Tug Coker’s IMDB page includes a memorable multi-episode guest spot on “The Office,” a stint playing Larry Bird on Broadway, and currently, a starring role in a ribald yet charmingly empathetic comedy, titled “Now We’re Talking,” that satirizes the sports media.
Facebook’s most ruthlessly precise algorithm couldn’t do a better job in pinpointing pop-culture interests at this address.
Oh, and Coker is also a loyal and legitimate Celtics fan who describes “Now We’re Talking,” which streams on the CW Seed app, as a scrappy underdog by using a Celtics analogy.
" ‘Now We’re Talking’ is a series that punches above its weight and once people discover it, I think they really enjoy it,'’ said Coker, whose local ties include a master of fine arts degree from the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University. “So, maybe ‘NWT’ is the Jerry Sichting of TV shows? Next stop for ‘NWT’: the Marcus Smart of shows.”
"Now We’re Talking,'' which recently released its second season of eight half-hour episodes for streaming, comes from the same phylum of raucous sports-centered comedies as the former FX hit “The League” and IFC’s “Brockmire.” The show has already had some success: Its first season, which could be found on Verizon’s go90 network, was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in the Short Form New Media — Original category.
Both seasons are currently available on CW Seed (available on smart phones, laptops, Apple TV, Roku, and the usual streaming services), and it’s being given an opportunity to build an audience of which it is worthy: The network has been promoting it on its home page alongside the wildly popular "Schitt’s Creek,'' which cleaned up at the Emmy Awards last Sunday.
"The best way I can describe it,'' said Coker, “is that it’s made by people who love sports and comedy for people who love sports and comedy, but also like a good story that has some heart, too. We hope it’s relatable even to people who might not be sports fans.”
The show stars Coker and Tommy Dewey, both of whom created, write, and executive produce the program (along with Maverick Carter, LeBron James’s longtime friend and business partner), as a pair of ex-NFL quarterbacks trying to embark on second careers as broadcasters while carrying scars from their playing days.
Dewey’s character was the more successful and confident player, a one-time Pro Bowler whose struggles with the end of relative stardom are subtle at first ("I’m doing fine,'' Dewey’s character, Tommy, says to Coker’s character, also named Tug, upon encountering him at broadcasting school, “I’ve got a condo in Sedona.”)
Coker, who effortlessly mixes bewilderment and deadpan, portrays a career backup who takes the broadcasting quest more seriously than Tommy, but encounters more roadblocks because of a lesser level of fame.
"Doing this has made me appreciate how some players who weren’t big names on the field have been successful in broadcasting,'' said Coker, the conversation turning to the well-deserved success of journeyman players such as Louis Riddick and Dan Orlovsky at ESPN, ''because it’s much, much harder to get the opportunity. Even if you don’t have much to say or no charisma on camera, if you’re a superstar, you’re Emmitt Smith or Joe Montana, you’re going to get a chance if you want one, even if it’s just as a hot-taker.
“The athletes who were fringe players really have to prove that they’re good at this, sometimes for a long time, before they get the really good opportunities. That sort of ties into my character’s hope in this show, that he was a backup as a player but can be a starter as a broadcaster, and the challenges that come with trying to prove that.”
Coker, who stands 6 feet 5 inches, was an athlete himself, a high school basketball star who spent one year at William & Mary and transferred to Virginia with hopes of playing there before ultimately hanging up the high tops and turning toward acting.
The hoop skills came in handy when he landed the role of Larry Legend in 2012 in the brief Broadway run of "Magic/Bird,'' which detailed the legends' friendship. The show lasted just 38 performances, but it has a legacy. Director Thomas Kail followed that run by taking on the same duties with a little show called “Hamilton.” And Coker got to build a bond with Bird, his basketball hero.
"I met with him a couple of times,'' said Coker. “At Conseco Fieldhouse [where the Pacers play], and then at his home. He couldn’t have been better. At one point, I noticed a picture he had of John Havlicek hanging on his wall. I mentioned to him, you know, me getting excited about the Celtics a little bit and being there with my hero, that Havlicek was my dad’s favorite player. Larry took it down, signed the glass, and said, ‘Here you go.’ I gave it to my dad for Father’s Day. It was just such a nice gesture. You hear a lot of stories about him doing stuff like that.”
Coker, who has an aunt that lives in Arlington and spent time in Lexington growing up, chuckled while saying that his height was probably a factor in him landing his role on "The Office,'' which aired on NBC from 2005-13 and is probably more popular than ever due to new audiences discovering it on Netflix. He was cast to play one of the two brothers of Jim Halpert, who was played by Newton’s John Krasinski. Krasinski is 6-4, so the brothers had to look more like power forwards than point guards.
Coker appeared on three episodes of "The Office,'' including the two-part wedding episode between Krasinski’s Jim and Jenna Fischer’s Pam in Season 6. Coker’s character, Pete Halpert, is the one that cues the music during one of the more memorable scenes in the show’s run, when Chris Brown’s “Forever” plays during the wedding in clever homage to a popular viral video at the time.
Andy Buckley, who portrayed Dunder-Mifflin boss David Wallace on "The Office,'' appears in the fourth episode of the new season of “Now We’re Talking” as a Jim Nantz-type.
"The main thing I took away from ‘The Office’ was how happy everyone was to be together in that cast and crew and to be able to do what they did,'' Coker said. “You’d have Ed Helms and Creed Bratton playing music together, and there was just a happy vibe about things, a sense that they knew they had a good thing. It was how you hoped a show like that would be. It’s really what you strive for in anything, right?”