With an illustrious film career spanning more than 40 years, Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman gave the nod to revisiting the small screen in Luck – a move that sparked some curiosity. As luck would have it, though, the drama, which showed so much promise that a second season was commissioned after the pilot, has now been canned by HBO after the death of a third horse during production, writes Debashine Thangevelo

DAVID Milch’s (Hillstreet Blues, LA Law, NYPD Blue and Deadwood) script for Luck must have been really something to twist the arms of Hollywood heavyweights such as Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte.

But he did. Perhaps it was Milch’s childhood fascination with horse racing that helped lend authenticity to the tale of a mob boss called Chester “Ace” Bernstein (Hoffman), who, after spending three years in the joint, comes up with an ingenious plan to use the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles to get even with those responsible for his incarceration. He is helped by his loyal friend and driver, Gus Demitriou (Farina).

Viewers are thrust into the exciting world of horse racing where high-stakes betting and the adrenalin rush of every race, amid the dramatic showdowns and artful plotting turn Luck into a compelling watch.

The series started out using 50 trained horses but, after three died during production, it ended up taking a lot of flak from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) and the American Humane Association (AHA).

Eventually, HBO decided to pull the plug on Luck.

Naturally, Milch – and the cast and crew – didn’t take the news well.

On the day they found out, he told Hitfix.com the mood was one of “angry incredulity”.

He continues: “There was back and forth about it, but their (HBO) feelings was clearly that the situation was untenable, that there was really no protracted dispute.

“We were presented with an accomplished fact. And I don’t say that with any resentment. They made the decision they felt they had to make.”

Milch denies allegations of negligence in caring for, or treatment of those horses.

“This was an incident equivalent to you walking down the street, being frightened by something, taking a misstep and falling. The horse (the third one) was not being asked to do anything remotely dangerous, or that would put him in jeopardy. In any case, this was something that generated its own momentum and fed off itself.”

A statement released by HBO, said: “Safety is always of paramount concern. We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher, in fact, than any protocols existing in horse racing anywhere, with many fewer incidents than occur in racing, or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future. Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.

“We are immensely proud of this series, the writing, the acting, the film-making, the celebration of the culture of horses and everyone involved in its creation.”

For the TV industry, this is an unfortunate turn of events – especially with such a strong cast and first-rate writing being canned.

Talk about encountering some bad luck!

• Luck debuts on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Friday at 9.30pm.