Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Mork & Mindy (1978 - 1982) * * *

Mork (Robin Williams) is an alien hatched from an egg from the planet Ork sent to Earth in his egg-shaped space craft to get him off Ork and to study Earthlings. He reports to his unseen superior Orson (Ralph James). On Earth he meets Mindy McConnell (Pam Dawber), an average woman who takes him in and shelters him. She has strange adventures as Mork learns about human life, acting and looking eccentric. As an outsider, Mork is unfamiliar with human customs and often questions some of the strange traditions that we take for granted. In addition to saying "Nanoo, Nanoo", Mork has an uncanny ability to impersonate celebrity voices. Eventually, the relationship between Mork and Mindy goes from a strong friendship to romance, and they marry, eventually bearing a son Mearth from Earth, who ages backwards like his father.

This bizarre TV comedy series on ABC was a spinoff from the sitcom HAPPY DAYS. The character of Mork first appeared in the season 5 episode "My Favorite Orkan", where he attempts to take Richie Cunningham back to Ork as a human specimen, but his plan is foiled by Fonzie. The character proved to be popular enough with the audience to rate a series of his own, though in MORK & MINDY, Mork resides in Boulder, Colorado in 1978 as opposed to Happy Days' late 1950s and early '60s Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Landing in a giant egg in Boulder, Colorado, Mork tries to fit in on Earth by dressing in a suit, which he wears backwards. He befriends 21 year old Mindy, a music store clerk, after she is stranded one evening after an argument with her boyfriend. Mork offers assistance, and Mindy, not seeing his on-backwards suit, assumes he's a priest, mistaking his wardrobe gaffe for a priest's collar. Mindy is taken in by Mork's willingness to listen. Unknown to her, he's simply observing her behavior as part of his mission, and the two become friends. They walk back to her apartment, where Mindy sees his backwards suit and Mork's rather unconventional behavior for a priest. She asks him who he really is, and the innocent Mork, having not learned how to lie, tells her the truth.

Mork: If Holly liked him so much, how come she punched him and told him he was weird.
Mindy: Boys and girls often punch or push or hit each other as a sign of affection.
Mork: Punching and pushing and calling someone names means you like them?
Mindy: Yeah, it can.
Mork: Then the cowboys and Indians are lovers?

Discovering Mork is an alien, Mindy promises to keep his identity a secret and allows him to move into her attic. However, Mindy's father Fred (Conrad Janis), expresses outrage that his daughter is living with a man, especially one as bizarre as Mork. Fred's mother-in-law Cora Hudson (Elizabeth Kerr), has a much less conservative view, and approves of Mork and the living arrangement. Mindy and Cora also work at Fred's music store where Cora gives music lessons to a young black child named Eugene (Jeffrey Jacquet), who becomes Mork's friend. Also seen occasionally is Mindy's snobbish old friend from high school Susan Taylor (Morgan Fairchild).

Eugene: (Seeing Holly for the first time) She sure is a doll.
Mork: An android maybe, but not a doll.
Eugene: No, that's not what I meant. A cute chick, a fox. Real hot stuff.
Mork: Ohh, a fox. (makes noise like a barking hound)

Stories usually center on Mork's attempts to understand human behavior and American culture as Mindy helps him to adjust to life on Earth. 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 comment humorously on social norms.

Mork's greeting is "Nanoo, Nanoo" 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", an Orkan obscenity that Mork uses. Mork also says "kay-o" instead of OK. Often you can clearly see that Robin Williams gives up the script to ad-lib his own lines while Pam Dawber runs after him, desperately trying to keep the show under control. It's amusing at times when they're close together during a manic moment and she's looking into his eyes in amazement, petrified at what he's about to do next. Williams would also go crazy off-stage in an effort to distract Dawber when she had a scene on her own. He made up so many jokes during filming that the scripts eventually had specific gaps where Williams was allowed to perform freely. In many scenes, Dawber apparently had to bite her lip to avoid laughing and ruin the take.

The series was extremely popular in its first season. The Nielsen ratings were very high, ranking at #3, higher than the show that spawned it, HAPPY DAYS. However, ABC network management sought to "improve" the show in several ways. This was done with 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 cancelled sci-fi series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The show now aired against two highly-rated shows: NBC's anthology series THE SUNDAY BIG EVENT and CBS' ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE. The highlight of the first season is "Mork's Mixed Emotions," a tour-de-force that TV Guide ranked among the top 100 TV episodes of all time, # 94 to be exact. Mork believes that emotions are bad, and tries to lock them inside himself, but they are unleashed in a lusty, happy, weepy, angry, envious torrent. Williams won a Golden Globe for this inaugural 1978 season.

