”This is Mork calling Orson… Come in, Orson…”
One of the more unusual episodes of Happy Days was “My Favorite Orkan,” telecast in February of 1978. In this episode, Richie was visited by Mork, an alien from outer space who wanted to kidnap him. Mork was portrayed by Robin Williams, then just a little-known comedian with a gift for offbeat, manic improvisation. That gift translated into a unique Happy Days performance, and audiences loved it. The network decided to give Mork his own spin-off, which began airing in September of 1978.
Mork & Mindy began as Mork was sent from his home planet of Ork to Boulder, Colorado, for the purpose of studying Earthlings and their strange concept of “emotions.” Since Orkan customs were the direct opposite of Earth customs (sitting on one’s head instead of one’s bottom, for example), Mork’s behavior tended to make most Earthlings think he was as nutty as a Snickers bar. However, he did manage to befriend Mindy, who worked at her father’s music store. She let him take up residence in the attic of her apartment and became his guide to earthbound customs and emotions.
Mindy’s father Fred provided most of the comedic tension, grousing about his daughter’s living arrangement with Mork. Other characters introduced in the first season included Cora, Mindy’s wisecracking grandmother, and Mr. Bickley, the perpetually grumpy downstairs neighbor who designed greeting cards for a living. The cast was rounded out by Exidor, a self-proclaimed prophet who discovered his belief that aliens were coming to Earth was true when he met Mork, and by the off-screen voice of Orson, to whom Mork reported at the end of every episode.
Audiences flocked to the show, fascinated by the unpredictable comedic stylings of Williams, making Mork & Mindy a tremendous early hit. Mork’s Orkan expressions “nanu, nanu” (a way of saying hello) and “shazbot” (an Orkan profanity) became national catch phrases. However, the show’s momentum was slowed by a number of decisions made for the show’s second season: its time slot was changed, several supporting characters were dropped from the show, and the new episodes tried to embrace “relevant” themes in their scripts instead of sticking to the first season’s slapstick-based format. Things started out suitably wacky with a two-part season opener in which Mork shrank down to subatomic size and entered the world inside a tablecloth, but the ratings soon plummeted, leaving the creators scrambling to save the show.
Fred was reinstated for the third season, and episodes returned to more straightforward style of storytelling. New characters were also added: Nelson Flavors was Mindy’s cousin and an aspiring politician, and Remo and Jean were a brother-sister duo who relocated to Boulder so Jean could attend medical school. Remo supported them by opening a New York-style deli that became the new hangout on the show. Mindy got a job as a newscaster at a local TV station for a new boss, Mr. Sternhagen.
However, these additional changes could not resurrect the show’s early success, and one last attempt was made to save it. Mork married Mindy and visited Ork for their honeymoon. Mork became pregnant (the male half of the couple has the babies on Ork) and gave birth to a child named Mearth. Since all Orkans age from elderly to infancy, young Mearth was born into the full-grown body of comedian Jonathan Winters. Williams, who considered Winters an important early influence on his style of comedy, developed a unique chemistry with his new co-star, who acted every bit the oversized baby. But even this comic interplay wasn’t enough to return the show to its original level of success, and after a penultimate three-parter featuring Mork, Mindy and Mearth’s cross-time flight from an evil Neptunian, Mork & Mindy was canceled in August of 1982 after 95 episodes.
After the show ended, it was resurrected in a cartoon format as part of a Saturday morning series called The Mork & Mindy/Laverne and Shirley/Fonz Hour. All the voices for this cartoon were provided by the members of the Mork & Mindy cast, keeping the shazbots coming for at least one more season of rainbow-suspendered wackiness.
|9/14/78 – 8/12/82 ABC|
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