Out of 'Luck': HBO pulls plug after 3rd horse dies

HBO’s “Luck” has run out.

Following the death of a horse used in the show - reportedly the third to die during production of the racetrack drama whose human stars include Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, the network announced Wednesday that “it is with heartbreak that executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann, together with HBO, have decided to cease all future production on the series ‘Luck.’

“Safety is always of paramount concern. We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher, in fact, than any protocols existing in horseracing anywhere, with fewer incidents than occur in racing or [that] befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures,” the statement said.

However, “accidents unfortunately happen, and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future. Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.

“We are immensely proud of this series, the writing, the acting, the filmmaking, the celebration of the culture of horses, and everyone involved in its creation,” said HBO.

Earlier Wednesday, it was reported that production involving horses had been suspended while an investigation was conducted of the most recent death, in which, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, a horse being walked back to the barn, reared and fell backwards, injuring itself to the extent that it had to be euthanized.

“Luck” had been something of a labor of love for Milch, the creator of HBO’s “Deadwood” and a longtime gambler and racing fan whose partnership with Mann had been rumored to be rocky at times, though they were joined at the hip during the show's promotion in January. (The two were quoted jointly in HBO’s statement, saying they “loved the cast, crew and writers. This has been a tremendous collaboration and one that we plan to continue in the future.")

Though HBO renewed “Luck” almost immediately after its Jan. 29 premiere, its ratings, never particularly high, have slid considerably since, and though HBO’s business model isn’t entirely ratings-dependent, it’s hard not to see those numbers as factoring in to the decision.

In a small group interview I participated in with Milch, Mann, Hoffman and Nolte in January, producers were asked specifically about the horses that formed such a big part of the show.

“The question isn’t how we work with our horses, is it?” asked Mann, not volunteering the information, later reported, that two horses had died during the filming of the first season.
“It’s a logistical thing. Very carefully, very responsibly, with vets present...all the time. We condition the horses carefully. The whole time that we have been on hiatus, our horses have been out to pasture. We’re bringing them back 70 days early to begin training. So very carefully, very responsibly.”

The finale of "Luck" is scheduled for March 25.