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….