Yes we all know content is king, and live sports are the emperor, and Verizon, through all its sports partnerships, has access to integration in thousands of hours of live content for its subscribers, from the NFL to professional soccer. How do you create added value on top of that for a new platform like go90, their live streaming service? How about some original scripted series tied to sports that you can promote across all your platforms, trying to reach an audience that thinks mobile first. Welcome to the first season of “Now We’re Talking.”
Launched at the start of the football season, “Now We’re Talking” centers on the personal rivalry between two former pro football quarterbacks, Tug Tanner (Tug Coker) and Tommy Arondall (Tommy Dewey), after the ex-rivals are now forced to work together in their new sportscasting careers. Think a little “Sportsnight,” some “Ballers,” and even “Arliss” with a great mix of characters as well. It is a go90 exclusive, coming from “Uninterrupted,” and looking to give some added value to those who may look to Verizon for only highlights. Will it work? So far the content has been really well received, and it looks like a low-risk, high reward opportunity for one of the largest partners in sports media.
How did it all come about, and where is it going? We caught up with creator/actor and longtime friend Tug Coker (who many enjoyed as Larry Bird in the Broadway show “Magic/Bird” to talk scripted content, LeBron, and sports as a genre.
Where did the idea of “Now We’re Talking” come from?
My creative partner, Tommy Dewey, and I both loved the idea of working in the sports comedy space. Since we were both acting in it as well, we thought creating a world around a sports broadcaster team would be a solid foundation for a buddy comedy. Plus, it seemed like a fresh, new idea. One of our broadcasting heroes, the late Pat Summerall, used to have a lot of fun on and off air with his broadcasting partners, and we wanted to bring those elements into a show. We also wanted to show parts of that duo’s history and origin. Previously, I had explored the idea of doing a documentary following athletes as they transition from sports into broadcasting, because I’m a sports media junkie, and I’m fascinated as to how some players land at ESPN, while others land on regional sports shows or radio. What do those journeys look like? Many of them go to a broadcasting school to develop their on-camera skill set. And it’s this idea of transitioning that we found to be a real hook for NOW WE’RE TALKING. Everyone, including athletes, has to make transitions in life, where they have to come to grips with their own reality. And we found that idea to be one that viewers can relate to, but we also found it to be a great area for comedy.
So much is being made of platforms like go90 as a place to launch original programming, how did the partnership come about?
Our producing partner, Uninterrupted (run by LeBron James and Maverick Carter) introduced us to go90. Tommy and I wanted to work with a platform or network that gave creators free reign (within budget, of course) to execute their vision. go90 was a great fit. Anyone looking to create content should absolutely put go90 on their list of places to pitch. And with producers like LeBron James, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and Funny or Die, setting up shows at go90, it’s a very exciting place to be.
You have an interesting partner in the project in LeBron’s production company, how has that benefited the project?
Very interesting indeed. Uninterrupted, LeBron’s production company with partner Maverick Carter, has been great for this project. As I said, they introduced us to go90. That was a big step because the relationship between those two entities helped us to get the project made. In addition to having a good business sense, Uninterrupted has been an excellent creative partner. They’ve let Tommy and I make the project we want to make, and the few times they’ve stepped in with ideas, they were always in service of the show, helping to preserve its unique tone. And, of course, with their extensive rolodex of the sports world, they’ve been able to help us book some great athletes and broadcasters on NOW WERE TALKING (Shawne Merriman, Arian Foster, Marcedes Lewis, Curt Menefee, Mike Hill, Jim Jackson, Martavis Bryant, and Landry Fields, to name a few).
What has the marketing support from a company like Verizon been for this?
go90 is a new venture, and, while it’s still in its infancy as a digital platform, you can see how excited they are to get behind their shows. They’ve partnered with Complex to do some really fun things in the social media space. They’ve done some internet marketing on other sites like FunnyorDie and Vice. And they’ve put together a 30-second commercial that runs on the NFL Network and on Thursday Night Football. For a digital show to get an advertisement on TV is very cool.
Who were some of the athletes or former athletes you spoke to when creating the characters?
