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HBO letting it ride on 'Luck'

The layered horse racing series 'Luck' is a hard fit for TV. But it has David Milch and Michael Mann in control, and Dustin Hoffman heads the ensemble. So it's got a shot.

January 22, 2012|Scott Timberg

To heighten the tension a bit: Both are known to be strong-willed, and Mann apparently banned Milch from the set while directing the pilot episode. (HBO has conceded some "clashes" despite what it calls an otherwise fruitful working experience.)

Most television shows, of course, have a single chief, with others working as subordinates. "This isn't 'most,' " Mann asserts. "David has shows he's run, I've had shows I've run ... so this is different. Dave, Eric [Roth, a co-executive producer] and I had lots of conversations about the script, but ultimately that's gotta be [Milch's] domain. Making that world there, making it manifest on film, that becomes what I do -- from casting, location, interpretation, all that. That goes all the way through to color timing. And David comes in and sees the finished product."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 24, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
HBO's "Luck": A Jan. 22 Calendar section article about HBO's new series "Luck" said executive producer and director Michael Mann had devoted the last two decades to movies and hadn't done a major television show since "Miami Vice." The article should have mentioned Mann's television work on "Crime Story," "Drug Wars" and "Robbery Homicide Division."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 29, 2012 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
HBO's "Luck": A Jan. 22 article about HBO's new series "Luck" said executive producer and director Michael Mann had devoted the last two decades to movies and hadn't done a major television show since "Miami Vice." The article should have mentioned Mann's television work on "Crime Story," "Drug Wars" and "Robbery Homicide Division."

Says Hoffman: "How should this arrangement -- how could this arrangement -- be any different than any marriage, or parents with their children? At a certain point, it's an arm wrestle over vision, if you care about what you're doing. ... And that's what happens in the house: 'What kind of party is this gonna be?' "

Milch says that despite speculations that two control freaks could never work together, it's been the best collaboration of his life. "We don't always have the experience of being able to trust our collaborators in the most fundamental ways," he says. "And in an exercise of faith, the more you believe, the more you accomplish."

While the show's two helmsmen speak about how much they loved working together, Hoffman begins choking on the water he's sipping and quickly recovers. "He acts that way," Milch says in a soft voice, "when he hears a lie."

Unlikely trio

Jockeys, gamblers, executive producers ... will viewers have the patience to follow all of these twists and turns? HBO is certainly hoping so: This show was not cheap to produce.

December's pilot drew 1.14 million viewers, losing 62% from the audience for "Boardwalk Empire," which preceded it. And horse racing is hardly a going concern for most 21st century Americans. But in some ways, HBO really is different, and it may be that shows like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" have stretched the attention span of at least a significant fraction of the television audience.

The cable network likes to boast about its unconventional programming, and many of its shows do smash the medium's orthodoxies.

One of the things that's unconventional about "Luck," after all, is that its three main players are in television right now at all.

Milch is revered by many, and his and Steven Bochco's "NYPD Blue" was an unambiguous success. But neither of his last two shows -- "Deadwood" and "John From Cincinnati" -- got past a third season. Besides a few cameos, Hoffman has never done a television program. And Mann has devoted his last two decades to movies like "The Insider" and "Collateral" -- he's not done a major television show since producing "Miami Vice" in the '80s.

He doesn't feel like he ever left the small screen. "I studied film in Europe," Mann says about his early days, in the '60s. "And in the European tradition, directors do opera, they do TV, they do movies. ... You're motivated by the material, that's it.

"And it's no secret: The best work, the best content, happening right now is on cable. When we look back at this 10 years from now, we might realize we were fortunate enough to be part of the golden age of television."

Hoffman adds: "Which I think comes from having no committee," and letting show runners, not network suits, really run their own shows. The result is a series, he says, in which he and the other actors are able to feel their way to a perfect scene. "Here you're allowed to work the way a painter, or someone writing a novel, works. You go to work each day, and it starts to lead you to something. That's what they've allowed me to be a part of here."

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calendar@latimes.com

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