The hilarious new digital series Now We’re Talking, available on Verizon’s go90 platform, follows the careers of former NFL quarterbacks Tug Tanner (Tug Coker) and Tommy Arondall (Tommy Dewey). After finding themselves falling from the top of their NFL games to the bottom of their class, they decide to try their hand in sports broadcasting school where their competitive natures really get a chance to shine.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Tug Coker and Tommy Dewey (who created, star in, write and executive produce the series together) talked about how Now We’re Talking came about, why they decided to set the series in the world of sports broadcasting, what made go90 the right platform, their writing process, developing these characters, how the involvement of Lebron James and his producing partner Maverick Carter helped them get real athletes involved, and what their hopes are for the future of the series.
Collider: First of all, I have to say that I’m not really a sports fan and I’m pretty tough on comedy, but I thought Now We’re Talking was really fun and funny.
TUG COKER: I’m happy you said that. In some ways, people aren’t quite sure what they’re getting with these smaller shows, and we think we’re on the cusp of something with the way people consume entertainment. It takes more people seeing our show to get what we’re trying to do, so we’re glad that you thought it was funny.
DEWEY: And we chose broadcasting over setting it in and around a football team because we wanted it to be a little more interesting for a wider group. For awhile there, the word on the street was that sports comedies don’t sell. The lesson there is just keep plugging ahead with your idea because the tide turns quickly.
How did this show come about, and how did you end up doing this for go90?
TOMMY DEWEY: Tug and I have been friends for a long time, just socially, and we knew each other’s work, but had not had the chance to work together. So, we started scheming to make that happen. We had a lunch and started tossing around ideas, and both of us, independently, had come across this idea of something about sports broadcasting. Tug, at one point, had an idea about maybe doing a documentary around the broadcasting world or a broadcasting school. I had read an article in, I believe, the New Yorker, that talked about Jerome Bettis working with an opera coach to improve his on-camera voice, and I just thought that was inherently hilarious. And then, because we wanted to wear all of the hats on this thing, and write, produce and act, the buddy comedy at the center evolved. We’re just very self-involved. And then, we wanted to create a world that everyone could enjoy and find accessible. Everyone has been to school. Everyone has a sense of classroom dynamics and politics, regardless of subject matter. And if you’ve lived long enough, everyone hits a big life transition. The thematic underpinning of this was that guys hit their mid-30s, which is our age, and all of a sudden, they can’t do the thing that they love to do most in the world, which also happens to be a thing that 80,000 people watch live and another several million people watch. So, what if you got to our age and, instead of continuing to do what you love doing, you had to completely switch things up? Where do you find a place for that ego and that drive? All of those things came together in the little stew we created that resulted in this show.
Because you created this together, did you each create your own character, or did you create it all together?
COKER: We talked about characters that we wanted to play and things that we felt comfortable playing, but we also wanted to push ourselves and play the two best characters for the story that we’re telling. So, we wanted to make sure they have different motivations and different reasons for being in this class. Also, we have different personalities. We do get along really well, but we have different ways of working around each other, and we let those come out when we act, or in some of the writing or improvisation that we do on the show. We got together weekly when we were writing it and would be like, “If you want to take this chunk, I’ll take this chunk. I feel comfortable writing about this, and you feel comfortable writing about that.” That’s one of the reasons we got excited about go90. Tommy has written some pilots in the past and I’m really excited about producing, and we wanted to see something through to the end. Because go90 was trying to get up and running, they were really good about letting us create the vision that we wanted to create, and that really serves the show well.
DEWEY: It was a streamlined process. We had limited time. Tug was involved in, among other things, a restaurant venture, and I was going back to the show I do for Hulu, called Casual, and these guys were eager to go. The final piece of it was Uninterrupted, which is run by Maverick Carter, who is Lebron James’ business partner in a number of things. They are a multi-platform media company, and once they came on board to co-produce with us, a lot of the final pieces fell into place. We could get real broadcasters and real athletes to come in and flavor the world in that way, and mix fantasy and reality. So, timing and knowing that it was going to get seen by an audience were factors. Having written pilots, in recent years, for networks that are dusty on a shelf somewhere, I was growing more and more impatient and eager to create something and just get it seen. Ultimately, that’s what you’re in the business to do.
If you’re going to do something related to sports, in any way, I would imagine that having a name association like Lebron James doesn’t hurt.
DEWEY: No, he’s pretty big.
COKER: He was too busy winning a championship for Cleveland to weigh in on the day to day aspects of our show, but he was helpful in doing some press for the show. He tweeted out a nice thing on our behalf, which is really exciting. The company itself was able to gain access for us to get these athletes, it was really fun, on the side when we weren’t shooting, to talk to some of the broadcasters we’ve had on the show about their experiences and ask these athletes about what they’re doing, as they’re transitioning out of sports and into the rest of their lives. It was a fun synergy for us to have these conversations with the real people.
For people who haven’t checked out go90 yet, or who aren’t familiar with this show and what you guys are doing, what can you say about who these characters were, at the height of their careers, and why they’ve decided that this is the right path for them to pursue now?
DEWEY: It’s important to recognize first that they were never that great. Maybe, at best, they were the starter and the back-up for the 26th best team in the league.
