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c. 1978

The Fonz and the Alien

Na-Nu, Na-Nu: The amazing tale of the birth of Robin Williams ... ahem, Mork

As a tribute to 1950s America, Happy Days, which ran for ten years starting in 1974, hit the spot. It was the #1 TV show in America in 1976 and 1977.

But by the time Season Five rolled around, ratings were falling. Attempting to revive its fortunes, the producers resorted to somewhat outlandish plots.

In an example of what we might now term “jumping the shark”, they had the show’s star, The Fonz, well, jump a shark. On waterskis. In swimming trunks. And leather jacket.

Where to go from there? Outer space—specifically, the planet Ork, to introduce the Fonz to an alien called Mork.

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Alright, there was a certain element of realism here—in era of Cold-War paranoia, UFO sightings had became all-but-normal, and sci-fi was everywhere from fashion to tail-fins.

The episode took this element of realism, and ran with it. 

If you’ve not seen My Favourite Orkan, you can predict the plot. An alien, Mork, knocks on Richie Cunningham’s door and tries to take him back to his home planet, Ork.

The Fonz intervenes, and he and Mork fight to determine whether Richie will stay or go. The battle concludes with the Fonz taking Richie’s place.

Yep. Really all that’s missing is for Richie to wake-up and find that it was all just a dream. 

So … then Richie wakes up and finds that it was all just a dream.

And yet, none of that really matters. So ludicrous was the script that the guy cast as Mork had quit. Auditions were hurriedly held, and in walks an unknown—called Robin Williams.

Williams spontaneously sat on a chair on his head and got the part.

And then he improvised. Not just a few ad-libs—he improvised the entire part. Astonished, the cast and the crew gathered everyone in the studio to watch this unfold.

And then he improvised. Not just a few ad-libs—he improvised the entire part. Astonished, the cast and the crew gathered everyone in the studio to watch this unfold.

Four days later, Williams—and Mork—had been signed for his own show.

Unsurprisingly, Mork was shoe-horned in for more than one appearance on Happy Days, as documented by these shots.

1978
In a flashback sequence, Mork (Robin Williams, right) recalled a previous visit to Earth when Fonzie (Henry Winkler) arranged a date for Mork and Laverne De Fazio.
ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images
1978
Mork in 50s attire.
ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images
1978
The Fonz and Mork with Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall, of “Laverne & Shirley”).
ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images
1978
Mork’s signature pose – and the one that got Williams the role
Walt Disney Television / Getty Images
1978
Mork and Richie celebrate a birthday
Walt Disney Television / Getty Images
1978
Richie, Mork and a frozen Fonz
Walt Disney Television / Getty Images
1978
The Fonz and Mork – plus a helmet
Walt Disney Television / Getty Images
1978
In “Mork Returns” Robin Williams with Ron Howard
Walt Disney Television / Getty Images
1978
Richie is amused
Walt Disney Television / Getty Images
1978
From the original episode, the first appearance of the alien Mork from Ork, with Richie (Ron Howard, second from right). Marion Ross (Marion), Erin Moran (Joanie) and Tom Bosley (Howard)
ABC Photo Archive / Getty Image

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