The second season brought an attempt to seek younger viewers. The characters of Fred, Cora and Eugene were dropped, though both appear briefly in later episodes where Fred would arrive with a new bride. It was explained on the show that Fred was sent off to tour as a conductor with an orchestra, and he took Cora with him on the road. However, neither Eugene or Susan were seen or mentioned again. New cast members and a disco version of the first season's theme tune were added. Among the new supporting characters were Remo DaVinci (Jay Thomas) and Jean DaVinci (Gina Hecht), a brother and sister from NYC who own a neighborhood deli where Mork and Mindy spend a lot of time. Also added as regulars were their grumpy neighbor Mr. Bickley (Tom Poston), and Nelson Flavor (Jim Staahl), Mindy's cousin who ran for city council. The show's main focus was no longer on Mork's slapstick attempts to adjust to a new world, but on the relationship between Mork and Mindy on a romantic level. In a two-part second season episode, Raquel Welch appears as Captain Nirvana of the Necrotons, an alien species of beautiful women who are enemies of the Orkans. Due to the abrupt changes to the show and the new timeslot, ratings fell dramatically. It was quickly moved back to its previous timeslot and efforts were made to return to the core of the series, but ratings never recovered.

Louise Bailey: (in a jail cell with Mindy) Funny the way things happen. I'm in here because of a silly old parking meter.
Mindy: You're kidding!
Louise Bailey: No, I went into a hardware store and when I came out, there was a policeman writing me a ticket.
Mindy: I don't believe it, they threw you in jail for a parking ticket.
Louise Bailey: Well, in a roundabout way. You see when I put the shovel in the trunk, Walter's arm fell out.
Mindy: Who's Walter?
Louise Bailey: My husband.
Mindy: What was he doing in the trunk?
Louise Bailey: Not much... he was dead. I warned him about his snoring for years but he just wouldn't believe me. So last night I took a pair of my very best pantyhose, and I wrapped them around his neck... real tight. You know it was the first good night's sleep I've had in 31 years.
Mindy: (she gets up and walks across to the other side of the cell) Well, you look well rested.
Louise Bailey: You don't snore, do you, dear?

For the third season, Mindy's father and grandmother were brought back and added along with Jean and Remo. The show attempted to fix its previous meddling, with the third season's hour-long opener titled "Putting The Ork Back in Mork". Other supporting cast additions included two kids from the day-care center Mork worked at: the intellectual Lola (Amy Tenowich) and the gluttonous Stephanie (Stephanie Kayano). A new supporting cast member was added in Mindy's close friend Crissy Wilzak Comstock (Glenda Faye Comstock), but she only lasted one season. When these ideas failed to improve ratings, many wilder ideas were tried to attempt to capitalize on Williams' comedic talents.

Mork: (referring to the Exidor Boutique, in which Mork invested all of their savings) Come on, Mind, Exidor knows what he's doing.
Exidor: (storming out of the dressing room, talking to his imaginary friend) What do you mean the mannequins want a coffee break? They just had one ten minutes ago and all they did was dribble.
Exidor: (to Mork) Partner. Glad to see you brought the little woman.
Mindy: We want our money back now, and don't call me the little woman.
Mork: What she's trying to say is, Exidor, we've had a change of heart, you know like when Annie Richards wanted to change dressing rooms.
Exidor: I've only been open two hours. Even Evita didn't pay off its backers that fast.
Mindy: We want our money back.
Exidor: Look, business is a little slow but we're gonna have our two-for-one sale. Buy two, get one. Who could resist that?
Mindy: That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
Exidor: Listen, Perky, are you insinuating I'm some kind of crack-pot? Well, that's what they said about David Rockefeller.
Mindy: Nobody ever said that about David Rockefeller.
Exidor: I did... ( looks the other way) Pepe, Pepe. You call yourself a tailor? Just lengthen the sleeve don't clip his nails (Exidor storms off with Pepe)

In the fourth season, Mork and Mindy are married. Jonathan Winters, one of Williams' idols, was brought in as their child, Mearth from Earth. Due to the different Orkan physiology, Mork laid an egg, which grew and hatched into the much older Winters. It had been previously explained that Orkans aged "backwards", explaining Mearth's appearance and that of his teacher, Miss Geezba (Louanne). Other attempts included the use of special guest stars. However, due to the continuing ratings slide, Mork and Mindy was canceled after its fourth season, on May 27, 1982.

