Here’s a Friday Question that became a dedicated post.
With Paxton dying and his series Training Day now apparently over, I wonder if you can take us thru some of what went on with Coach dying on Cheers, obviously the series wasn't going to be cancelled but the adjustments that had to be made, how far in advance were they planning to make them knowing Coach was sick, what other people were in the mix to play Woody, what other ideas did people have to replace Coach, etc.
We were not caught totally off guard. Watch the pilot of CHEERS and then the first few episodes. You’ll see that Nick Colasanto lost some weight. We all had an inkling that something was wrong. Later in that season he came down with pleurisy. He spent a couple of days in the hospital but insisted on coming back for the show.
By the last half of the season he was hospitalized and we kept his character in the show by saying that the Coach was traveling and sending letters. By reading the letters aloud it kept his voice alive.
Nick passed away shortly before the end of that season (February 12, 1985). He was only 61. I never spoke to the Charles Brothers about it so I have no idea whether they were expecting the worst and already starting to come up with a new character or just hoping Nick would recover during the offseason and be back when season four began in August.
Once he died, thoughts were turned to how to replace him? You'd think there was a real luxury of time since production wouldn't begin for six months, but the writers wanted the actor in place so they could write scripts and tailor them to the actor.
The Coach played a very important role. I’ve talked about this before – “dumb” characters are not only easy to write but they also provide a real function. It’s always difficult to get out exposition and by explaining something to the Coach we were in fact explaining it clearly to the audience.
NBC wanted a young character. All networks want young characters. And the Charles Brothers wisely didn’t want to bring in someone who was too similar to Nick.
So the character of Woody was created. It’s not enough to make a character “dumb.” You need a reason. The Coach was hit in the head with too many fastballs. In the case of Woody, the idea was that he was just a naive farmboy. And if you listen carefully to his dialogue you’ll see he’s not stupid, he just takes everything literally.
In closing, I have to say that as much as I love Woody I always missed the Coach. There was something so sweet about his relationship with Sam and his affection for the others at the bar that to me was never duplicated – and that was a wonderful element of the show.