Did HBO Cancel 'Luck' To Get Out Of A Contentious Production?

Television
by Kevin Jagernauth
March 21, 2012 3:50 PM
15 Comments
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It has been just about a week since HBO closed the lights on Michael Mann and David Milch's horsetrack series, "Luck." And while the death of a horse (the third to pass away during production of the series) was cited as the reason the cable network pulled the plug on the show, it likely wasn't the only factor at play. Even though the network quickly greenlit a second season, ratings had been lagging for the show, and though HBO has often held on to programs even if viewers didn't always follow right away, we're beginning to wonder if behind-the-scenes tensions also contributed.

That Michael Mann and David Milch battled on the show is no secret. Back in January, prior to the show's premiere, Atlantic ran a great breakdown of how the show's two fiercely creative and stubborn executive producers divided responsibilities in order to avoid stepping on each other's toes. In short, Milch was given total control on the scripts, and though he would toss around ideas with Mann before writing, at the end of the day, what he penned would be what was filmed. But on the other hand, Mann was the leader on set and in the editing bay, and even when he wasn't directing, he created a rigorously detailed binder for those hired to shoot the show to follow, going all the way down to shooting angles to lighting. But even with these rules, there appears to still have been tension.

Speaking recently with the LA Times, Nick Nolte recounts a helluva anecdote he heard on set, where Milch, furious that Mann was still in the editing bay, literally took a baseball bat with him to confront the director, vowing, "I'm going to kill him." "An hour and a half later, Milch comes back and John [Ortiz] asks him what happened," Nolte said. "Milch says something like, ‘I went down there and kicked in the door and Mann was there hunched over the Avid [editing console] and he looked back at me and then he just kept working.’ Milch stood there for something like 15 minutes and Mann kept looking back every minute or two but he also kept working. And finally I guess Milch realized that Mann was working as fast as he could." 

While Mann and Milch told Vulture to take that story with a grain of salt, we wonder how many other stories are yet to be told about the friction between Mann and Milch, and no matter how supportive a network is, bad blood on the creative team is something few want to deal with (especially if a show still needs to find its footing and an audience). Was the death of the horse the final straw of more that had been happening off camera, and certainly not helped by waning ratings? Or did HBO shutter a show purely for the welfare of its equine stars? Guess we'll never know....

Television
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15 Comments

  • Krishnan | May 7, 2012 5:00 PMReply

    Too bad! I though this was the best show on TV to come along since Breaking Bad. It was awesome. Incredible story and actors. It will be misssed!

  • Chris | March 31, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    I am very sad to see my favorite show end after one season. since Sopranos I have not been so hooked. I was so happy to see a show around horse racing

  • laura | March 29, 2012 7:39 PMReply

    I loved the show, the finale was great! I have horses, they are accident prone and race horses are the worst for it. It's how it is. Work it out big shots, and bring the show back!!!!

  • Orkan | March 29, 2012 9:34 AMReply

    Bring back Luck !!! it was a great and unique serie about horse racing..I think people are not interested in Horse Racing anymore :/// I love the horses..

  • Daniel Brenner | March 26, 2012 12:47 PMReply

    First Deadwood, now Luck. Bring Luck back! The ratings will grow. As for the horses, why not contact the NFL. They use the over-head cable camera which provides fantastic views. Please!!

  • LA2000 | March 23, 2012 1:34 AMReply

    No one cancels a production the size of "Luck" over the death of a horse. This is Hollywood. Clive Davis's Grammy party marched on with Whitney Houston's dead body upstairs. "Twilight Zone" was finished even after they killed one of the stars. Please. A horse is nothing to these people.

    This came down to money. As it always does.

  • Jay | March 21, 2012 7:12 PMReply

    A series simply about David Milch's life would suffice. That is all.

  • Tina | March 29, 2012 3:53 PM

    I agree! A series about David Milch's life would suffice. I thought "Luck" was outstanding and take the loss of the show in sorrow. There was nothing like it and I will eagerly snap up the DVDs

  • rotch | March 21, 2012 7:08 PMReply

    I think this Vulture interview answers must of the questions http://www.vulture.com/2012/03/michael-mann-david-milch-interview-luck-horses-cancellation.html
    I mean, it really sounds like the horses were the main thing. Ratings had little to do with it.

  • Max Linder | March 21, 2012 5:56 PMReply

    The show was canceled because every week less and less people watched. I wasn't a show that started off struggling in the ratings (with less than half a million people watching a few weeks it) The ratings just declined and HBO just thought Michael Mann, Dustin Hoffman (who I love but did not fine convincing in the role) and David Milch would be enough, these studios think should wait a few weeks before ordering a second season of a series(or a sequel to a film).

  • J.J. | March 21, 2012 5:15 PMReply

    It seems like the days of HBO allowing a show to air despite low ratings are over. They seem to announce a new project every day and they only have so much air time. It's a shame too. Few people remember "The Wire", the best crime series EVER, struggled ratings wise its entire run but HBO kept it on the air.

  • Mannn | March 22, 2012 2:21 AM

    The Wire wasn't expensive so HBO decided not to cancel it. If it was as expensive as Deadwood or Rome, it would've gotten the axe.

  • Christopher Gipson | March 21, 2012 4:30 PMReply

    I was really into this show so I'm sad that it was cancelled. I'm sure lagging ratings had more to do with the cancellation of the show than the welfare of the horses. HBO doesn't care about horses. As far as friction on the set of a series, I'm sure Luck isn't the first or the last for that matter to have creative flare ups.

  • Nik Grape | March 21, 2012 4:29 PMReply

    Well now it just sounds like this show was begging to get canceled, inadvertently or not. I'm no longer surprised as it sounds like it was just "meant to be."

  • tristan eldritch | March 21, 2012 4:28 PMReply

    I think it really was the horses - the other factors probably made the decision a lot easier, but I think HBO would have let it roll for a second season, seeing if it caught a second wind through word of mouth from people who'd watched the full season, DVD box-sets, awards, ect. But the bad publicity surrounding the horses, and the fact that, working the way they working, there was no way to guarantee no further fatalities in the future, the show just became completely untenable. Which is a shame, because it was a remarkable confluence of talent gathered together on one project - an amazing ensemble cast. Fair enough, Milch went in there with a baseball bat - but the point to remember is he didn't take a swing.

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