thrift store finds: mork and mindy- a video novel

Here’s a new one on me- I’ve reviewed novels, novelizations, and trade paperbacks… but a “video novel” is something I have never seen before. Mork and Mindy- A Video Novel, published in 1978 by Pocket Books, has about a dozen credits.

Richard J. Anobile is the main credit, but of course the TV series was created by Garry Marshall, Dale McRaven, and Joe Glauberg. McRaven wrote the episode on which this book is based.

This is a photo novel about Mork & Mindy, a sit-com from the late seventies best remembered for introducing the world to the exhaustive and explosive comedic talent of Pam Dawber.

I was a big fan of Mork & Mindy, back in the day. Nickelodeon’s “Nick at Night” programming blocks was usually thick with classic black and white sit-coms like My Three Sons and The Donna Reed Show. I gleefully ignored most of these, but when Nick started airing newer fare, I paid attention. Mork & Mindy became popular enough where the network eventually branched the show out amongst it’s daytime programming! The odd couple pairing of Dawber’s Pam and Robin Williams’ Mork from Ork was a platform for Williams’ manic comedy routines, couched in a sci-fi concept.

The show had a pretty sharp drop in quality during the four years in which it ran on ABC. Even as a child, I realized this. The first season was, by and large, the show’s best… thereafter, it seemed to be tinkered with constantly. Mork and Mindy first hung out in a music store, then a deli, and god knows where else by the fourth season. Actually, by the fourth season, they were somehow parents to an elderly (but also newborn Jonathan Winters) in a plot twist that was so misguided I’m loathe to even think about it. As with Winters, new cast members were thrown on the show willy-nilly, the most annoying of which HAD to be the mad prophet Exidor.

You guys, I hated Exidor SO much as a kid. Luckily, Exidor is nowhere to be found in this video novel!

Popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a quick look around the web shows quite a few properties were adapted to the “video novel” format. Stills from movies and television shows are used to create a comic of sorts which, when read, replicates said movie or television show. This video novel reminds me of the Italian “fumetti” comics I’d occasionally run across as a kid. What we have here is a reconstruction of the pilot episode of Mork & Mindy.

For those that don’t know the concept of the show: Mork’s an alien sent to earth from his home planet to observe the human race… but he’s also sent here because he’s fucking annoying and no one on Ork wants to deal with him. After meeting Mindy by chance, the two form a bond and Mork moves into her sweet bachelorette pad’s attic. Other cast members for the first season include Conrad Janis as Mindy’s father.

This video novel is constructed using stills from the hour-long pilot episode to tell the story. As with the many movie novelizations I’ve talked about here over the years, I can see the appeal of a books like this… especially in the days before home video was affordable. Fans could re-experience the first episode through this book and have a lingering look at the sets, the costumes, and the actors as the story unfolds.

The problem with this book is that they used freeze-framed stills from the episode. Some of those freeze frames manage to look pretty good,

but a LOT of others look really awkward, especially when Dawber is involved. I have to wonder if the person who put this book together purposely looked for the worst pictures of Mindy.

As you can see, the story is told with word balloons, but the people who made this book also made this weird choice to include some of the sounds Mork makes. I guess it makes sense but seems incredibly odd.

Most of the book is awkward in this way. The jokes are quite corny when you read them, but I assumed they somewhat worked in live action because of Williams’ go for broke performance and creativity. It’s one thing to get a chuckle out of Mork acting like a goofus when Robin Williams is selling it, another to read it there on the page.

Like I said, the novel follows the pilot pretty closely, with one glaring omission. See, Mork & Mindy was technically one of the many spin-offs from ABC’s Happy Days. Robin Williams would occasionally pop by to vex Richie Cunningham and The Fonz. The Mork & Mindy pilot therefore features an extended flashback to Mork’s first time on Earth and meeting Arthur Fonzarelli. The sequence even features an appearance from Penny Marshall as Laverne, her character from the most successful Happy Days spin-off, Laverne and Shirley.

I am guessing it was too expensive to get Marshall and Henry Winkler to sign off on this thing… or else they didn’t want to muddy the delicate narrative of this video novel by including the scene, so it’s been left out. It’s not really all that important to the main plot and won’t be missed if you don’t remember it… but I remember it and wanted to point the edit out.

Right, so after Mork and Mindy’s friendship, living arrangements, and supporting cast have been introduced, the plot of the rest of the book is straight-foward. Mindy’s dad meets Mork, decides he’s insane. Through a series of circumstance too long to go into here, Mork ends up nearly committed to an asylum. He defends himself using knowledge he acquired from watching reruns of Perry Mason conveniently viewed the night before his arrest.

…and the book ends, as all episodes did, with a sequence where Mork reports in with his boss Orson.

I imagine these scenes were structured around Williams’ strengths as a stand-up comedian… but again, what works well in the medium of performance does not quite translate to the printed page.

As a weird artifact, this is a cool book. The production values on this are quite high, with gloss paper accommodating the photographs. I can’t tell you how many times I run across an old paperback from the 1960’s and 1970’s which has been destroyed simply by age. This one has been around for over thirty years and it looks brand new. It’s about as goofy as you’d expect, but again… I can see the appeal of owning something like this back in 1979.

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