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'The Golden Girls': Why Didn't Coco the Butler Make It Past the Pilot?

From 1985 to 1992, The Golden Girls was one of the hottest sitcoms on TV, and it remains part of an iconic class of TV shows. Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia — each with unique comedic shticks — boasted strong on-screen chemistry that made for laugh-out-loud episodes. Dorothy’s deadpan, Sophia’s wit, Rose’s stupidity, and Blanche’s promiscuous nature carried the show for seven successful seasons. Yet, the show had a chance to be even more groundbreaking than it was. 

The Golden Girls was quite unprecedented for the time. The show presented older women as leading characters when Hollywood often told women of a certain age that their time had expired. Yet, the show almost had a primary gay character as well. In the pilot episode for The Golden Girls, Coco the Butler is present. However, his character never made it past episode one. 

Coco the Butler would have likely defied stereotypes in ‘The Golden Girls’

Charles Levin (Spinal Tap, Annie Hall, The Golden Child) played Coco the Butler in The Golden Girls pilot episode. He had a few quick one-liners and his sexuality was explicitly conveyed dialogically, as those behind the show did not wish to keep the character in the closet. The writers wanted him and the others to accept him fully, as Decider explains. 

While the character was almost a drag queen, director Jay Sandrich felt that such a representation would not strike the progressive chord the show was aiming for. While the character did not get much screentime, he would have been one of the first primary gay characters on television, likely with a fully-fleshed characterization (and possibly even some romantic relationships). Unfortunately, such dreams never came to fruition.

Most of Coco’s scenes in episode 1 of ‘The Golden Girls’ were cut  

When the pilot episode wound up five minutes too long, extensive cuts had to be made, and most of Coco’s lines wound up on the cutting room floor. When Blanche returns from her date to update the crew, Coco suddenly vanishes from the scene post-commercial break, as Decider recounts. 

After the edits, Coco’s character added little to the pilot — beyond serving drinks. And, when the network picked up the show, the character didn’t make it. And, while it would have been groundbreaking to watch a show with an out and proud gay character in the 1980s, the girls’ often middle-class struggles did not exactly align with an in-house butler. 

The characters struggle with money and jobs, especially Dorothy and Rose who both wind up having to switch career trajectories at one point. Sophia even works at a restaurant in one episode. In short, a live-in housekeeper was a bit out of sync with the show’s premise and tone. 

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