Monday, October 02, 2006

One for the Coach


Nick Colasanto, who played the Coach on CHEERS had a background that might surprise you. He directed quite a few episodes of HAWAII 5-0, COLUMBO, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, and numerous other hour shows. As an actor he usually played the heavy and had a featured role in RAGING BULL. His TV acting credits include every cop show with a one word title (MCCLOUD, MANNIX, IRONSIDES, COLUMBO, KOJAK, BARETTA, etc.) He was also a very prominent acting teacher in New York.

Director James Burrow said the great thing about Nicky is that you could swear he never saw the joke coming. But boy could he score. Half the time he got laughs on straight lines. Talk about a writer’s dream! And he was a wonderful person. Kind, generous, very much like the character he portrayed.

But Nick had trouble had memorizing scripts. As I mentioned, his lines were hidden everywhere. And I’m reminded of one story which is pretty much quintessential Nick.

After filming an episode one night the cast had to do promos for NBC. It was midnight. Everyone was tired. Not a great time for close ups, but still. Shelly was first. She was given the script, and dutifully pitched her lines.

Nick was next. We knew giving him a script was not a great idea so we talked the promo guy into just feeding Nick the lines right out of camera range.

Everyone got into positions. The promo guy said, “Thursday nights are going to be great on NBC.” Nick repeated it back, really selling it. We all looked at each other impressed. He did that better than Shelley.

The delighted promo man then said, “Friday nights are going to be great on NBC.” Nick parroted it back. The promo guy said, “once again.” Nick looked right into the camera and with great conviction said, “Once again!”

I miss you Coach. Once again.

********

STUDIO 60: week three

The first and only rule in comedy is don't take yourself too seriously. STUDIO 60 is like the Rand Corporation Think Tank doing a late night sketch show. King Arthur couldn't pull Excalibur out of anyone's asshole on that show. Yikes!!

18 comments :

Harry said...

Hey, Ken,
I am currently putting a sitcom together for my college television station. I keep hearing about "character bibles," or something that sums up a character for all script writers. I was wondering if you could give me any advice on this, as I may soon ask some friends to help me script episodes.

Thanks.

Emon said...

Hi Ken,
Emon here. I'm wondering how the other actors dealt with Nick's getting special treatment with the lines, having to hide them in different places for him?

Seymour said...

Lovely story, also very funny. Nick had one other, unmentioned, great quality. He was a love magnet. You put him on camera, and everybody watching loved him. I never met him, and I felt terrible when he died, and I think this was a general reaction among CHEERS viewers. You can't learn it. You can't teach it. You can't buy it. You can't develop it. You either are a love magnet or you're not. He was.

Tom Quigley said...

I loved the line in the pilot episode where the phone at the bar rings and Coach answers it, then puts his hand over the mouthpiece and calls out "Telephone call for Ernie Pantuzzo!" to which someone replies "That's you, Coach!" -- So he puts the receiver up to his ear and says "Speaking!".... That one line just about defined the character right there -- a little befuddled about everything, like he'd taken a couple too many fastballs in the head while warming up pitchers when he was coaching. I don't know if anyone could have played Coach better than Nick.

Tom said...

One of the gags I laughed hardest at on Cheers was when a customer began singing ‘On the sunny side of the street’. It becomes infectious and one by one people around the bar hum ‘on the sunny side of the street’. An outgoing customer sings it as he leaves, a new customer enters singing the same refrain. He orders a drink from Coach, who turns to fetch it while singing ‘I got spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle’. I must have laughed for a solid five minutes.

Anonymous said...

My favorite classic Coach line: "Table for the Blubberbutts!"

Mike Barer said...

Studio 60 is becoming unwatchable. It is gotten a little worst each time.

benson said...

Along with everyone else, I too loved Coach. Favorite moment: Coach answers the phone. He says "hold on", taps the phone on the bar, and starts to hum background music..."like all the classy joints"

Favorite episode: When a teammate from Coach's playing days dies, and they have the memorial service at Cheers. Laughter, tears, great writing. (And poor Jimmy Foxx's cut out image as "T-Bone")

Anonymous said...

"To hell with that, let's hang him right here in Boston!" Classic.

Michael Zand said...

Studio 60 joined the "Unwatchable" shows list last night. I'm sorry, but it is the height of arrogance to tell the audience that the retooled show under Matt and Danny is funnier than ever and then have them rehearsing bits that are as painfully unfunny as last week's SNL. Funny is never by agreement. It just is or it isn't. Plus, the Harriet character is insufferable. Had to turn it off after five minutes and delete it from my TiVo season pass list. Sad to say, Aaron Sorkin was a lot funnier when he was on drugs.

