After two seasons, HBO has canceled Winning Time, a sports drama that chronicled the LA Lakers’ Showtime era in the 1980s.
The series’ second-season finale aired Sunday night, and that episode will also be its last, an HBO spokesperson confirmed to The Times on Monday, declining to comment further on the reasons for the cancellation.
However, Kevin Messick, executive producer of the series, cited a ratings slump during the series’ second season, as well as the actors’ inability to promote the show in light of ongoing strikes by members of SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America vulturewho spoke with Messick and was the first to report the end of the show on Sunday night.
Messick, who also served as an executive producer on “Succession,” told Vulture that HBO suggested showrunners film an alternate ending in January, before the strikes began, in case of an early exit.
The Season 2 finale (spoiler alert ahead) was supposed to show Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) sulking over his loss to the Boston Celtics after the 1984 NBA Finals. Instead, the substitute ending was shown, with owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) talking to his daughter Jeanie Buss (Hadley Robinson) about how he would one day take over the team, as well as a montage of the real-life characters and what they would later do in their role have made a career.
“Not the ending we envisioned,” said the show’s co-creator Max Borenstein tweeted on Sunday evening. “But nothing but gratitude and love.”
“9.5 years. “We made the show of my dreams,” co-creator Jim Hecht said in a separate tweet. “It wasn’t the ending we were hoping for, but I’m very grateful to everyone who watched and to @jeffpearlman for trusting me with his brilliant book.”
The show’s impending end was hinted at by Pearlman, whose book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” the series was based on. In recent months, Pearlman has been vocal about the weak ratings and encouraged viewers to tune in to the show on Sunday nights on HBO.
“I’m telling you – the future of ‘Winning Time’ hangs in the balance,” Pearlman said tweeted in mid-August. “We need spectators. The strikes are crippling. Please help spread the word. Season 2 is great. But…HBO is coming big [numbers].”
He added later In a separate tweet, he said he was “worried there won’t be a third season” and said he wanted the series to survive “for the sake of a cast of great young actors living it.”
And behind the scenes, HBO has also been transparent with its showrunners, Messick told Vulture. He said the network realized that given the show’s expensive budget, “we always knew that the ratings had to reach a certain level for the show to make sense.”
The first season, which ran concurrently with the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament in 2022, went well, but the Audience ratings fell by almost 50% for the second season, which debuted on August 6th. Shortly afterward, Messick said HBO boss Casey Bloys told him plans for the series were set.
“Casey had called me as a friend a few weeks into season two and just said, ‘It’s not looking good,'” Messick said. “So it was no surprise that the final decision was made based on performance.”
When asked if running the show during the strikes had an impact on the ratings decline, Messick said “one hundred percent” and mentioned the “large ensemble cast” that included Oscar winner Sally Field as Jessie Buss and Adrien Brody as Pat Riley belong.
“We have a lot of resources to promote the show but we couldn’t utilize any of them,” he added. “Yeah, that was definitely a frustration for us.”
The show has also been embroiled in controversy for its dramatization of Lakers legends, with former NBA player and Lakers executive Jerry West calling for a withdrawal in April 2022. West’s attorney called the show “an intentionally mischaracterization that has caused great distress to Jerry and his family.” Lakers Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also weighed in on the show’s critics on his Substack blogcalled it “deliberately dishonest” and “dismally dull.”