Written by Cavan O’Grady
The character of Mork originated on Happy Days when creator and executive producer Garry Marshall came in one day very excited and shared an idea that his eight-year-old son Scotty had after seeing Star Wars. “Let’s put a spaceman on Happy Days!” Garry then walked out of the room. The general consensus among the producers and writers there was that it was one of the worst ideas that they had ever heard.
But with Marshall running the show, the idea was going to come to fruition. So a script was written with the spaceman named Mork interacting with Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and later Fonzie (Henry Winkler). Several actors were offered the spaceman role (including Dom DeLuise) and they either quit or turned it down. Finally Ronny Hallin, an associate producer and Garry Marshall’s older sister, managed to bring in Robin Williams, whom she had seen do a spaceman as part of his stand-up act.
Mork & Mindy: Audition
Robin auditioned for Garry Marshall and when asked to take a seat, he did so by sitting on his head. Marshall liked this so much that he hired him on the spot. “He was the only alien to audition,” Marshall later put it. Around noon on a Wednesday (with the episode to be filmed on Friday), the cast and crew were invited to watch a run-through of a scene between Richie and Mork, featuring this largely unknown comedian. What proceeded to happen is probably something that no one there would ever forget. Ron Howard immediately knew to forget the script and just let this force of nature do his thing.
As story editor Brian Levant would later describe it, “We were all there, and we saw one guy who embodied all three Marx Brothers, Chaplin, the Three Stooges, and William F. Buckley in the same body. There was an intellect—and so bright and so fast! But creative!”
Afterwards Tom Bosley (Howard Cunningham) gave a speech about discovering a brilliant new comedic talent. The writers meanwhile re-wrote the episode to work in things Robin Williams had done and said on his own. The episode involved Mork wanting to take Richie back to his home planet as an example of a “humdrum” (average) human being. But in the end, Fonzie saved the day.
“You can never trust someone with 4 lips. All you get is double-talk” – MORK
My Favorite Orkan
The episode was filmed that Friday and when “My Favorite Orkan” was broadcast on February 28, 1978 Robin Williams became an instant celebrity from being a stand-out on a very popular show. And from the moment Robin did his legendary original run-through for Happy Days, writers on the show had started planning a spin-off with Garry Marshall’s guidance.
Marshall wanted the show to center around what happens when this wacky spaceman meets a down-to-Earth girl (who would go on to be Pam Dawber as Mindy). And Marshall was very careful in how he built the character and their relationship, so that whatever brilliant, manic behavior and situations the character exhibited and was involved in were “wrapped in this wonderful blanket of humanity.” Mork would learn about life on Earth and lessons would be learned from that. That became Mork & Mindy‘s template.
Mork & Mindy: No Pilot?
There was never a Mork & Mindy pilot made for ABC. Instead, the creators took clips from the episode of Happy Days and they did a split-screen with a pilot called Sister Terri (that Pam Dawber had starred in as a contemporary nun), which Happy Days producer Bob Brunner had helped create. Dawber was in civilian clothes in the pilot. ABC was immediately sold on the idea (after all, Robin Williams’s Happy Days appearance made him a hot performer) and the show was picked up. Meanwhile Dawber was unaware that all of this was happening; she had never auditioned. She learned that she had been cast in the series through the industry trade paper, “Variety.” The news came to Dawber as a very big and wonderful surprise.
Mork & Mindy premiered the following season in September and was an immediate ratings hit, finishing number three overall during its first season. It appropriately tied Happy Days for that third position. For the second season in 1979, ABC moved the show’s time slot to from Thursday to Sunday in an attempt to counter program CBS’s Sunday comedy programming, notably Archie Bunker’s Place. And supporting actor and location changes were made. Nielsen ratings sharply dropped, and even after being put back on Thursday mid-season, the ratings never fully recovered and it finished 27th for the season.
Written by Cavan O’Grady
Mork & Mindy was a beloved sitcom that captured the hearts of viewers with its wacky, out-of-this-world humor. Here are some fun facts about the show that you might not have known:
1. Robin Williams wasn’t the original choice for Mork. Producers first approached Dom DeLuise and then David Letterman before Williams landed the role.
2. Williams got the role after giving an iconic, improvisational audition. He reportedly sat on his head during the audition to impress the producers.
3. Co-star Pam Dawber didn’t even audition for the role of Mindy. She found out she had been cast through an industry trade paper and was thrilled to hear the news.
4. The show was a ratings success in its first season, tying with Happy Days for the number three spot overall. However, after some changes were made in the second season, including a move from Thursday to Sunday and location changes, viewership dropped sharply and the show never fully recovered.
5. The show introduced the world to the concept of “Nanu Nanu,” Mork’s signature greeting. It has since become a pop culture catchphrase and a beloved part of the show’s legacy.
Mork & Mindy may have had a rocky road in terms of ratings, but its impact on pop culture is undeniable. The show will always be remembered for its zany humor, lovable characters, and unforgettable catchphrases.