With the recent cancellation of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” after just two seasons, HBO has handed the Los Angeles Lakers a historic defeat. The first season of “Winning Time” ended with the Lakers winning the 1980 NBA championship; Season 2 went through victory in 1982 and ended (now embarrassingly) with the team’s crushing loss in 1984 to the Boston Celtics.
And that goes for “Winning Time” too – there will be no rematch with the Celtics in 1985, when the Lakers finally defeated their rivals in the NBA Finals. There will be no repeat result in 1987 (the Celts beat the Houston Rockets and won again in 1986) when Magic Johnson won the Rubber Series against Larry Bird. And there definitely won’t be a coup de grace in 1988 that cemented the Lakers The Team of the 80s.
It’s an inappropriate end to a good series (with one excellent theme song) features an impressive cast, cool visual effects that recreate the era, and even some solid basketball. But we have an idea: Just as the conclusion of the 1984 NBA Finals didn’t mean the end of the Showtime Lakers, what if it wasn’t the end of the “Showtime” adaptation?
“Winning Time” is based on Jeff Pearlman’s 2014 book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” The series was called “Showtime” in its pilot phase, but HBO was so concerned with not having a show with the same name as a competing premium cable channel that the project was renamed after launch.
What if the very same rival, now officially called Paramount+ with Showtime, could save the series, rename it “Showtime” and actually show more actual “win times” for the team? As Pearlman himself put it exactly a month ago, “There’s no way a Lakers show can end in 1984.”
Well, this one did.
The HBO version ended with a strange (and somewhat crazy) scene in the middle of the court in which Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and daughter Jeannie Buss (Hadley Robinson) shout to the audience that they own the team. The scene, as if an entire series ended with the defeat of 1984, was not in the original plans.
“Winning Time,” said executive producer Kevin Messick vulture that he received a call from HBO in January: “They said, ‘Think about it so that while it’s in production you have a chance to figure out how it might end if unfortunately that was the end.’ ”
The screaming scene, which included a salute to Seagram’s whiskey, was “a new scene created to directly address the question HBO asked us,” Messick explained. Producers told Reilly and Robinson the scene was their “safety valve in case things don’t go the way we want.”
Things didn’t go their way.
The final scene, which was not included in the early access screenings sent to the press, was followed by a text epilogue that informed viewers about the rest of the decade. We suspect it was serviceable, but also about as exciting as a mid-range jump shot in the three-point era.
The cancellation of “Winning Time” came as no surprise to Messick, Pearlman and the rest of the team, which included executive producer Adam McKay. Messick described the show’s ratings for Season 1 as “OK.” We would agree with this assessment.
Season 2 was “frustrating” for its own reasons, Messick told Vulture. Due to actor and writer strikes, the ensemble cast was unable to promote the show (aside from an initial outing scrutinizing it). Although the quality of the show increased, TV ratings declined.
Casey Bloys, the HBO programming chief who initially told Messick that “Winning Time” couldn’t air on “Showtime,” gave him a heads-up weeks into the second season. “It doesn’t look good,” said Messick, who was also HBO’s executive producer. Succession,” Bloys remembers telling him.
It was too late. However, nothing is too late these days. We now live in the long-tail era, where the existence of series is no longer a fleeting thing and content can truly be discovered over time. You know, unless Max removes everything.
Our big idea is not outside the realm of possibility these days. Canceled series like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Manifest,” “Lucifer” and more have found a home — and success — on other platforms. Showtime rescued the Neil Patrick Harris rom-com series “Un Coupled” from its recent integration into Paramount+ after it was canceled by Netflix.
When asked by Vulture about the potential for a “Winning Time” revival elsewhere, Messick said that they “haven’t really looked into it yet.” Luckily, Kev, we do. (We even reached out to Showtime but haven’t heard back yet.)
The rest of our pitch goes something like this: Although Messick has had to accept that Winning Time was relatively expensive to produce as a period piece, he’s willing to compromise a little on the budget. “We know how to do the show really, really well, and if anyone wants to ask how to do it a little cheaper, they can call us,” he said.
Do you know which premium cable brand is traditionally considered a “slightly cheaper” version of HBO? Bingo. “If the universe wants more Lakers, the universe knows where to get us,” Messick told Vulture.
Hey, Showtime? It’s showtime.