Behind The Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy (2005) – A Review
Television producer Garry Marshall (Daniel Roebuck) is creating ratings hit after hit. Then in 1978 he gets the idea of putting an alien character on his show Happy Days. Everyone thinks the idea is crazy, even the young actor hired for the role – a young up-and-coming comic by the name of Robin Williams (Chris Diamantopoulos).
But Williams’ unique comedic talents help make the character Mork from a Ork a hit and a new spin-off show is designed around him and actress Pam Dawber (Erinn Hayes). Mork and Mindy is born, but it won’t be just funny handshakes and spaceships shaped like eggs. Behind the scenes the show is dealing with out of touch executives and censors who are pulling their hair out. And Williams’ escalating drug use begins to jeopordize his career, his marriage and his life.
This is another one of those cheap docudramas about classic 1970’s TV shows that were popping up all the time on NBC about ten years ago. The Unauthorized Stories of Three’s Company, Diff’rent Strokes, Charlies Angels – I don’t know why they stopped making them.
There are plenty of old beloved shows they could focus on and have unknown actors play these famous ones while they were in the midst of creating these popular shows. Throw in a few badly written behind the scenes drama, the shows rise in popularity and their eventual downfall and boom you got a TV movie.
Maybe there was some dicey waters going on with the rights to reenacting these shows and portraying the persons involved. Perhaps, the potential lawsuits and bad blood wasn’t worth the aggravation and they gave up with them. Or maybe they just realized these docudramas weren’t the biggest ratings hits that the network wanted and they came off as pretty cheap, shoddy and tabloid-y.
Here we get the story of Mork & Mindy. Or really more like the rise of Robin Williams. The bizarre comedy sitcom and the goings-on of its creation takes a backseat to the animated wild Williams going from an unknown street performer to a television star. This fast rise to fame helps fuel his ongoing cocaine addiction and his extra-martial affairs that would push his wife away.
For a ‘docudrama’ and a movie titled ‘The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy’ there’s really not a lot of drama to be found here about that actual show.
During the production of the show we see there are problems with the network censors who are frustrated by the rapid fire improvising Williams and the dumb corporate big-wigs changing the shows timeslots and offering their own suggestions to Marshall, but that’s it. And this is told so matter-of-factly that there’s no real drama when the show is adversely affected by these network changes.
It goes something like this – Mork & Mindy is number one in the ratings, the shadowy bad network suits call Marshall and say – “There’s too much focus on Mork”, “We have to do a cast change”, “We’re going to change timeslots”, “The show needs more sex”, “Trust us”. Marshall is upset, does the required changes and the show begins to bottom out in the ratings.
There’s really not much more to it than that. In fact, these executive suggestion scenes are so comically overdone and clichéd it rivals all the jokes Diamontopoulos does as Williams. Like, I love when the anonymous execs go, “Yeeeeaaaah…..the show is a hit…..but….we want to make it better”. The pauses and delivery are hysterical. When the show finally gets the ax they can care less. They might as well have made them wear Darth Vader helmets.
The cast doesn’t have much to do. Roebuck does an ok impression of Marshall. Erinn as Dawber is not surprisingly underwritten and the script never makes her much of a character in all this.
The spotlight is really on Diamontopoulos who does a pretty impressive Williams impression throughout the movie. He sounds like him, moves like him, has the same zany energy we associated with him. But even in the quieter scenes Diamontopoulos manages to give a fine performance as Williams.
But all of Williams story is basically a very standard by the numbers Hollywood rise to fame and jeopardizing it all with drugs. After all the drama he experiences it’s not until pal John Belushi dies of a drug overdose that the realization hits he’s gotta clean himself up. They want to give the story a happy ending, so even when Mork is canceled we see Williams will be fine.
It’s a pretty forgettable movie and fans of Mork & Mindy won’t learn anything new about the show that they couldn’t pull up in wikipedia – minus the bad presentation. The only real draw is to check out Diamontopoulous’ performance. But I don’t even think that’s worth sitting through the whole movie. Maybe just watch a few clips of him channeling a young Williams and that will be the best you get from this docudrama.
I would have preferred to see a ‘making of movie’ about Popeye. Marshall asks how Robin is when he returns from filming the big-budget film. He says, “I heard the Popeye set was like a Roman orgy. Drugs, booze sex…”. I bet that would have been a more interesting docudrama to see.
Here’s the film itself if you want to check out some of Diamantopoulos’s performance. Or better yet, just watch the TV executive scenes that are so cheesy and badly done they’re funny.