‘Mork & Mindy’: How Producers Reined in Robin Williams

Happy Days spawned several spinoffs over the course of its run. However, none were as surprising as Mork & Mindy. Although the sci-fi nature of the sitcom seemed like a hard sell to audiences, the real challenge was behind the scenes. Thankfully, Mork & Mindy’s producers found a creative way to keep star Robin Williams on the TV show‘s script.

'Mork & Mindy' stars Robin Williams and Pam Dawber
‘Mork & Mindy’ stars Robin Williams and Pam Dawber | Jim Britt/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Mork from Ork was Robin Williams’ breakout role

Prior to Mork & Mindy, Williams was a rising comic star. His most notable role up to that point was as a performer on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. But his Happy Days guest appearance changed everything. Suddenly, despite the relative groundedness of the original show, Williams had a regular gig as an eccentric alien named Mork from a planet, naturally, called Ork.

Over its four seasons, Mork & Mindy focused on the friendship between Mork and his earthly friend Mindy (Pam Dawber). By the time the show wrapped, Mork and Mindy had gotten married and given birth to a child (Jonathan Winters). And Williams officially launched his movie career. In just a few years, he would land his Oscar-nominated star turn in Good Morning, Vietnam.

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The actor stood out among the ‘Mork and Mindy’ cast

Even back then, Williams brought a very different energy to not only Mork & Mindy but television as a whole. Later in his career, Williams would find the perfect way to channel his manic energy. In addition to his stand-up comedy, the actor found the freedom of voice work. Unforgettably, he played the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. And he lent his voice to Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, Happy Feet, and other animated hits.

And in his later work, Williams tapped into his serious side too. Movies such as Dead Poets Society and Insomnia showed he had way more range than longtime fans might have assumed. The actor even won an Academy Award in 1998 for Good Will Hunting. But harnessing his talent as a performer truly started on the set of Mork & Mindy. It’s wild to think he almost never played Mork from Ork.

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But the producers found a way to handle Robin Williams

While filming Mork & Mindy, the show initially struggled to get Williams to stick to the script. After all, as a comedian, he was known for improvisation. But the show’s producers devised a clever way to balance Williams’ signature comedic stylings with the story they were trying to tell.

The answer, according to The Week, was to build sections into the script in which Williams could ad-lib on the spot. Reportedly, Mork & Mindy scripts would insert gaps in Mork’s dialogue, instead noting “Mork can go off here.” The trick worked, giving Williams the space to shine.

Williams wouldn’t sign on to another long-term TV comedy until 2013’s The Crazy Ones. That show — which co-starred Sarah Michelle Gellar — was canceled after a single season. And Williams tragically died in 2014 of suicide at the age of 63, ending a massive comedic legacy.