Comedy icon Robin Williams once revealed the behind-the-scenes story of how Mork & Mindy developed from Happy Days. Initially, his guest spot was just that, but due to studio contracts, it spawned something more.
“Cut to Paramount eventually has this commitment to ABC, where another series fell apart and they have to put on one of Paramount’s shows,” Williams said on an episode of Pioneers of Television. “So Paramount puts together… they don’t have… ‘What do we have?’ and then they went ‘well this kid played an alien on Happy Days. We’ll spin that off.’ Spin what off? They put that on with me and Pam [Dawber], basically throw it together. Mork & Mindy, the idea that my character comes to Earth. Then they find Pam. Pam had done a show about playing a nun in a high school and so basically an alien and a nun–could happen. An Irishman walks out of a bar. It might happen you never know.”
Despite being like an “arranged marriage,” the show did very well. It ran from 1978 to 1982. Though its run wasn’t long, it was highly popular. Williams also explained how the series was a surprising success, but a success nonetheless.
“It was a commitment to go on air with no pilot, just boom,” said Williams. “Obviously, there were all these, you know, pre-articles like ‘yeah, right, an alien, right. We need another My Favorite Martian.’ So it was like we are coming out of the blue weirdly. Like what’ll we do? The wonderful news is, she’s really sweet and really funny in her own right. I could just go off the wall and do strange things. Because I’m an alien, it’s okay. They put together the standard TV show.”
Robin Williams Discussed Genesis of Mork & Mindy
Additionally, Williams shared a handful of anecdotes about the production of Mork & Mindy. The first taping of the show was an unusual experience. For instance, they ended up swapping live audiences during the first episode.
Williams also revealed that a lot of the humor came from his standup comedy. He enjoyed how the series let him play and have a good time, leaving the serious bits for costar Pam Dawber. The legacy of the show followed him for the rest of his life, something he didn’t necessarily mind.
“The weird thing is, it came at a time when people are going ‘what’s this,'” explained Williams. “We got lucky, and then it became this thing of every Thursday night, people going… they wanted to see how crazy it would be. Even after winning an Academy Award, people for like a week [went] ‘Hey, Good Will Hunting, way to go.’ Two weeks later, ‘hey Mork!'”