Here’s the statement from HBO:
“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 many fewer incidents than occur in racing or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, 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.”
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Said Mann and Milch in a statement: “The two of us loved this series, loved the cast, crew and writers. This has been a tremendous collaboration and one that we plan to continue in the future.”
Wednesday’s news comes the day after the death of the third horse during production on the Dustin Hoffman/Nick Nolte drama. Despite its hefty hype and critical praise, Luck has been a ratings underperformer for the network, averaging about 625,000 total viewers per episode. The series, a passion project for racing fan Milch, was renewed for a second season immediately after its disappointing January premiere in order to fit production into the window between racing at Santa Anita.
Production on the sophomore season was under way Tuesday at the racetrack in Arcadia, Calif., when the third horse was injured. Dr. Gary Beck, a veterinarian from the California Horse Racing Board, was on hand and noted the horse was on her way back to the stall when she “reared, flipped over backward and struck her head on the ground.”
Attending vet Heidi Agnic administered immediate aid, and it was determined that humane euthanasia was appropriate, Beck noted.
Tuesday’s incident marked the third time a horse has been put down as part of Luck; two horses were injured and euthanized during production of season one.
HBO had been working closely with the American Humane Association and racing industry experts within the CHRB to implement safety protocols that go “above and beyond” typical film TV industry standards and practices, with prerace exams performed by a CHRB-certified vet with radiographs taken of the legs of all horses being considered for use in simulated racing sequences.
HBO’s decision to cancel the drama comes after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called late Tuesday for the production of the series to be shut down.
“HBO, David Milch and Michael Mann should be ashamed. Three horses have now died, and all the evidence we have gathered points to sloppy oversight, the use of unfit or injured horses and disregard for the treatment of racehorses,” the animal-rights group said in a statement to THR.
“We contacted HBO and producer/star Dustin Hoffman last week regarding reports we’d received stating that oversight on the set was lax, and we urged them to help make things safer for the horses. But we received no response. Yesterday, we went to law enforcement about the deaths of the first two horses, Outlaw Yodeler and Marc’s Shadow, because one was drugged and the other was arthritic. We will want answers on HBO’s latest casualty. Filming must stop now.”
On Wednesday evening, PETA issued a response praising HBO’s decision to stop production on Luck.
“Knowing that old, unfit and drugged horses were forced to race for this series, PETA is glad that HBO has finally decided to cancel the show. We thank the whistleblowers who refused to let these horses’ deaths go unnoticed. Should Milch, Mann and HBO decide to start the series up again, PETA will be calling on them, as we have done from the start, to use stock racing footage instead of endangering horses for entertainment purposes. PETA has called on law enforcement to investigate the deaths of the horses used on the set and to bring charges as appropriate,” read the organization’s statement.