When HBO killed its racetrack drama “Luck” after the death of a third horse used in the series’ production made headlines, the cost to parent company Time Warner was $35 million, according to the media conglom’s first-quarter earnings report released Wednesday.
The earnings report comes on the heels of a new call by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to investigate the deaths of the show’s horses. PETA says it has obtained new evidence from a “whistleblower” who got access to internal documents of the American Humane Association, which was charged with overseeing the treatment — during production — of the 50 horses that HBO purchased to make “Luck.”
HBO had already green-lit a second season of “Luck,” and 11 / 2 episodes had been shot in mid-March, when the media got wind of a third horse that had to be euthanized — this time after the horse reared, fell backward and hit its head on the ground while being led back to its stall. The next day, HBO surprised the media, the show’s crew and PETA by announcing that it was canceling the show, in which Dustin Hoffman starred as a crime kingpin trying to take control of a racetrack. PETA had already filed its first complaint with the DA’s office, asking for an investigation into that death and the deaths of two other “Luck” horses. Those previous two horses were euthanized — one last year, one in 2010 — after breaking their legs while running “races” for the show or immediately after.
A chunk of the $35 million “impairment” that Time Warner listed in its earnings report as being “related to the cancellation of the HBO original series ‘Luck’ ” was spent paying off commitments to its creators and stars, as well as other production commitments on the series.
“They’ve lost a fortune, but the horses who died have paid a much bigger price,” said Kathy Guillermo, vice president at PETA.
One week before Time Warner’s latest earnings report was released, PETA submitted a new complaint with the Los Angeles County DA’s office and with the California Veterinary Medical Board. PETA said it has internal AHA documents that purport to show humane association staffers having concerns about possible drugging, name-swapping and underfeeding of horses. PETA contended the documents also show that AHA staffers had reported possible attempts to use horses too young to race, a failure to properly rest horses and a failure to report all injuries.
PETA also asked the DA’s office to look into whether a fourth horse used in the production of “Luck” died during the show’s hiatus because of injuries sustained as a result of how the horse was stabled.
Guillermo told The TV Column that the organization obtained the documents from a “whistleblower who was on the set during the filming of the show in the first season, who had access to AHA documents.”
HBO on Wednesday reiterated that the safety of the horses had been of paramount concern during production on the series and that “while we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happened and it was impossible to guarantee they wouldn’t in the future” and that, accordingly, they reached the difficult decision to cancel production.
In its new complaint with the DA’s office, PETA said it “does not have any evidence to suggest that AHA shared its concerns about any potentially illegal behavior with [the DA’s] office or other law enforcement.”
“It is also unknown whether AHA made any of the recommendations identified as necessary in its internal documents to ‘Luck’s’ producers,” PETA said. “Therefore, rather than relying on AHA’s investigation, PETA requests that your office conduct an independent investigation.”
An AHA spokesman in Washington told The TV Column on Wednesday the organization had not seen PETA’s latest complaint and therefore could not comment on specifics. But, in a phone conversation, the spokesman added, “Some of the things you mentioned [in PETA’s complaint] demonstrate the system was working, if our reps were seeing these types of things as reported in the complaint.”
“The safety and welfare of the horses was paramount and increased during the production of ‘Luck’ because of the second accident,” he continued.
Among the enhanced protocols the spokesman listed: AHA insisted on having a second veterinarian on site, demanded that the legs of the horses be x-rayed to make sure there were no unseen injuries or other conditions, instituted a number of additional checks including drawing blood and other procedures, and asked that the horses be microchipped so AHA could have access to their full medical histories.