1 9 7 8 – 1 9 8 2 (USA)
94 x 30 minute episodes
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 (pictured below) and audiences loved it. ABC decided to give Mork his own spin-off, which began airing in September 1978.
Mork & Mindy began as Mork was sent bleems and bleems from his planet to Earth as a punishment for drawing a moustache on a picture of the Solar Leader.
He landed in Boulder, Colorado – in a giant egg – with a mission to study Earthlings, and report back his findings to His Immenseness, the Orkan leader Orson.
Since Orkan customs were the direct opposite of Earth customs (sitting on one’s head instead of one’s bottom, for example), Mork’s behaviour tended to make most Earthlings think he was as nutty as a Snickers bar.
However, he did manage to befriend Mindy (Pam Dawber), 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 (Conrad Janis) provided most of the comedic tension, grousing about his daughter’s living arrangement with Mork.
Other characters introduced in the first season included Cora (Elizabeth Kerr), Mindy’s wisecracking grandmother, and Mr Bickley (Tom Poston), the perpetually grumpy downstairs neighbour who designed greeting cards for a living.
The cast was rounded out by Exidor (Robert Donner), 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 (Ralph James), 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 catchphrases.
However, the show’s momentum was slowed by a number of decisions made for the 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.
In an attempt to bolster sagging ratings, Fred was reinstated for the third season, and the show reverted to its first season innocence, turning Mork back into the zany, loveable alien creature which made him an instant TV success.
New characters were also added: Nelson Flavor (Jim Stahl) was Mindy’s cousin and an aspiring politician, and Remo (Jay Thomas) and Jean (Gina Hecht) 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 (Foster Brooks).
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 in reverse (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 cancelled in August 1982 after 94 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.
Franklin Delano Bickley