August 13, 2016


(ABC, September 25, 1982-March 26, 1983)

Hanna-Barbera Productions, Ruby-Spears Productions, Paramount Network Television

Robin Williams – Mork
Pam Dawber – Mindy McConnell
Conrad Janis – Frederick McConnell
Ralph James – Orson
Frank Welker – Doing, various
Mark L. Taylor – Hamilton DuPont, Jr.
Stan Jones – Principal Caruthers

            Before Robin Williams became a household name, he was a hyperactive alien who sat on his head.

Mork with Richie and Fonzie at Arnold's.

            The retro 1950s sitcom Happy Days was entered into the world of science fiction by having an alien attempt to abduct Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) only to be saved by the show’s most popular character, the Fonz (Henry Winkler). Creator Garry Marshall cast Williams in the role of Mork from Ork almost immediately after Williams sat on his head at the audition (a move that was worked into the character), stating that he was the only alien to audition for the role. The season five episode “My Favorite Orkan” was initially planned to be an elaborate dream sequence, but when the character proved to be popular they re-edited the ending to have Mork wipe the memories of the experience from everyone’s minds. Mork’s creation was inspired by director Jerry Paris’ previous series, The Dick Van Dyke Show. In particular, the episode “It May Look Like a Walnut” which featured a dream with an alien encounter. 

            Mork (and Williams) was given his own show in Mork & Mindy, which was set in present day Boulder, Colorado. Mork was assigned by his unseen and long-suffering superior, Orson (Ralph James), to travel to Earth and study human behavior (as well as get rid of Mork who was a practitioner of humor, which was forbidden on Ork). Mork arrived in an egg-shaped spacecraft and eventually met and befriended Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber), who allowed him to move into her attic. The series focused on Mork’s attempts to assimilate into and understand human behavior while his own Orkan customs tended to get in the way (thanks in part to the manic and improvisational comedic stylings of Williams). Mork’s greeting of “Na-nu na-nu” and expletive declaration of “shazbot” became popular sayings outside of the show.

Mork, Mindy and their little bundle of aging comedian.

            The sitcom debuted on ABC on September 14, 1978 and eventually outperformed both Happy Days and its other successful spin-off, Laverne & Shirley. The network attempted to use the show’s popularity in a bit of counter-programming against the competition and moved it to a new timeslot. They also attempted to attract a younger demographic by giving the theme song a disco aesthetic, dropping the characters of Mindy’s father, Frederick (Conrad Janis), and his mother-in-law, Cora (Elizabeth Kerr) and replacing them with new ones, and changing the focus to the developing romance between Mork and Mindy. These changes, however, proved detrimental to the series and it suffered a dramatic drop in ratings. For the third season, it was moved back to its original timeslot and Fred and Cora were reinstated in an attempt to bring the show back to basics. When that failed, wilder ideas were pushed in order to make full use of Williams’ talents. ABC reluctantly renewed the show for a final season in which one of Williams’ idols, Jonathan Winters, was added as Mork and Mindy’s adult child, Mearth (Orkans age in reverse), and numerous special guest-stars made appearances. But, the show’s ratings continued to plummet. Even though it ended in 60th place in the ratings, it certainly helped to launch Williams’ long and varied career.

Fred, Eugene, Caruthers, Doing, Mork, Mindy and Hamilton.

            Encouraged by the show’s earlier success and furthering their attempt for a younger demographic, ABC commissioned an animated version of the show for their Saturday morning line-up. ABC had done so previously with The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang and Laverne & Shirley in the Army. The premise of the animated Mork & Mindy was largely the same as its parent show, except both Mork and Mindy were de-aged to teenagers attending high school run by Principal Caruthers (Stan Jones). Williams, Dawber, Janis and James all returned to voice their respective characters (the first of many voice-over credits for Williams to come), and Eugene, Mork’s child friend from the live show’s first season, returned voiced by Shavar Ross. The snobbish bully Hamilton DuPont, Jr. (Mark L. Taylor) was introduced as a villain-type, trying to win over Mindy when not causing trouble for others. The character of Cora made no appearances. Mork was given a pet to accompany him on his mission: a pink, six-legged dog-like creature named Doing (Frank Welker). Of course, while Mork was still bizarre by Earth standards, his antics were comparatively toned down due to the limitations of animation and lack of room for the improvisation that made the character stand out.

This promotional art for the series was the only time the characters ever met.

            The animated Mork & Mindy was featured on ABC’s Saturday Morning Pac Preview Party hosted by Dick Clark the night before its debut on September 25, 1982; four months after its live counterpart was cancelled. It was aired alongside the second season of Laverne & Shirley in the Army, which was renamed Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz after the characters of Fonzie (Winkler) and Mr. Cool (Welker) were added to the cast upon the cancellation of Happy Days Gang. Both shows were given the blanket title of The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour, with the introduction largely focused on establishing the Mork cartoon.

Mork is beside himself.

