With thoroughbred talent both behind and in front of the cameras, the HBO drama series “Luck” looked like it was primed to go the distance when it made its debut on Jan. 29. In fact, its opening-night ratings were high enough to secure a second-season pickup from the cable network the very next morning.
But the series’ own luck came to an abrupt end March 14, when HBO announced it was immediately canceling the show in the wake of a tragic accident involving a horse — the third horse fatality to occur during production, according to Deadline Hollywood.
In an unattributed statement, the cable network said it “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 the show’s rapidly dwindling viewership (down from 1.2 million to barely 500,000 viewers in a mere six weeks) likely also played a factor in the decision, the mounting pressures from animal-rights activists and just plain common sense finally brought an end to the show.
“Luck” had been a public relations and economic boon to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, which played host to both the show’s fictional characters and its real-life cast and crew. While the park’s annual revenues will continue to be robust as it brings in an average $200 million annual profit, Santa Anita’s director of community service and special projects, Pete Siberell, said the show will be missed.
“I think it’s sad all the way around. It’s an awful incident that happened with the horse last week, and it’s something that has an effect on everybody, not only the crew but people around the racetrack who worked on the show,” said Siberell. “The city of Arcadia and surrounding areas will be affected by lack of revenue now. We had a big time and energy investment with marketing campaigns and merchandising, and it’s all gone.”
According to Siberell, the incident involved a female horse “that had just been vet-checked” and was being led to her stable at the start of a day of filming. The horse inexplicably “reared up on her trainer and came back down and landed on her head.”
While Siberell notes that such tragedies are common in the world of horse racing, the incident nonetheless drew immediate attention from the media.
“It was an accident that’s more common than you think but was totally unexpected and couldn’t have been prevented,” said Siberell. “This cancellation is strictly HBO’s decision. There was going to be a meeting between HBO and the American Humane Association the next day, scheduled right after this incident, but it never happened.
In the grand scheme of things, the show’s revenues were not key to our success, but it was a nice revenue stream that we’ll have to replace another way.”