Mork & Mindy is an American sitcom broadcast from 1978 to 1982 on ABC. It stars Robin Williams as Mork, an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth from the planet Ork in a small, one-Orkan egg-shaped spaceship. Pam Dawber co-stars as Mindy McConnell, his human friend and roommate.
The series was a spinoff from the sitcom Happy Days. The character of Mork (then-unknown Robin Williams) first appeared in the season 5 episode "My Favorite Orkan" (a take on 1960s sitcom My Favorite Martian) 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. In Mork & Mindy, Mork resides in Boulder, Colorado in the current day (1978) as opposed to the Happy Days late 1950s setting.
Mork's egg-shaped spacecraft lands on Earth, with a mission to observe human behavior. Mork is assigned his mission by Orson, his mostly-unseen and long-suffering superior (voiced by Ralph James), who has sent Mork to Earth to get him off Ork. To fit in, Mork dresses in Earth clothing (a suit, which he wears backwards). He befriends 21 year old Mindy (Pam Dawber) after she is stranded one evening after an argument with her boyfriend. Mork offers assistance, and Mindy, not seeing his back or the 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, when 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.
After discovering Mork is an alien, Mindy promises to keep his true 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 (particularly one as bizarre as Mork). Fred's mother-in-law, Cora (Elizabeth Kerr), presents 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 was Mindy's snooty old friend from high school, Susan (played by Morgan Fairchild).
Storylines usually centered 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 "Na-Nu Na-Nu" 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 profanity that Mork uses. Mork says "KO" in place of "OK".
This series is Robin Williams' first major acting role and became famous for Williams' use of his manic improvisational comedic talent. Williams would make up so many jokes during filming, eventually scripts had specific gaps where Williams was allowed to freely perform. In many scenes, Dawber had to bite her lip to avoid laughing and ruining the take.
The series was extremely popular in its first season. The Nielsen ratings were very high, ranking at 3, behind Laverne & Shirley (at 1) and Three's Company (at 2), both on ABC, which was the highest rated network in the U.S. in 1978. The show gained higher ratings than the Happy Days series that had spawned it, at 4. However, the network management sought to improve the show in several ways. This was done in conjunction with what is known in the industry as 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 canceled sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. The show then aired against two highly rated shows: NBC's anthology series titled The Sunday Big Event and CBS' revamped continuation of All in the Family titled Archie Bunker's Place.