With the recent cancellation of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” after just two seasons, HBO has left the Los Angeles Lakers off on a historic loss. “Winning Time” Season 1 ended with the Lakers’ 1980 NBA Championship; Season 2 zoomed through their 1982 win and ended (now awkwardly) with the team’s crushing ’84 loss to the Boston Celtics.
And that will be that for “Winning Time” — there will be no rematch with the Celtics in ’85, which is when the Lakers finally defeated their rivals in the NBA Finals. There will be no repeat result in ’87 (the Celts defeated the Houston Rockets to win again in 1986), when Magic Johnson won the rubber series against Larry Bird. And there will definitely be no coup de grace in 1988, which cemented the Lakers as the team of the ’80s.
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It’s an unfitting end to a good series (with an excellent theme song) with impressive casting, cool visual effects to replicate the era, and even some solid basketball. But we’ve got an idea: Just like the conclusion of the 1984 NBA Finals wasn’t the end of the Showtime Lakers, what if this wasn’t the end for the “Showtime” adaptation?
“Winning Time” was based on Jeff Pearlman’s 2014 book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” At pilot, the series was still named “Showtime,” but HBO became so consumed with not having a show with the same name as a rival premium-cable channel that the project was renamed after pickup.
What if that very same rival, now officially named Paramount+ with Showtime, saved the series, renamed it “Showtime,” and actually got to show more of the team’s actual “winning” times? As Pearlman himself put it exactly one month ago: “no fucking way can a Lakers show end in 1984.”
Wanna add: There's a lot of "author begs viewers to watch show." Fair. But I'm NOT begging for me. I'm begging because this saga is not complete, and needs to continue. For the actors, the crew, the storyline. Plus, no fucking way can a Lakers show end in 1984 #winningtime pic.twitter.com/lxvlAXIErX
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) August 19, 2023
Well, this one did.
HBO’s version ended on an odd (and somewhat maniacal) mid-court scene that follows Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and daughter Jeannie Buss (Hadley Robinson) as they scream to the rafters about owning the team. The scene, like ending an entire series with the ’84 loss, wasn’t in the original plans.
“Winning Time” executive producer Kevin Messick told Vulture that he got a call from HBO in January: “They said, ‘Think about it so that you have the option while you’re still in production to figure out how it might end if, sadly, that was the end of it.'”
The shouting scene, which included a shoutout to Seagram’s whiskey, was “a new scene created to directly address the question that HBO gave us,” Messick explained. Producers told Reilly and Robinson the scene would be their “safety valve in case things don’t go the way we want them to go.”
Things didn’t go their way.
The finale scene, which was not included in the early-access screeners sent to press, was then followed by a text epilogue that caught viewers up on the rest of the decade. It was serviceable, we guess, but also about as exciting as a mid-range jump shot in the three-point era.
The “Winning Time” cancellation did not come as any surprise to Messick, Pearlman, and the rest of the team, which also included executive producer Adam McKay. Messick described the show’s ratings for Season 1 as “OK.” We’d agree with that assessment.
Season 2 was “frustrating” for its own reason, Messick told Vulture. Due to the actors and writers strikes, the ensemble cast could not promote the show (save an initial junket that made it in under the wire). Though the quality of the show went up, the TV ratings declined.
Casey Bloys, the HBO programming chief who initially told Messick “Winning Time” could not go to air as “Showtime,” gave him a heads up weeks into Season 2. “It’s not looking good,” Messick, who also executive produced HBO’s “Succession,” recalls Bloys telling him.
It was too late. Except, nothing is too late these days. We now live in the long-tail era now when the existence of series is no longer a fleeting thing, and content can truly be discovered over time. You know, unless Max removes it all.
Our big idea is not out of the realm of possibilities these days. Canceled series like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Manifest,” “Lucifer,” and more have found homes — and success — on other platforms. Showtime, before its recent integration into Paramount+, saved Neil Patrick Harris rom-com series “Uncoupled” after it was canceled by Netflix.
When asked by Vulture about the potential for a “Winning Time” revival elsewhere, Messick said they “haven’t really dug into that.” Thankfully, Kev, we have. (We even reached out to Showtime, but have yet to hear back.)
The rest of our sales pitch goes a little something like this: Though Messick copped to the fact that as a period piece, “Winning Time” was a relatively pricey show to make, he’s willing to compromise a bit on the budget. “We know how to make the show really, really well, and if somebody wants to ask about how to make it a little cheaper, they can call us,” he said.
You know what premium-cable brand has traditionally been considered a “little cheaper” version of HBO? Bingo. “If the universe wants more Lakers, the universe knows where to reach us,” Messick told Vulture.
Hey, Showtime? It’s showtime.
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