Julie said...

Remember, Studio 60 isn't funny because we're not smart enough to get it. Only Aaron is smart. Aaron is God. Aaron. Aaron.

Lance Mannion said...

Best goodbye to a character and a co-star ever.

The first episode of the first season without Coach. Diane's hiding out at a convent and Sam comes to find her. When they meet, Diane says, "Oh Sam, I was so sorry to hear about the Coach."

Not much of a line, but Shelley Long delivered it so beautifully, with compassion for Sam, who's loast his best friend, for herself as Diane, who's lost a father figure, but also for Shelley and Ted who'd lost Nick Colasanto. But what made the line perfect is that she said it with both a laugh and a sob, as if just to think of Coach made her happy.

And Ted/Sam responsed with a smile and a nod, as if he agreed.

Summed up how all the characters felt about Coach, but it souds as though it sums up how his colleagues felt about Nick Colasanto too.

john brodey said...

I see we are all in agreeance about Studio 60. After the first one I was game for a second episode. Hard to believe my support and good intentions could be dashed on the basis of one episode. Ken has it right as does the other comment about selling something as state of the art comedy which is not even as funny as last week's SNL, which no one with cable has even watched in ten years.
Same is true when TV tries to do a credible music plotline about a band that hits it big, only they use crappy original material. SORRY THEY'RE NOT SWEEPIN' THE NATION.

Coach was the best, it's true he dominated every scene he was in, in the quietest and most subtle way. How sad to have missed 7 years of CHEERS without him.
Not to be a sourpuss but if you are too young to remember CHEERS, do us all a favor AND TRY AND PICK UP ON SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED BEFORE YOU WERE BORN. Jebus, it's only in syndication in every city, every day.

branfordbob said...

Just to pick up on the Studio 60 thread once more. Sorry, Ken, John et. al., but while I don't love the show, I still like it. No, the comedy material is not laugh out loud funny. But Sports Night wasn't ESPN either...and I'm sure West Wing wasn't really how things work at the White House.

My dad was an attorney who hated watching lawyer TV shows. He couldn't suspend his belief in the reality he knew to watch what was presented as how attorneys act in and out of court. A friend of my dad's was a doctor who could not stand watching any doctor shows. My dad would watch the doctor shows, while his doctor friend watched the lawyer shows.

Maybe that's the problem here. Comedy writers shouldn't watch TV shows shows about making comedy TV shows.

BOB

Anonymous said...

The thing I liked about Coach was that he was not one-note; he had moments of clarity as well. For example, there was the time after Sam and Diane's first break-up, where he managed to con them both into working together again (telling Diane that Sam would fall apart without her, and telling Sam that Diane would be lost without Cheers).

I also remember Shelley Long as Diane giving Sam her condolences about the Coach, and it was a wonderful moment. But Shelley Long always was pitch-perfect brilliant in that role. The show was never the same after she left, and her performances have never been as good.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

Long time reader, first time poster. I cannot stand Studio 60 for many reasons, a number of which you've already mentioned. But what truly bothers me is what does the Bradley Whitfield character do? He's not a writer and Timothy Busfield is the director. Plus, I'd been a helluva lot more impressed with Sorkin's proclivity if all his characters didn't sound the same and there was even just a shred of humor. There is no writer more humorless than Aaron Sorkin and I include Strindberg in that tally.

benson said...

Finally have a idea what you all are talking about...caught the last 25 minutes of the pilot of Studio 60 on USA last night.

First impressions: Like you all said, it's a Sorkin/Schlamme show. Looks very much like West Wing. If it was billed as a comedy, it ain't. Strikes me more like a serialized soap opera minus the melodrama (but that may be just around the corner)

One thing, and it's my problem, not hers, but this woman who plays the network president (Amanda Peet?)is just too pretty. I had trouble accepting her as a network suit.

I don't love it, but it certainly might kill a hour.

jason said...

Albania, Albania
You border on the Adriatic.
Your terrain is mostly mountainous,
And your chief export is coal.

Coach's song is far catchier than almost all the history books on the Balkans out there.

I'm giving Studio 60 one more hour. I've yet to stop calling them Josh Lyman and Chandler. And over-serious writing can easily call attention to itself on its own, so I don't need Matthew Perry to slow each line down, as if to stress to me that I better pay attention to how good this all is.