The flashbacks continue. On March 26, NBC announced the return of Hayden Fox, the character that toplined the ’90s ABC sitcom Coach. Reports do not indicate whether the new show will also be called Coach or whether it will assume a new identity. One thing is clear: after he ends his run with the NBC show Parenthood, Craig T. Nelson will be returning as his second most famous character.
The announcement follows a few other luminaries from the broadcast tombs like the now-in-question return of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, and Fox’s The X-Files just this week. Yet, of all the shows to be pulled from permanent hiatus status, why Coach? For starters, NBC has been known to want to hang on to specific stars and have built up projects around them just for that purpose (with Debra Messing coming to mind). While Parenthood was never a blockbuster ratings-wise, the show has been consistent and has retained a core audience throughout its run. Nelson has been a major component of its success. It’s not odd that NBC wishes to keep him.
But Coach? I suspect that broadcast TV may be slipping into a groove that theatrical movies have been in for a while now, leveraging familiar names that pre-sell themselves. Even if it is only out of curiosity, people will tune in to find out about this sequel of sorts.
Another thing about Coach is that it was never a wild sitcom. Fox was the head coach of the fictitious college football team the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles. Toward the end of the series, Fox and his coaching staff moved on to the Orlando Breakers, an expansion team in the NFL. The show was seen as an antidote to Fox Network’s racier series like Married With Children. It appealed to a specific demographic that would find favor with domestic sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond.
If you look at television as it stands now, that same once-neglected demographic is again ready to be tapped. Even as Fox Network has grown to become more respectable, market share has been grabbed by streaming TV and cable shows. Think about the content of some of the shows: the ultra-violence of Game Of Thrones‘ “Red Wedding,” Mad Men‘s explorations into the swinging Sixties through the lens of an advertising agency, the walking dead of The Walking Dead, and the quasi-discreet depiction of Alison Williams’ character on Girls having her anus licked by her boyfriend. Schneider the Handyman never did that to Ms. Romano.
After years of trying to compete with tepid versions of cable’s edgier fare, and being called out for that while conversely never being able to match it due to FCC restrictions, it might well be that the coming gameplan for broadcast TV is to mine the past and embrace that viewership. A further onslaught of reality TV and talent shows probably can finance such ventures, and I do not expect the wave of revivals to stem the flow of such programs either.
Coach has one more thing that a lot of series from the ’90s do not have, alongside the audience goodwill. Most of the primary cast is still alive. Aside from Nelson, Bill Fagerbakke, who played assistant Michael “Dauber” Dybinski, was a familiar face on How I Met Your Mother as Marshall Erickson’s dad. He has also been the voice of Patrick on Spongebob Squarepants.
Therefore, there’s a very good chance that this revival TV trend will continue, given the circumstances. I imagine it would be easier to sit with the kids to watch Coach 2.0 than to do so with American Horror Story.