Very rarely on television do you capture lightning in a bottle but that is exactly how legendary Producer Gary Marshall described working with the late great Robin Williams?
When Robin first played Mork, it was an episode of Happy Days where he is an evil alien that is in Richie’s dream. The character was such a success that Marshall pitched the idea for his show. When the studio asked him what he wanted to call it, he thought of the hot musical acts of the time which Donny & Marie and Sonny & Cher so Mork & Mindy was born.
The show was full to the brim with pop culture references. The “Nanu Nanu” gesture made by Mork was directly inspired by the Mr Spock gesture from Star Trek, which Robin was a huge fan of. The character of Orson who was Mork’s Superior that he talked to before the credits of every episode was a tribute to Orson Welles. Welles, of course, scared the pants of the US with his 1938 War of the Worlds radio play in which aliens has begun to conquer Earth.
Pam Dawber, who played Mindy, didn’t even know that she was cast in the role until she read it in the newspaper. Marshall had edited a short trailer together of Pam from a failed pilot Sister Terri with footage of Robin playing Mork on Happy Days to get the show greenlit by the studio.
Many of the shows iconic moments were completely improvised. If you watch the faces of a lot of people acting with Robin Williams they all look like they are about to burst out laughing at any time. This is because the producers knew the magic that Robin was able to create and would regularly place “Robin goes off here” in the script to give him the freedom.
Unfortunately, it was the studio that didn’t realise what they had. Instead of getting behind the show they used it to try to bring down competitor shows in the ratings thinking that the strong first season ratings would carry on no matter where they moved the program. After three seasons of moving it around and losing viewers the show was finally cancelled in 1982.
A ground breaking show that had laughs per minute that hasn’t been duplicated since.