COKER: We talk, at one point, about who has the longer losing streak, and things like that.
DEWEY: That said, to get to that level in the NFL, you are a good athlete, you probably have an ego, and a healthy one, if not a larger and more unhealthy one, and you’ve got a lot of drive. That stuff doesn’t go away when you wash out of the league. At least for the Tommy character, there’s a need for whatever high that playing in that game gets you every week. For the Tug character, it’s unfulfilled potential and this idea that he was a back-up for too long, but maybe in broadcasting, he’ll be the starter. Taking those personality traits and pulling them from a place where they fit nicely to a place where they might not fit so nicely is what really drives the comedy. In broadcasting school, they’re equally as prickish, competitive and petty, as they were in the league. And if we make more of these, I imagine they’ll be the same way, if they get into real broadcasting. That’s at the heart of it.
What do you think these guys think about each other? Are these two guys who actually wanted to be friends, or were they forced into a friendship because they played together?
COKER: I think it’s a little bit of both. Speaking for my character, Tug is a little bit jealous that Tommy was able to play with this free-wheeling energy that made him better than Tug. He saw what could have been possible, and he’s a little bit resentful. That said, there are moments when Tommy comes out of the woodwork to be a good teammate and is helpful to him. The yin and yang for Tug is that he sees the ego that Tommy carries around, but he also sees the little bit of a soft spot that Tommy has and he can’t help but like him. There’s this compelling thing that he gravitates towards, thinking that maybe he can change him, but probably not, and still wanting to try, day in and day out.
DEWEY: Even though they weren’t top of the league, that’s still a very small club. They have secrets, so to speak, that nobody else has, so there’s a comradery in that fraternity of quarterbacks that they know they can’t really find elsewhere. And I think, if they’re having a beer, they can genuinely have a laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. Their ribbing is not necessarily always mean-spirited. I think Tommy is probably a little meaner than Tug is, but they’ll always be friends, in some respect.
COKER: There’s a universality to that idea of having to work with someone and be friends with them and be a good teammate, but also compete with them for your job. The stakes are pretty high when you’re a quarterback and a back-up on the same team, you take all of the meetings together, you take all of the practice time together, you watch game film together, and you’re trying to take each other’s job. How do you tolerate and be friends with that person, and not let a little bit of that competitive energy come in? That’s a pretty interesting storyline.
DEWEY: There’s a lot of layers to that. In a press conference, everyone is required to be like, “I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team,” but really?! It’s a hilarious lie that everybody allows to be told. And in some cases, maybe they genuinely are there for the team, but you’re paying the bills and you don’t get into the NFL with a personality that’s fine with being a back-up.
How tricky is it to write and play characters that do have egos like these guys have, but still are likeable to viewers?
DEWEY: This is a corny actor thing to say, but the first step is that you can’t judge the character that you’re playing. If it’s built in three-dimensional fashion, you’ll just play a character who’s going out and seeking the best version of their life that they can find. That gives the character an accessibility that everyone can identify with. He’s getting up in the morning and trying to make his life better for himself. If you start in that place, it’s helpful. I’ve played more morally suspect characters than I care to admit, and another aspect of that is identifying what’s psychologically at the root of all of that. A lot of times, that asshole behavior is a cover for deep insecurities, and sometimes the deeper the insecurities, the bigger the asshole. That’s what comes to mind, when I think of this sort of character.
What is the ultimate plan for Now We’re Talking? Are you hoping to do more episodes?
COKER: We’re excited about what we’ve put together for the first season. Since we’ve been sitting on this project and we hang out, almost every day, we talk about the project a lot and we definitely have thoughts and ideas for upcoming seasons and future episodes. Shows that started on the web and had a DIY quality, like High Maintenance, are shows that Tommy and I are both inspired by. At the heart of this thing, it’s almost like an independent film, where you make it with friends and ask for some favors to get it done. We’re really proud of it and hope to get it out there. The High Maintenance model is really interesting. Maybe there are more seasons on go90. We’ve definitely thought about more ideas. What we’re excited about is that audiences are starting to take web series on digital platforms more seriously. I think you’ll see more interesting things coming, like High Maintenance, in the future.
DEWEY: The key for us, in this, was to make a premium TV show. In this first round, we were able to do that with seven episodes that are roughly eight to ten minutes, per episode. We want to stay in that place. We don’t want to make too many episodes and reduce the quality of it. It’s a discussion that we’ll keep having with go90 and our other partners, but we’re so obsessive that we want to be careful, quality control wise, with the project.
COKER: The thing that excites us is that we’re delivering small-scale premium television and we’re doing it in a way where, even though we’re talking about sports, it feels like all people can relate to the show. You don’t have to be a sports fan. We’re excited because we were able to pull off a show that we feel can be entertain for the real fan, but also be fun to watch for people who care less about sports. It’s just good TV.
DEWEY: There’s so much content out there that you can’t make crap and just hope it gets seen. If we want to be considered among the shows that are worth watching, it’s got to be really good. Ultimately, that’s all you can control.
COKER: One thing we’re also proud of is that we have a full-season arc. When people watch all seven episodes in a row, it’s a nice, fun, satisfying 70 minutes, almost like a small movie, that comes together nicely.
Now We’re Talking can be viewed at www.go90.com.