Sunday, May 04, 2008

Underappreciated ’80s: Ernie “Coach” Pantusso from Cheers

When you think of the bartenders on the hit ‘80s TV show Cheers, the womanizing Sam Malone (played by Ted Danson in his prime) probably comes to mind.

Most people next think of his simple but charming sidekick behind the Cheers bar—Woody Boyd, the character that gave a young Woody Harrelson his big break.

Both Danson and Harrelson won Emmys for their roles; one of the greatest travesties of television history is that Nicholas Colasanto did not for his stellar performance during three seasons as Ernie Pantusso, better known as “Coach.”

Coach had a big heart—after all, he stuck with Sam Malone even through the ex-pitcher’s drunken escapades—but was not the brightest bulb on the porch. Most of the time, he misunderstood even straightforward questions or statements, leading to some of the best humor in all the years of the show.

At least one episode blamed Coach’s condition on taking far too many pitches to the head while playing baseball. Whatever the cause, Coach’s childlike innocence about his own condition was his best quality.

My favorite Coach moment, however, involved his unusual expertise on Albania. To help him get through a geography class, he had memorized various factoids about the country by singing them to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In:”

Albania! Albania!
You border on the Adriatic
Your land is mostly mountainous
And your chief export is chrome

Colasanto passed away as the show was peaking in popularity in early 1985, throwing the show a curve. Several episodes filmed after his death included outtakes from previously taped segments to stretch out the inevitable, but eventually the show brought Harrelson on board to give Cheers another bartender. But as good as Harrelson was, he never matched Colasanto’s best.

Rest in peace, Coach.


At May 04, 2008 11:01 PM, Blogger Jessica replied to my musings ...

Good post...I did like Coach! I think they tried to make Woody under the same vain as him...but it just didn't feel the same. But it did jump start Harrelson's career. :)

At May 05, 2008 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous replied to my musings ...

He was really funny. I liked him on the show very much.

At May 05, 2008 9:25 AM, Anonymous LisaBinDaCity replied to my musings ...

I loved Coach. Such charm, sweetness and offbeat humor. I missed him terribly when he died.

Great tribute to him, David!

At May 05, 2008 11:30 AM, Blogger Stacy The Peanut Queen replied to my musings ...

Yeah, I liked Coach too. He was a bit doofy sometimes...but that just helped make him even funnier!

At May 05, 2008 11:59 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Jessica: Woody was a great character--and he probably would have seemed even better if we'd never met Coach.

WIGSF: Word.

Lisa: Thanks. I think he gets much less attention than he deserves.

PQ: His doofiness was always endearing, though--never dumb.

At May 06, 2008 9:58 AM, Blogger Metal Mark replied to my musings ...

Best show of the 1980's for sure. Woody was good, but he was no Coach. It's sad looking back and seeing those episodes during his last season where you can see who the make-up people tried to cover up how fraile he was beginning to look.

At May 06, 2008 2:39 PM, Blogger Zen Wizard replied to my musings ...

What would the public school experience be without a coach teaching Geography and giving you the false impression that it must be boring and unimportant?

Ditto History?

At May 06, 2008 4:21 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Mark: I probably agree with you on the best show of the '80s comment (aside from Headbanger's Ball, of course).

ZW: Geography rocks. But I'm odd in saying that, I'm sure.

At May 07, 2008 1:37 AM, Blogger Mike replied to my musings ...

Yo ho, geography and history rock!! As for Woody, I never liked him. He seems to me about as funny as the paint on the wall. Coach was awesome. He wasn't only innocent, he harkened back to another era, both with his character and tv humor. A little dim, lots of plays on words, just like tv was when his character was playing baseball. Neat little bit of symbolism, hmm?

At May 07, 2008 2:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous replied to my musings ...

I adored Coach. So naive and funny and so damn sweet. Woody was a piss-poor "witless" replacement for Coach. Yep...I heart Coach.

At May 07, 2008 6:16 AM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Mike: Woody had his moments, at least for me. Nice observation about the throwback aspect of Coach's character.

Jenn: I would have thought they'd go for a different type of role after Coach; they appear to have looked to get a younger version of him that just didn't work the same.

At May 07, 2008 10:21 PM, Blogger Malcolm replied to my musings ...

Nice tribute to Nicholas Colasanto/Coach. One of my favorite lines from the show was when Coach said that he knew something like the back of his hand. He then promptly looked at the back of his hand and said, "What the hell is that?"

As you might know, Sid Caesar was considered for the role of Coach. I sometimes wonder how Woody Harrelson's career would have turned out if Sid got the role of Coach. Had he got the role, there is a chance that he would have stayed with "Cheers" for the entire run and the character of Woody wouldn't have been created.

At May 07, 2008 11:21 PM, Blogger Jim replied to my musings ...

Diane: Coach we don't want to be disturbed.

Coach: Who does?

Out of the Cheers cast, only John Ratzenberger (Cliff) attended Nicholas Colasanto's funeral.

The series finished 77th - dead last - in the Nielsen ratings the week it debuted.

At May 08, 2008 8:26 PM, Blogger BeckEye replied to my musings ...

Aw, I loved Coach. I was so sad when he died.

At May 08, 2008 9:24 PM, Blogger David Amulet replied to my musings ...

Malcolm: Thanks. I love that back-of-the-hand bit. Brilliant in a simple way.

Jim: I didn't know about the horrible debut. I wonder why only JR went to the funeral?

Beckeye: In the immortal words of Cinderella, you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.

At May 09, 2008 1:52 PM, Blogger Rocketstar replied to my musings ...

Here, here.

At May 11, 2008 7:27 PM, Blogger :P fuzzbox replied to my musings ...

I'll drink to that.

At September 19, 2012 6:20 PM, Anonymous Eamon replied to my musings ...

Both coach and woody were amazing characters, woody was a thick young barman, where coach believe it or not was Not actually meant to be stupid he had mild Alzheimers. But anyway, they probably Had alot of Stories involving coach written, and its just my opinion But I think they did a great job in replacing him, go team cheers :),

now can someone Please explain why it was only JR That went to coaches funneral because ive been wondering for years.


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