I’m not sure we spoke to any athletes specifically when creating the show, but we did do a deep dive with our research, reading and looking at everything we could get our hands on when it came to this sports-to-broadcasting transition. Tommy and I love a piece in the The New Yorker about Jerome Bettis working with an opera coach up at ESPN, doing tongue-twisters and whatnot. The two of them would look at tape of Bettis performing on camera and the opera coach would critique it. One video that made us laugh is the famous clip of Dan Marino punching the table during the broadcast because he can’t get his words right . The research for the show was a lot of fun and led to a lot of late nights, because we were laughing so much at the things we were finding.
From “Magic/Bird” to a spot on “Ballers,” you have been in and around projects tied to sports. Is it easier or harder to find an audience for such projects today?
American audiences will always give a sports comedy or drama a chance. But just like everything in entertainment today, because there are so many networks and platforms to choose from, if something is going to get made, it has to be fantastic. If it doesn’t feel unique or well thought out, people aren’t going to give it a chance.
Have you crossed paths with Larry or Earvin since the play?
I haven’t seen either in a few years, but both were unbelievably nice throughout the production of the play. After the play closed, my wife and I went and visited Larry at his office in Indianapolis. We had a great conversation talking about the play, but we stopped talking basketball, and we just started talking everyday life. Karaoke, wine, cornhole…it was a blast. Larry Bird was my favorite basketball player before I did the play, and it was fun for me to see through this special project what a great guy he is.
How much did your background as an athlete come into play when developing “Now We’re Talking”?
Maybe just a little. I’m 6’5″, so my size coupled with my sports background puts me in the world as a believable pro athlete (as least it does in my own head). When I’m writing for myself, setting the show in a sports world seems like a natural fit. In Magic/Bird, director Thomas Kail and I wanted to put a lot of basketball moves in the show, because we knew, for the most part, I could pull them off. For NOW WE’RE TALKING, Tommy and I weren’t interested in showing sports on the screen because 1) we didn’t have the budget to do it well and 2) we get very annoyed when we watch a sports movie or TV show and the actor playing a great athlete does not look athletic. Still, I like to believe that I have a little bit of athletic prowess left, so I do throw a football to Arian Foster (I airmailed it over his head).
Have you gotten any response from those who have actually made the transition professionally?
Well, we have a lot of great cameos in the show and they’ve all been really supportive. Shawne Merriman and Jim Jackson are on the show this season and it was great to talk to them about their transition from the sports world into life after sports. One thing you see that doesn’t change in the transition: work ethic. With both Shawne and Jim, I saw the work ethic that made them so successful as athletes go right into their media training. These two wanted to be great on set – they went over their lines, pitched ideas. The great athletes are used to being great, and you see that continue in their future endeavors.
Do you think the sports as entertainment genre will continue to grow and if so, why?
There’s always been a market for sports movies and sports TV and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Sports entertainment is powerful in America because sports are so ingrained in our culture. Professional sports have this cool blend of reality and fantasy. Many Americans played sports as children, so they can relate to sports entertainment because they can see themselves in the athletes. But so few American get to be professional athletes, so there’s that fantastical element where people are curious and eager to see what that world is like – get a peek behind the curtain. Sports will always be a great backdrop for a story.
On the business side, you’re seeing entertainment right now making a move to grab more niche audiences, and letting go of the traditional network idea of developing shows with mass appeal. The key to many of these new shows is to grab the niche audience and then hopefully broaden out. I call sports fans the biggest niche audience in America, so if shows can find ways to captivate sports fans, that’s a huge niche audience, and you’re already starting with a nice fan base. Hopefully, NOW WERE TALKING can be the new sports comedy that attracts sports fans all over the country.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Tommy and I are now working on the script for our next idea, and we’re starting to put together ideas for Season 2 of NOW WE’RE TALKING. I love acting for television, film, and theater, but with this current project, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy producing. I’m looking forward to adding a couple more producing projects in the near future.
Check out NOW WE’RE TALKING on go90.com or the FREE go90 app today!