HBO Told ‘Winning Time’ Creatives to Prep Alternate Ending for Possible Series Finale in January

The series, which portrayed the L.A. Lakers in the 1980s, was canceled Sunday

Winning Time
Credit: HBO

The cancellation of HBO’s “Winning Time” after two seasons did not come as a complete surprise to executive producer Kevin Messick. He, along with his fellow creatives, was told back in January to prep a version of the ending in case the show’s season finale became a series finale.

“There were never any guarantees in today’s marketplace of a subsequent season, so the planning for the ‘what if’ scenario — if this was not just a season finale but the series finale — was from the conversation we had back in January while we were still in production,” Messick, who also an executive producer on “Succession,” told Vulture in an interview released following the finale.

“We got a call from HBO. 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.’”

Messick added, “So we did get a chance to prepare, which we appreciated. But to be clear, we never planned creatively to end at the ’84 finals.”

And prep they did. In January, they filmed a closing scene in which owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) tells his daughter Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) that he hopes she will take over the team one day, followed by a montage of what happened to the real-life Lakers stars.

Messick described the epilogue as “powerful and emotional,” adding, “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.”

The original Season 2 finale would have ended with Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) reflecting on the Lakers’ loss to the Boston Celtics, according to Vulture.

The series, based on Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty,” would have focused in Season 3 on the continued rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics, Messick told TheWrap.

“In real life, the Lakers come back and beat the Celtics the next year. So that would absolutely be at the heart of any Season 3,” Messick said. “In terms of the longevity of the show, there’s a lot more Laker stories to tell, a lot more characters, larger than life, as big and bigger than Magic [Johnson] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] that have yet to enter onto the stage.”

Additional seasons could have been based on Pearlman’s subsequent books about the Lakers, Messick said.