The Star-Crossed Careers of Michael Mann and David Milch

The revenge of WAR HORSE?

The decision to pull the plug on Luck — made jointly by HBO, Michael Mann and David Milch, at least according to official statements — due to the inability to keep the show’s horses alive, the strange, successful, snake-bitten careers of creators Michael Mann and David Milch took another weird turn.

Mann and Milch are obviously both successful, with mountains of cash, credits and platitudes to their names. Their respective talents, though, deserve even more.

For all their success, the resumes of Mann and Milch are also speckled with failures, and with projects that should have lasted longer, been better received, or worked out better creatively. These guys are giants of the film and television world, yet they’re not often mentioned in the same breath as Scorsese, Spielberg, and Davids Simon and Chase.

Their partnership on Luck, while reportedly contentious, seemed like a dream pairing along the lines of Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson, or Craig Finn and Friday Night Lights. Mann’s visual flair and Milch’s stylized dialogue would seem to fit together brilliantly, and that horse racing is a passion project for Milch also boded well.

The resultant show has been quite good, though Mann’s direction (and detailed instruction booklet for other directors) carries the day over Milch’s writing. Luck looks prettier than it sounds. Still, the show’s not so good that I’ve been able to avoid letting episodes pile up unwatched on my DVR. But there’s definitely potential…the bones of a great show are there. That potential will now be forever unrealized, however, as the death of three horses during production has doomed Luck to one-and-done Terriers territory. It’s a sad, strange ending to a show that once seemed unstoppable — how could a series involving Milch, Mann, Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, and the marketing power of HBO fail? Well, the series garnered low ratings aside from the animal deaths, though HBO did renew it for a second season. But it’s gone just the same.

Octavia from Rome rides a horse

Michael Mann earned his reputation as executive producer or two great-at-times network TV dramas: Crime Story and the iconic Miami Vice. Mann showed with those two shows, and with his early film directing efforts, that no one knows better where to put the camera, and no one knows better how to set tone visually and aurally. But he’s arguably only made one film that truly shows what he’s capable of, and I’m not sure any of his films are legitimate five-star or A+ efforts.

His films fall into a few different categories:

  • Shows potential (Thief, Manhunter)
  • Very good and underappreciated (Heat [although it’s obviously enjoyed a well-earned cult following], Collateral)
  • Decent but something doesn’t quite work (Public Enemies, The Insider, Ali, The Last of the Mohicans)
  • The outright disaster (Miami Vice)

The films that worked also didn’t do particularly well at the box office. Mann has never had a script that was of a quality to match his direction. That’s why his partnership with Milch once seemed so promising. For his part, Milch has created four major TV series after cutting his teeth as a writer on Hill Street Blues. His path has been no less odd than Mann’s.

  • NYPD Blue was a groundbreaking network show with a brilliant first season, but one which began a long slow descent to mediocrity after David Caruso left to go become a massive movie star and was replaced with Jimmy Smits.
  • Deadwood was one of the best television shows of all time, but was cancelled before its time after three seasons when HBO and Milch couldn’t reach a financial agreement. Two planned wrap-up movies never happened.
  • Milch’s HBO follow-up, John from Cincinnati, was a fiasco despite the involvement of Luke Perry.
  • Now, Luck has ended prematurely because they couldn’t figure out how to shoot with live horses (while keeping said horses alive).

So many times, both of these guys have come close to achieving greatness only to just miss. Other times, they’ve actually achieved it only to have the situation end badly or go unnoticed. Losing Luck so early in its life, for such an odd, troubling reason, may be the most bitter moment yet for the star-crossed pair.

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2 Comments

Filed under Film Has AIDS, Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

2 responses to “The Star-Crossed Careers of Michael Mann and David Milch

  1. Pingback: Did HBO Put Down Dustin Hoffman? | Pop Culture Has AIDS

  2. Pingback: A Dwarf Walks Into A Martini Bar (Or, The Spring 2012 TV Preview) | Pop Culture Has AIDS

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