Winning Time, the fictional series that detailed the origins of the Lakers ’80s dynasty, has played its last quarter. HBO announced today that the series is done, something that showrunners say was a casualty of low ratings exacerbated by the WGA/SAG strike.
The ratings dropped 50% in the second season, and producers knew it would likely spell the end. Winning Time is based on Jeff Pearlman’s 2014 book Showtime, and he took to Twitter earlier this year to let fans know HBO was looking at the dwindling numbers.
“I’m telling you — the future of ‘Winning Time’ hangs in the balance,” he posted in August. “We need viewers. The strikes are crippling. Please help spread the word. Season 2 is amazing. But … HBO is big on [numbers].”
In an interview with Vulture, executive producer Kevin Messick (who is also part of the creative team of Succession, the HBO juggernaut that recently aired its series finale) said not having its stars available to promote it hurt the show.
“We were able to do our junket right before the strike, but we have a big ensemble cast — the Oscar-winning movie stars and new actors — that are all exciting to talk to when you promote a show like ours. It’s not centered on one person. We have a lot of assets to help promote the show, and we weren’t able to employ any of them. Yeah, that was definitely a frustration for us.”
Messick also cited the expense of a period production like Winning Time, which won raves for its attention to the detail of the era. But it didn’t have support from many of its subjects. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Norm Nixon, and Jerry West, who was so upset with his portrayal he threatened a lawsuit, all said the show took liberties with their characters and the truth they lived through.
“You replaced the real Jerry West — a consummate professional — with his polar opposite, then portrayed this lie to the public as genuine,” a letter to HBO from West’s lawyer said. “You thereby violated the law.”
The episode aired on Sunday is now the series finale, with an ending that Messick says HBO allowed them to tailor to a Season 2 ending instead of the one they would have done had the show gone longer. One person who did enjoy the series was Jeanie Buss, to whom Messick showed the alternate ending to since it involves her and her father.
Messick says he’s not opposed to a Season 3 of Winning Time on another network once the strike ends.
“I think the plan is this: If the universe wants more Lakers, the universe knows where to reach us.”
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