The clock has officially run out on Winning Time: HBO cancelled the ’80s basketball drama after two seasons, which turned Sunday’s Season 2 finale into a series finale and left fans dangling on a tough cliffhanger. But the show’s creative team did see the writing on the wall.
HBO told the Winning Time producers to prepare for the possibility that the show might end with Season 2 “back in January while we were still in production,” executive producer Kevin Messick tells Vulture. “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.’ So we did get a chance to prepare, which we appreciated.”
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The finale originally ended with the L.A. Lakers losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals. But the producers tacked on an optimistic epilogue with Jerry Buss and his daughter Jeanie toasting to their good fortune, along with a montage that told us where all the key players ended up. “To be clear, we never planned creatively to end at the ’84 Finals,” Messick stresses, adding that they prepared two different versions of the finale: one that ended with the Lakers losing, and one with the epilogue and montage, in case they were cancelled. (The former version was the one initially sent out to critics at the start of Season 2.)
The scene with Jerry and Jeanie “was a new scene created to directly address the question that HBO gave us,” Messick concedes. The montage, he notes, “could have run at the end of any season. But it works no matter how long we got to make the story because the success and the accomplishments of each of our characters are true no matter what year it airs.”
Winning Time returned for Season 2 last month, but the early ratings were not promising. Messick reveals that HBO boss Casey Bloys “called me a couple of weeks into Season 2, as a friend, and just said, ‘It’s not looking good.’ So it wasn’t a surprise for the final decision based on how it was performing.” He doesn’t totally shut the door on another network picking up the series, though. “There are definitely more stories to tell” in a potential Season 3 — the Lakers went on to beat the Celtics in two of the next three NBA Finals — and he’s leaving it up to fate: “If the universe wants more Lakers, the universe knows where to reach us.”
Were you hoping to see a Season 3 of Winning Time? Drop your thoughts on the finale and the show’s future in a comment below.
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