves of Mork and the living arrangement. Mindy and Cora work at Fred’s music store, where Cora gives lessons to Eugene (Jeffrey Jacquet), a child who becomes Mork’s friend. Also seen occasionally are Mindy’s snooty old high school friend Susan (Morgan Fairchild) and the possibly insane Exidor (Robert Donner).

Storylines usually center on Mork’s attempts to understand human behavior and American culture as Mindy helps him to adjust to life on Earth. It usually ends up frustrating Mindy, as Mork can only do things according to Orkan customs. For example, lying to someone or not informing them it will rain, is considered a practical joke (called “splinking”) on Ork. At the end of each episode, Mork reports back to Orson on what he has learned about Earth. These end-of-show summaries allow Mork to humorously comment on social norms.

Mork’s greeting is “Na-Nu Na-Nu” (pronounced /ˈnɑːnuː ˈnɑːnuː/) 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” (/ˈʃɑːzbɒt/), an Orkan profanity that Mork uses. Mork says “KO” in place of “OK”.

This series is Robin Williams’ first major acting role and became famous for Williams’ use of his manic improvisational comedic talent. Williams made up so many jokes during filming, eventually scripts had specific gaps where Williams was allowed to freely perform. In many scenes, Dawber had to bite her lip to avoid laughing and ruining the take.

The series was extremely popular in its first season. The Nielsen ratings were very high, ranking at 3, behind Laverne & Shirley (at 1) and Three’s Company (at 2), both on ABC, which was the highest-rated network in the U.S. in 1978. The show gained higher ratings than the Happy Days series that had spawned it, at 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 outrated CBS’ The Waltons, to Sundays where it replaced the canceled sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. The show then aired against two highly rated shows: NBC’s anthology series titled The Sunday Big Event and CBS’ revamped continuation of All in the Family titled Archie Bunker’s Place.

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