Mearth: (seeing that the apartment has been filled with expensive toys) Mammy, the tooth fairy has been keeping up with inflation.
Mindy: (sarcastic) Gee, I wonder who could be behind all this.
Mork: (Mork jumps out of a huge box in the middle of the room) Surprise!
Mindy: No, not really.

The cast also includes: Robert Donner (Exidor), Tom Poston (Franklin Delano Bickley), Jeffrey Jacquet (Eugene), Jim Staahl (Nelson Flavor), Bill Kirchenbauer (TNT), Ilene Graff (Tracy), Patrick Cranshaw (Jake Loomis), Tom Kindle (Buzz), Dick Yarmy (Dr. Litney), George Pentecost (Herman), Shelley Fabares (Cathy), Jonathan Ian (Jonathan), Vidal Peterson (The Elder), Foster Brooks (Miles Sternhagen), Nancy Eddo (Stella), Mark Fenske (Tom), Jim Greenleaf (Donald), Milt Jamin (Waiter), Kristin Larkin (Suzanne), Joe Regalbuto (Kalnik), Stephen Stucker (Billy Vincent), Dan Barrows (Dittman), Michael Prince (John Taylor), Jeff Harlan (Bill), Susan Lawrence (Sally), Ed Greenberg (Jack), John Miranda (Cop), William Porter (Ernest), James Staley (Reverend), Peter Elbling (Derek), Bill Morey (Mr. Prendergast), Anita Dangler (Princess Lusitania), Georgia Engel (Ambrosia), Debra Jo Fondren (Kama), Vicki Frederick (Sutra), Johnny Haymer (Danny St. Thomas), Linda Henning (Margaret), Tyler Horn (Soldier), Jeremy Krispien (Jerry Looney), Ronnie Schell (Bob Faith), David Wall (Club Owner), Raquel Welch (Captain Nirvana), Paul Willson (Bob), Scott Marshall (Boy Scout), Terrence E. McNally (Laxative Salesman), Corey Feldman (Billy), Priscilla Morrill (Miss Kalinowski), Maureen Arthur (Zelka), and Harvey Lembeck (Ovits). David Michael Frank composed the original music for the first episode. There were 30 script writers, most notably Tom Tenowich, April Kelly, Ed Scharlach, Dale McRaven, and Bruce Johnson. There were 7 directors, most notably Howard Storm who directed 59 episodes.

Mork returned to HAPPY DAYS in an episode in 1979. Mork tells Richie that he enjoys coming to the 1950s because life is simpler and more "humdrum" than in the 1970s. When Fonzie sees Mork he immediately tries to run away, but Mork freezes him and makes him stay. He eventually lets him go, but not before Fonzie asks Mork to reveal two things about the future: "cars and girls". Mork's response is "In 1979... both are faster." The episode is mostly a retrospective in which clips are shown as Richie and Fonzie try to explain the concepts of love and friendship to Mork.

Paramount Home Entertainment and CBS DVD have released the first three seasons of Mork & Mindy on DVD in Regions 1, 2 and 4. The cases are slim, not bulky like most DVD sets. Season one has 25 episodes, and is generally considered to be the best. The show is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, as originally shot. For a 1970s TV show it looks great with very little print damage or grain. The sound is mono and there are no extras on the DVDs.

Robin Williams and Pam Dawber are reportedly in negotiations to revive their MORK & MINDY TV characters for a new movie. Dawber has revealed that Williams has been keen to do the project for many years, but never found the time to commit. But apparently the film version of MORK & MINDY is a go. Dawber said, "Robin and I were speaking at a function, and he's the one who said he'd love to do a Mork movie sometime--and what's great about Robin is that wouldn't even consider doing it if the original cast didn't return. It was put in the pipeline, but Robin had just been so busy with all his other movies that we didn't have time for this one. Every time we bump into each other though, he still insists we are going to do it one day--a Robin promise. I look forward to it, it'll be such a blast."

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