‘Mork & Mindy’: Robin Williams’ Breakout Role Started With ‘the Worst Script in the History of “Happy Days”‘

Robin Williams tragically passed almost seven years ago. But he’s far from gone in fans’ minds. His gift for making people laugh was unmatched. However, being talented doesn’t automatically lead to success in Hollywood. Williams had to work hard to find a way to showcase his unique brand of humor. Once he landed on TV shows, he was unstoppable

‘Mork and Mindy’ was a spinoff of ‘Happy Days’ 

In the pilot episode of 'Mork & Mindy,' Mork (Robin Williams, right) recalled a previous visit to Earth when Fonzie (Henry Winkler of 'Happy Days') arranged a date for Mork and Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall of 'Laverne & Shirley')
In the pilot episode of ‘Mork & Mindy,’ Mork (Robin Williams, right) recalled a previous visit to Earth when Fonzie (Henry Winkler of ‘Happy Days’) arranged a date for Mork and Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall of ‘Laverne & Shirley’) | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Most classic-TV fans know Robin Williams got his start on Mork & Mindy, where he played the alien Mork. But not everyone knows Mork & Mindy spun off another famous 1970s TV show, Happy Days, Biography reports. The teen sitcom launched many careers, including Henry Winkler’s. The show also featured Ron Howard, who was already a TV veteran after starring in The Andy Griffith Show

Happy Days launched Williams’ career as well. He did a one-episode arc on the show as Mork. The episode aired in 1978. Happy Days wasn’t a fantasy show, so the idea that an alien would be included in the series wasn’t in keeping with the show’s theme.

It turns out the idea came from one of the 1970s’ most famous franchises: Star WarsParade reports. Because the movie was such a hit, producers decided to put an alien in Happy Days, too. So they wrote a script where an alien named Mork comes to Earth to take a member of the Happy Days gang back to his planet as a specimen. It wasn’t well received. 

Robin Williams’ script for ‘Happy Days’ wasn’t great

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According to Howard, who enjoyed filming the episode and working with Williams, the cast and crew had several reservations about the script. The network didn’t want to film it. In an interview with Archive of American Television, Howard said, “It was an episode that didn’t read so great.” Even Garry Marshall, who wrote it, had doubts about an alien in Milwaukee. 

Anson Williams, who played Potsie on Happy Days, was even less diplomatic with his criticism. While Howard seemed reluctant to bash the Mork script, Anson had no qualms. He told the Hollywood Reporter it “was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days.” Although the script received such poor reception, execs eventually green-lit it. But casting also proved to be problematic. 

The producers couldn’t find a suitable actor to play Mork. Another actor on the show ended up recommending Williams, who was working as a street performer. Naturally, the producers had some reservations about casting a street performer who passed a hat around for his paycheck. But they gave Williams a chance, and the rest is history. 

Robin Williams’ Mork was too good for just one episode of ‘Happy Days’ 

Mork was the perfect character to showcase Williams’ amazing improv skills. Because the character was an alien, Williams could get as weird as he wanted to, and he got weird. The weirder he got, the more the audience loved him. The other actors on set knew what they were seeing was special. Winkler told The Guardian in 2015 he was “in the presence of greatness and my job here is to get out of his way.” 

The other cast members gave Williams a chance to shine as Mork, and the studio audience went crazy for him. Marshall told People that “At the end of the episode, 300 people in the audience stood up and applauded, which is not usually done. It didn’t take a genius to know he could do his own show.” The fan mail he got after the episode only further convinced Marshall that Mork needed his own show.

Thus, Mork & Mindy was born. It ran for four seasons and gave Robin Williams the platform he needed to start his career.