Do not adjust your television set: yes, that is Damon Wayans Jr. on tonight’s New Girl.
Dedicated fans of the Zooey Deschanel-anchored FOX sitcom will remember that Wayans appeared in the pilot episode as Coach, one of the four loft-mates at the center of the show.
But, by the time the second episode rolled around, he had been replaced by Lamorne Morris, as Winston, a roommate who had supposedly been playing basketball in Latvia during that first episode.
Dedicated fans will also be aware that tonight’s episode is called “Coach.” As the network has been trumpeting since late October, Wayans will return to New Girl for a guest stint. According to TV Guide, Coach has just had a break-up and hopes he can just move back into the loft.
Behind the scenes, however, Wayans’ return to the show involved a very different kind of break-up.
As creator Elizabeth Meriwether told the New York Times, at the time that the New Girl pilot was shot it looked like Wayans’ other show, ABC’s Happy Endings, was about to get cancelled. When the show didn’t actually end, his contract meant he wouldn’t be able to continue as Coach.
Though it’s not novel in TV-land to suddenly have a different actor playing a character from the one in the pilot — an unaired pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, featured an actress named Riff Regan as Willow, instead of Alyson Hannigan — but New Girl‘s producers decided to introduce Winston rather than asking Lamorne Morris to just play Coach…which meant when Happy Endings got cancelled Coach could return.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the show’s writers said that Coach’s six-episode appearance will bring Nick and Schmidt “back in time” to their lives before Jess moved in — which, because Jess does actually live in the loft, is easier said than done.
The original theme song:
Coach is gone: