Pam Dawber Was Cast In Mork & Mindy Before She Knew It Even Existed

One of the most famous '70s TV shows was Garry Marshall's "Happy Days." TV audiences loved the warm idealism of The Cunningham family who offered unconditional love and acceptance to their children and the neighborhood bad boy, Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). But, by 1977, some were ready for a change, including Marshall's own son.

According to Marshall's memoir, My Happy Days in Hollywood, most of his children watched the sitcom, except for his young son, who Marshall recalled "walked around the house pretending to be R2-D2 or C-3PO during most of his waking hours." When his father asked him why he wasn't a fan of his show, young Scott replied, "There are no space aliens on 'Happy Days.'" To gain his son's viewership, and possibly to capitalize on the massive success of "Star Wars," Marshall created Mork from Ork (Robin Williams), a weird alien who has been sent to Earth to study humanity.

When Mork's first appearance on "Happy Days" earned a standing ovation from the audience, the network wanted the alien to have his own series. Marshall soon came up with a concept that centered on Mork's amusing attempts to comprehend human behavior and the repercussions those efforts have on the people he encounters, particularly his human roommate, Mindy (Pam Dawber). 

According to My Happy Days in Hollywood, an ABC exec made a crude concept trailer for "Mork & Mindy" by splicing Williams' scenes from "Happy Days" with some footage of Dawber from a failed pilot named "Sister Terri." Surprisingly, the Network greenlit the series. There was only one problem: all of this was done without even speaking with Dawber, and she wasn't interested in playing an alien's roommate.

'I was mad.'

Before "Mork & Mindy," Pam Dawber was a catalog model with a few TV commercials under her belt, who was trying to break into television. Her first serious acting gig was as a street-smart nun in the pilot episode for a potential series called "Sister Terri." It didn't sell, but Marshall saw the pilot and was captivated by Dawber's "honest, all-American girl" vibe. When he needed a down-to-earth presence to balance out the weirdness of Mork, Marshall remembered Dawber, and had her spliced into the concept trailer. In a 2020 interview with ABC, the actress admitted that she wasn't thrilled when she learned about her role:

"[My agent] calls me and says, 'You're not going to believe what I am reading you out of Variety. They were announcing the fall lineup. ABC, Monday night, eight o'clock, 'Mork & Mindy,' starring Robin WIlliams and Pam Dawber, an alien lives with [his] girlfriend in [an] apartment. And I'm on the phone going, 'What?' And I was mad. 'That sounds stupid! It sounds really stupid! I don't want to do a show like this.'"

Dawber wasn't sold on the show's premise, and she had no idea who Robin Williams was, but admits that she felt like "a pretty big cheese" when Marshall asked to meet with her. During their meeting, Marshall gave the actress a videotape of Mork's appearance on "Happy Days," which completely changed Dawber's outlook on the opportunity:

"I was laughing out loud watching that show, and I remember going, 'Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I am so lucky.' Because it was so clear. [Robin Williams] was adorable. He was so funny, and he just had it. And that was it. It was just like, 'Where do I sign?'"

A fast hit and a quick decline

The first season of "Mork & Mindy" was the third most popular show on television, behind "Laverne & Shirley" and "Three's Company." Despite her initial hesitation, Dawber loved working on the sitcom. She told The Morning Call in 1986 that the role was a huge educational experience for her. "I learned everything from Robin and the guest stars," she said. "Going to work every day and working with those people was just invaluable."

In the documentary, "The Happy Days of Garry Marshall," Dawber reflected on her special relationship with Williams:

"I loved him. It was a hit because of him, it was a hit because the timing was right, and I think it was also a hit because he and I really liked each other, so we had chemistry."

Williams was certainly a huge factor in the show's success, but Dawber's relatable, girl-next-door personality and aesthetic were just as important. Everyone loved to see Mork's wacky antics every week, but his relationship with Mindy grounded the show and gave it heart. Audiences were charmed and amused by the dynamic between an ordinary Earth girl and an eccentric alien, but it didn't last long. By the second season, the sitcom had already fallen to 27th place, and the network's greed would hammer in the last nail in the coffin of "Mork & Mindy."

After the second season, ABC moved the show to Sundays in an attempt to compete with "All in the Family," a decision that Garry Marshall believes killed the sitcom. "I think the time slot move was based more on greed than intellect," Marshall wrote in My Happy Days in Hollywood, "and it ruined the show."

Robin & Pam

After four seasons, "Mork & Mindy" was canceled, and Williams went on to become one of the most successful comedians in Hollywood. Dawber appeared in numerous TV movies and shows throughout the '80s and '90s, but her star never rose as high as her former co-stars. In a 2016 interview with Entertainment Tonight, she seemed content with her level of accomplishment in Hollywood, saying:

"I was in a number one show. I had my own deal. I got to do Broadway. I got to do musical theater. I got to do cartoon voices. I did everything you can do in this business."

Between 2000 and 2013, Dawber took a break from show business to raise her kids, but another chance to work with Williams on the CBS sitcom "The Crazy Ones" drew her back into the spotlight in 2014. "When [the network] called me to ask me if I wanted to be on an episode, it wasn't that I was dying to get back into show business," she told Craig Ferguson in 2014, "I just wanted to see Robin."

Williams, who suggested casting Dawber in 'The Crazy Ones,' was also excited to work with her again. "It's like we never left," he told TV Guide in 2014, "When she showed up the first day, I said, 'Dawber Dog — you're back!'" Although he was the breakout star of their shared sitcom, Williams insisted that the show wouldn't have been the same without her. "[She] made that show work," He insisted. "[She was] incredible."

Despite her initial horror over being cast as an alien's roommate, Dawber came to cherish her time on "Mork & Mindy," calling it "a joy" and "the single greatest learning experience in [her] life."