Story direction was handled by Gary Goldstein, Cullen Houghtaling, Alex Lovy, Tom Minton, Dave Russell, Hank Tucker and Sharon Rolnick, with Norman Maurer serving as story editor and Walt Kubiak and Gordon Kent serving as story supervisors. The music was composed by Hoyt Curtin and Paul DeKorte.  The show was jointly produced by Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears Productions, both of which were owned by Taft Broadcasting, in association with Paramount Network Television, who produced the Happy Days franchise of programs. Ultimately, Mork & Mindy didn’t go beyond its single season. With its conclusion and the end of Laverne & Shirley, the Happy Days animated universe came to a close.

“Who’s Minding the Brat?” (9/25/82) – Mork babysits the principal’s daughter, which leads her to accidentally be changed into a Cave Ork.

“The Greatest Shmo on Earth” (10/2/82) – Mork, Mindy and Eugene have to rescue Doing from an evil circus ringmaster.

“To Ork or Not to Ork” (10/9/82) – Mork attempts to learn about love from Eugene while Mindy and Hamilton are cast in the school play: Romeo & Juliet.

“Orkan Without a Cause” (10/16/82) – Feeling lonely and neglected, Mork joins a motorcycle gang and unknowingly aids their crimes.

“Mork Man vs. Ork Man” (10/23/82) – When Mork accidentally breaks the video game Orson sent him for his birthday, Mork uses his powers to fix it and brings the main character to life.

“Which Witch is the Witch’ (10/30/82) – Orson sets Mork up with a witch date who takes a fancy to Hamilton and gives him magical powers.

“Every Doing Has His Day” (11/6/82) – Mork plans to fake a robbery in order to get Mr. McConnell to allow Doing back into the house.

“Beauty or the Beast” (11/13/82) – Mork attempts to use his powers to heal Mindy’s bug bite before her beauty contest, but accidentally turns her into a gorilla.

“Morkel and Hyde” (11/20/82) – Mork splits himself so he can be at two places at once, unfortunately one of the Morks turns out to be evil.

“The Wimp” (11/27/82) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

“Ride ‘em, Morkboy” (12/4/82) – The eggs Mork prepared for Orson ends up being eaten by rodeo animals, which causes them to act uncharacteristically.

“Meet Mork’s Mom” (12/11/82) – When Mork’s parents are sent to Earth for a meeting with the principal, they’re abducted by a wealthy man who believes they’ve found the fountain of youth.

“Muddle in a Huddle” (12/18/82) – A rival football team feeds Mork’s team his eggs so that they’ll play poorly.

“The Incredible Shrinking Mork” (12/25/82) – Mork shrinks himself, Mindy and Doing in order to pursue a sewer rat that steals the principal’s watch.

“The Invisible Mork” (1/8/83) – After challenging a bully to a wrestling match for Mindy, Mork drinks a protein shake that activates an allergy that turns him invisible.

“The Fluke Spook” (1/15/83) – A sudden rainstorm interferes with a picnic outing and causes Mork, Mindy and friends to take refuge in a haunted house.

“Mayhem for the Mayor” (1/22/83) – Mork and Mindy continue an injured Fred’s campaign for mayor against the unscrupulous DuPonts.

“Coo Coo Caveboy” (1/29/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

“A Treasure Ain’t No Pleasure” (2/5/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

“The Mork with the Midas Touch” (2/12/83) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

“Extra-Terrestrial Toddler” (2/19/83) – Mistaking a movie robot for an Orkan creature, Mork zaps it back to Ork and he and Mindy have to retrieve it.

“Time Slipper Slip-Up” (2/26/83) – Mork uses his diamond slippers to take him and Mindy back to ancient Egypt for their report.

“Super Mork” (3/5/83) – After screwing up on the school paper, Orson grants Mork’s wish to be more like Superguy and sends him a super-powered suit.

“Mork P.I.” (3/12/83) – Mork becomes a private eye to prove he was framed for stealing a test’s answers from the principal’s office.

“Monkey on My Back Pack” (3/19/83) – Mork inadvertently helps foreign spies steal the Army’s new top secret rocket pack.

“On Your Mork, Get Set, Go!” (3/26/83) – When Mork accidentally destroys the prize money for a race, he enters so that he can win and prevent anyone from thinking Mindy stole it.

Originally posted in 2016. Updated in 2020.

1 comment:

LFire said...

A.B.C. and the Network Execs had a huge amount to answer for with the demise of this still hilarious show. They had captured lightning in a bottle in a genius comedian who had immense chemistry with a leading lady of immense charm, all through pure serendipity. And what followed was a classic example of Network greed mixed with 'if it ain't broke leave it the hell alone'. The timeslot shift was utterly ridiculous as was listening to 'experts' on demographics rather than the fans in 'revamping' the cast. But and if anyone thinks there was increased focus on romance in season two they didn't watch it, post the second episode. The second season had the least amount of M&M romance of any season, what it did introduce was 'Jiggle'. ABC tried at that point, to shove semi naked women and innuendo into just about every show and the sight of Raquel Welch vamping, characters called Kama & Sutra, strippers and cheerleaders, alienated' a lot of viewers, something Williams himself cited.